AS I WRITE, my daughter is coughing in her bedroom. She is a pretty bad asthmatic, and often finds it difficult to get her breath.
I worry that she has swine flu — it has been about here in the local school — but it could be tonsillitis. On the phone I discover that the doctor’s surgeries are full, and there is no prospect of getting her an appointment any time soon.
I know myself well enough to know that soon I am going to have to exercise those middle-class “sharp elbows” that the media often go on about.
If she gets any worse, I won’t care much about going private or muscling my way to the front of any queue. All I will hear is my daughter’s hacking cough and laboured breathing and I will be off, shouldering aside anything that stands in the way of my little girl and the doctor I want her to see.
What are we to make morally of this instinct? Over breakfast, I heard Alan Milburn MP talking on Today about education, and saying that he wanted more pushy parents, not fewer. Over the past nine years in Putney, I have gained a Ph.D. in pushy parents, especially in relation to our two church schools.
I think I know all the tricks, all the ruses. I have had my fair share of tearful mothers and angry fathers. I have built up quite a group who will not look me in the eye if we walk past each other in the street because I have decided that their child did not meet the criteria for admission into one of the schools.
The first thing that I observe about pushy parents is that they often confuse a concern for their own child with some sort of Christian other-centredness.
Now there is something to this, admittedly. One’s children can help one break out of the Fortress of Me — but not terribly far out. Often our children are simply alibis for our own desires, inadequacies, and selfishnesses.
Those who think they are doing amazing work of social philanthropy because they are a governor of their own child’s school might be pressed to think a little more about their motives and the wider needs of the world.
But also — and worse — pushy parents can be really bad for their kids, often producing little monsters who are wildly over-competitive, as a consequence of which they are often disliked by other kids in their class.
All this is true — yet my daughter is still upstairs coughing. I am sharpening my elbows. What would you do?
The Revd Dr Giles Fraser will be Canon Chancellor of St Paul’s Cathedral and Director of the St Paul’s Institute from mid-September.