Parenting, parenting, parenting; its the latest buzz word from the government. You can’t avoid hearing about how poor parenting has being blamed for a multitude of social problems. From last year’s riots to rising obesity levels and now special educational needs parents seem to get the blame for everything. And now we hear that the government want parenting classes to become the norm; from the early scans of our unborn children onwards Cameron wants us all to be trained.
The idea of the state interfering with family life in this way troubles me. It is a step too far, as far as I am concerned. In this country we have a history of a divide between the public political and private spheres and witnessing the increasing involvement of the state in our personal lives raises questions about the level of freedom we have as individuals to raise our children. Do we really want to see childhood increasingly regulated by the state to the extent that parental power becomes diminished? Advice and support is one thing but when there is a risk that it may be influenced by political ideology then I think we should be concerned.
Aside from that, I do not want nationwide parenting classes because I don’t think we need it. Generations of parents have been raising children and most of us have been doing it successfully without training courses. We don’t need to be told how to raise our children and in any case what qualifies someone to tell us about how to parent? Someone with a degree or a masters degree? Someone with years and years of parenting experience? Who has the right to tell another person how to parent? We learn by ‘instinct’ and we learn by ‘doing’ and if we want advice and support we can easily get it from a whole range of sources.
However, I do appreciate that there are some parents who need a lot of help, particularly those parents whose own childhoods were so deprived that they have not learnt the skills or have the confidence to parent. However, I can’t see how swopping vouchers for a parenting course is going to work for this group of parents; are they going to recognise or admit that they need help? I doubt it; this group of parents probably need more focused intervention delivered through existing organisations such as the NHS and the local authority. There is already a whole host of support out there - ante-natal classes, post natal classes, midwives, health visitors, social workers, family support workers. Wouldn’t it be better to provide support through these services than set up expensive parenting classes for every parent. I can just imagine it; a huge state machiney being built up around this paranoia over parenting which becomes a huge and unnecessary drain on taxpayers money. Can the country really afford this?
It seems to me that the government has its priorities all wrong. In a time of recession and when families have been hit hard by government cuts, it’s not parenting classes we need but jobs, affordable child care, housing, good schooling and healthcare. To give you an illustration, I know one young mum who has recently been made homeless due to a reckless landlord and who is now looking to the council to rehouse her. But due to the shortage in council houses, to rehome her will mean her and her children being moved miles away from her family and the community that she is familiar with. With such an upheaval it may mean that her two young children have to change schools. Its a terribly stressful situation for this family.
It is not parenting classes that would help this mum but the opportunity to work, to set up home in the community she was brought up in and to have access to good schooling and health care. These are the things that all families need, not a nanny state telling them how to bring up their children.