Everybody knows the argument. You’re not allowed to drive a car but you can have a baby. Having a baby requires no license, no permission, no training, no exams. It’s something, given the constraints of nature, that anybody can do anytime they like.
The single most important act that people do – raising a child – and we expect them to just do it. People don’t always realise that raising a child badly is as dangerous as driving a car badly. The consequences can be devastating. Instead, society tends to feel that because raising children is a natural thing for people to do then they can be left to it.
There’s no logic to this. We don’t expect a mother to just have a baby. We encourage her to attend ante-natal classes so she understands what is going to happen to her and the baby; we prefer her to have the baby in hospital where we can be sure it is delivered with the best care and most up-to-date equipment; we certainly want a qualified mid-wife present at the birth; we then keep the mother and baby in hospital for a while to make sure everything is fine. When the mother and baby go home a trained nurse will visit a few times to make sure there are no problems.
And then, suddenly, it stops. Parent and child are left to manage on their own.
Yes, there are back-up services available such as baby clinics. Social Services are there to make sure that no child is mistreated, abused or neglected. Doctors will advise parents if there are any medical concerns.
Society’s limited involvement in parenting tends to focus on the negative, if there is a problem – illness, behavioural difficulties, abuse. It seems that we will only intervene when the ship is in danger of sinking.
The trouble with this is that, in general, very few people will admit to having a problem. That’s just not human nature. It may even be the case that they do not see the problem or that they do not realise that it is a problem. And so, more often than not, any intervention, any support, any help is usually only when that problem is out of control.
Society should be far more proactive in encouraging, promoting and facilitating good parenting. Where is the help for parents who want to be better parents? Surely self-help books cannot be the only answer. Any business will tell you that the more you improve the quality of the people working for you the better the outcome. That’s why they stress the importance of training – initial training and on-going training.
Parents need to be taught to be parents. Parents need to be taught as to what makes a good parent. Parents need to be taught how to be better parents. No parent does everything right, but all parents should be aware of and practice basic good parenting skills. Hence the importance of having parenting classes.
Of course, such courses may not be immediately appealing. It’s society interfering again. “He’s my child. I can bring him, up how I like.” “What makes you think you know better?” “That’s not the way my parents raised me!” Yet such courses would be an essential, invaluable guide for parents in doing the right thing for their child.
The key to their success would be that they need to be useful and engaging. There should be no stigma attached to parenting courses. Parenting courses are not for failing parents; they are for parents who want to do more for their children. They should be promoted as such. Better parenting produces better children. And most parents want the best for their children. That alone may be sufficient incentive for their participation in such courses.
Parenting courses should be a part of the local community. They shouldn’t be based in distant towns but in the local school, village hall or day centre. They should not be formal, lecturing lessons but relaxed, involving and social. They should also be progressive and not be purely about new-born babies. They should take the parent right through the child’s longer-term development phases.
Parenting classes should be planned as a continuation of pre-natal classes. Any break in the link is liable to lose parents and once a parent is lost to the learning process it is very difficult to get them back. Even better would be if a basic grounding in parenting could be included as part of the school curriculum. We go to school to learn subjects that in many cases will have no relevance for us and yet the one area of life that touches most of us and all too often we shy away from it.
It goes without saying that these courses should be free of charge. They are an investment in society’s future.
Our failure, as a society, to give new parents the skills they need to raise their children properly is one of our greatest failings. Is it any wonder that children have problems, that relationships can be such a struggle, that society has so many issues? If you don’t give people the tools they need to do a job properly then how can you expect a quality outcome?
©Copyright Steve Oxley 2019