My Take

For sanity’s sake, let’s have better government-sponsored childcare

Former Burberry boss Angela Ahrendts boasts of being available to her children 24/7 for advice, love or anything else, but that’s simply impossible

PUBLISHED : Wednesday, 22 March, 2017, 1:17am
UPDATED : Wednesday, 22 March, 2017, 1:17am

How much time should parents devote to their children? Many people seem to think it’s a 24/7 job. The latest expression of this laudable if impossible goal comes courtesy of Angela Ahrendts, former CEO of fashion house Burberry and currently senior vice-president of retail at Apple.

In a public letter to her children, she wrote: “You know I am on 24/7 for advice, love, or just to share a funny filtered photo, bitmoji or laugh (even though I know I laugh inside).”

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The letter is part of a broader initiative by an elite group of top American executives to write such public preambles to encourage young girls to aim high, that is to aspire to become like them. Ahrendts won much kudos for her sentiments, but she was savaged by the Financial Times’ formidable Lucy Kellaway.

“I have always made it clear to my children I am on 16/7 max,” Kellaway wrote. “They can wake me only at night for emergencies, and never for a laugh or a bitmoji.”

Now, if you subtract the six to eight hours of sleep that most people need each night, Kellaway is actually as devoted to this parental ideal of total commitment as Ahrendts, though less melodramatically.

Personally, I think it’s insane. This level of commitment – demanded of parents especially mothers, in many modern countries including in Hong Kong – is unhealthy.

Duff Cooper, in his magnificent biography of Talleyrant, sums up this conundrum very well: “The doctrine that parents exist for the sake of their children was not then [the 18th century] accepted, and the loving care and hourly attention bestowed upon the children of today would have appeared ridiculous to sensible people ... The modern method reflects greater credit on the parents; but evidence is not yet sufficient to prove that it produces a superior type of individual.”

Cooper wrote the book in 1932. Pressure on parents has only got worse.

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Between neglect and total commitment, there is a middle way: parents should have some time to themselves, especially mothers, who still disproportionately shoulder child-caring responsibilities. You need to be able to do the things you enjoyed before you became a parent. Otherwise, you go insane, depressed or even suicidal.

This is why government-sponsored childcare – wholly inadequate in Hong Kong – is essential, not only to getting mothers back into the workforce, but for everyone’s mental health.