10 December 2015
Children are not, repeat not, Mr Zuckerberg, interested in us being centre stage
Like many of my friends, I’ve been fascinated by the letter Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg and his wife, Priscilla Chan, wrote to their new daughter Max. Essentially, it’s Zuckerberg’s credo for the next few decades of his life.
His first 31 years were all about creating one of the most successful start-ups ever; now, he’s looking at spending the next few decades redistributing around US$45 billion (£30bn) of his fortune, and it was Max’s arrival, announced at the beginning of this month, that gave him the impetus to put his plan into action.
Zuckerberg’s move into philanthropy hasn’t pleased everyone: there have been criticisms of the way the money will be allocated, and questions about whether this well-meaning couple are really so well-meaning after all.
Personally, I’m prepared to give them the benefit of the doubt. I can’t help thinking, though, that they’ve got a thing or two to learn about parenting, and that in the future they might look back on the pressure they put themselves under at potentially the trickiest time of their lives – and wonder what on earth they were thinking of.
Having a first baby is quite unlike any other moment in life: it’s seismic, life-changing, a point of no return. Everything is different, forever, after you’ve had your first child: later babies can slide into your life comparatively unnoticed, but your eldest child’s arrival prompts you to reassess everything you ever held dear or thought you understood or had a handle on or believed you knew the size of.
It’s no time to put yourself under additional strain, and it’s no time to make any decisions bigger than from how you’re going to get through the next few hours. It’s also a good time to hunker down and see as few people as possible, rather than putting yourself out there, big-time. And it’s a moment when even the most unemotional and hardened of people become unbelievably gooey.
Then there is the letter itself. Of course, it’s not really a letter to Max at all; we know that – there’s no way any child will ever want to read a 2,200-word treatise from her parents on how the world can be put to rights. Children are not, repeat not, Mr Zuckerberg, interested in us, their parents, being centre stage: our job is to exit stage right, as quietly and as unobtrusively as possible.
The spotlight is now on them; and while our children will be acutely aware of what we’re up to in the wings, and while what we do with our lives will be hugely important to what they end up doing with theirs, the cardinal rule is that we must never, ever, upstage them. So: to my mind, his linking of Max to a personal decision which, of course, she had no part in, might one day lead to a backlash.
But never mind, because another great thing about kids is this: no one else will ever tell it to you straight like your daughter or son. My husband is very important at work, but he’s accepted that at home he’s a total loser. I’m not very important at work, but no matter: I’m a complete no-hoper at home.
We’re also both the butt of endless jokes, often extremely annoying ones that involve being filmed on mobile phones and then plastered on, among other bits of cyberspace, Facebook. (Watch out, Mark and Priscilla! Your invention may come to bite you once Max is in charge, which, of course, she now as good as is.)
But the other thing about the Zuckerberg letter that strikes me is that it’s weirdly out of place to be talking about money right now, because money is only one of the ways in which parents advantage a child – and it’s not even nearly the most important one.
At this precise moment, it will never matter less to Max whether her parents are rich or poor; and however much money they have or don’t have, the issues Priscilla and Mark will be getting to grips with aren’t remotely connected to their fortune or lack of it. All the money in the bank couldn’t give Max, or any newborn baby, what she or he needs for a healthy life: unconditional love, time, cuddles, long milky feeds and endless kisses. I wish the Zuckerbergs all the luck in the world as parents; but if I was them, I’d put off all thoughts of anything as irrelevant as money for at least the next few months.
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