Today David Cameron announced a raft of new measures to tackle poverty and the policy that’s grabbed most headlines is for anyone having children to attend parenting classes.
So it’s back to school for us all then. I wonder if we’ll have to sit on the naughty step if we don’t listen quietly to what the teacher is saying? I’m looking forward to getting my star chart.
The natural reaction to this kind of state-nannying is for hackles to rise and arms to fold before saying something like, “Don’t tell me how to raise my own kids!”
But should we be so quick to pour scorn on the idea. Could we all do with a bit of help with our children? I know there’s been plenty of times I’ve needed advice since I became a dad.
Isn’t that why we all flock to read other parent’s experiences on blogs, buy up shelves of parenting manuals as soon as we see the thin blue line on the wee stick, and interrogate the brave friends and family who’ve already crossed the threshold into the land of poo and sleep deprivation?
And here I think is the rub. People like to seek out advice when they need it. What they don’t like is to be told they NEED some help and that some Government-appointed expert is going to herd them into a room to lecture them on bringing up baby.
The reaction to being force-fed advice is similar to when well-meaning grandparents try to tell new mums and dads they aren’t doing things the right way, based on a hazy memory from twenty-five or more years ago, and some out of date leaflets they’ve found in a box in the loft.
There is of course scant detail on how the proposed parenting or relationship classes will work in practice. So for now it does rather feel like a policy line designed to grab headlines.
What is welcome is that the Government has realised that equating poverty with being crap at raising a family is not helpful. The PM is at pains to make clear that the proposed parenting classes will be universal:
In the end, getting parenting and the early years right isn’t just about the hardest-to-reach families, it’s about everyone.
Well said, but I think this will still be seen as an initiative aimed at parents from ‘disadvantaged backgrounds’, as it’s being rolled out under the existing Troubled Families programme.
It’s a tightrope walk to offer services in ways that don’t make the people who could benefit from them feel stigmatised.
We all know how hard it is to ask for help sometimes. To admit we don’t know how to be parents, because we’re still not really sure how to be adults sometimes, and frankly we’re faking it, hoping no one calls our bluff!
It’s far harder to ask for help if you’ve had a tough life, been written off at school, struggled to find work, and have an in-built distrust of authority.
I don’t think saying ‘Oh look there are some nice middle class parents going to that class’ is going to make it more likely that a single mum or dad feeling isolated in a high-rise council flat is going to get out to join them. In fact it could make it more intimidating.
But the fact is we do all need help understanding the rollercoaster of raising children. And as parents we can all offer a helping hand, a shoulder to cry on, a pat on the back when mums and dads are finding it tough going.
This is of course already happening in parenting forums online and informal meet-ups across the land. From big online players like Netmums to new kids on the block like The Dad Network, charities such as Gingerbread, or social enterprises like Parents 1st.
The Government would probably have more success at improving parenting skills if it helped new parents to connect with each other and seek support in whatever way they choose.
For some people that might mean help getting online, paying for travel to get to a support group, or giving a grant to a local group of mums and dads to rent some space in their community for a regular meet-up.
There is also an elephant in the room that no amount of counselling and parenting classes will help to shift.
One of the reasons some parents break-up or struggle to raise their children is that they’re all run ragged trying to earn enough money to put a roof over their family’s heads and at the same time pay for the second most expensive childcare in Europe after Switzerland.
Wouldn’t it be lovely if the Government could focus on giving all parents more time to learn to look after their children in the early years? Rather than suggesting we should all somehow find time to go and learn how to – presumably while someone else is babysitting them?!
So, will you be turning up for class? Or will you be bunking off and getting your parenting lessons at home?
Categories: Big Issues