Being a parent is not something we expect to take up training for, any more than we expect to improve our adult relationships with our partners and friends by attending a workshop. “It doesn’t feel right” is most people’s gut reaction. But on the other hand, is it justified to assume that intuition, experience and family support alone are the only way to bring up your family? Perhaps we need a middle ground.
Will the current provision of Parent Vouchers make a radical difference? Parent courses are already widely available but not over subscribed. What will help parents to feel that it is OK and even healthy to think about what will help them to be the parent that they want to be?
We need to make it acceptable to want to learn as much as we can about bringing the best out in our children. We need to loose the bad parent label that the media sticks to anything it can call the Nanny State. We need more magazine articles, newspaper stories, TV programmes and radio broadcasts which discuss parenting in the same way we have endless coverage of cookery, home decoration and gardening because it interests a broad audience. Bite sized information available when we need it must be the way forward. Who can easily commit to 10 weeks of classes which are not really free if you have to factor in child care costs and loss of earnings too. Surely a mixed menu is more realistic with drop in clinics, one off workshops and on line information as well as books. Let people choose as the need arises but lets make it a sign we are doing well by our family, not a mark of shame. Let’s get creative and trust most people to know what they want and when they want it.
For some parents though, a targeted approach makes sense. There has been less publicity about the Parent Involvement Projects ( PIP) which support parents with small babies who are finding bonding difficult. Maybe they are depressed or have had poor parenting themselves. The need for early support is usually something the Health Visitor picks up on but in many parts of the country there is nowhere for parents to go. Some beacon projects do exist like the Oxford Parent Involvement Project where Sue Gerhardt who wrote Why Love Matters works. If you haven’t read her book I would recommend it as a great introduction to how love shapes the brain. We need more PIP for those who need it rather than vouchers which might not hit the spot and which could be done better in other ways.
So lets stop stigmatising support for parents, as they say on CBeebies “It’s not big and it’s not clever” Let’s be creative about all the possible ways to get information out there so all parents have real choices about finding what they need to become the parent that they want to be.