Parents need all the support they can get

I very clearly remember walking in through the front door of our home having returned from the hospital with our newborn daughter thinking, “What do we do now?”  Having spent months preparing for the moment, it still came as a shock.  Though we’d spent time reading parenting books and discussing how we should bring up our children, we were still feeling overwhelmingly unprepared for what was to lie ahead.

Going back a couple of days to the actual birth, the situation was very different.  Having been to several antenatal classes and received literature on what would happen during the birth along with plenty on breastfeeding, there was very little we felt we didn’t understand about the process.

Admittedly birth is a lot more straightforward than bringing up children, but the contrast in advice and support was stark.  It seemed crazy to me and still does that the state supports us well up until the birth and early days of a child’s life and then pretty much leaves us to work things out for ourselves.  For many that is not a great problem.  We have parents and friends who can fill us in on their experiences on bringing up children and offer advice.  Others, though do not have that luxury.  But I suspect even well supported parents would be happy knowing there is practical help available for them to access should they need it.  This is backed up by a Department for Education parent opinion poll from 2010 that suggested that 85% of parents want more practical help on caring for their baby to provide the best possible start for their children.

David Cameron has said this week that:

“Parents are nation-builders.

“It’s through love and sheer hard work that we raise the next generation with the right values.

“That’s why this Government is doing everything possible to support parents.

“This is not the nanny state – it’s the sensible state.

“It’s ludicrous that we should expect people to train for hours to drive a car or use a computer, but when it comes to looking after a baby we tell people to just get on with it.

“I would have loved more guidance when my children were babies.

“We’ve all been there when it’s the middle of the night, your child won’t stop crying and you don’t know what to do.

“And to those who say that Government should forget about parenting and families and focus on the big, gritty issues, I’d say these are the big, gritty issues.

“Families don’t just shape us as individuals, they make a stronger society.

“That’s why supporting families is right at the top of our agenda – and I’m going to make sure it stays that way.”

The Department of Health has today announced a new scheme entitled ‘Can Parent’.  It provides a NHS information service for parents and is trialling free parenting classes for all parents with children under 5 and relationship support sessions for first-time parents.  This surely can only be seen as a good thing.  The question I’m wanting to ask is not, “Are these a good idea?” but rather, “Why has this taken so long to come about?”

Some may argue that these services need to be targeted at the most needy and dysfunctional parents as chances are they are going to be used most by conscientious middle-class parents who don’t actually need them.  However all parents-to-be are offered antenatal classes, so why should not all parents be allowed access to parenting classes too?  Certainly there needs to be encouragement and even coercion for high risk families to access these services and make use of existing ones such as Sure Start.  Evidence based studies including this one published in February have shown that parenting programmes can improve childhood behaviour problems and the development of positive parenting skills whilst also reducing parental anxiety, stress and depression.  They have also proved to be cost-effective when compared with the long-term social, educational and legal costs associated with childhood conduct problems.

For many in the Church none of this will be news.  Christians have a long tradition of valuing and supporting families.  This is demonstrated by the vast number of pre-school groups, children’s clubs and parenting classes offered by churches to their communities along with the Christian organisations who work in this area, such as the Children’s Society and Care for the Family.

I haven’t got time to go into this in detail here, but I truly believe that very many of the difficulties and problems our society is currently encountering are due to the breakdown of family structures and increased instability in children’s lives.  Anything that can be done to turn this around deserves to be supported.

For Christians, parenting as at the heart of our faith.  God is ‘Father God’ and we are his children.  He loves us more than we can understand and has shown us the way to live lives that are a blessing to others.  It’s therefore natural for us to  want to do the same for our children.

It’s always a positive sign when those at the top make decisions that reflect God’s values.  As David Cameron said above, “It’s through love and sheer hard work that we raise the next generation with the right values.”  The Church has a huge amount to offer our society in this area.  Let’s be confident in what we know to be true and not be afraid to share it.



Categories: Children & families, David Cameron, Government

Tags: , , , , , ,

11 replies

  1. Agree that this could be a big positive. We were blessed with supportive friends and parents which particularly at the start would have made it much harder without. However, interested to know how one would go about ‘coercing’ high risk familes and how that argument would run in the public sphere. Is coercian to care a little too far for a state to reach?

    • Financially it would make sense for the Government to do this. Intervention at an early age of a child’s life saves money in the long run.

      I haven’t got a strategy in mind but linking it to reception of benefits would be feasible with a carrot and stick approach.

      Why is it that often the people who need the most help are least likely to accept and value it?

      • Is it the Dunning-Kruger effect that leaves the incapable unable to recognise their incapability (and the same at the other end of the spectrum)?

        Maybe the same principle works with social care that those most in need may adamantly refuse that anything is wrong and strongly object to any intervention into their lives? Especially if the dire situation is caused by bad choices and not bad circumstances.

        • I think you’ve summed it up very well. Unfortunately bad choices lead to bad circumstances which lead to bad choices and so the downward spiral continues.

          When people are incapable of sorting themselves out then it suggests they need intervention whether they want it or not. The problem is then we get onto the whole issue of rights and how much we can force people to go against their will.

          Big questions!

      • I should clarify that it may work more as a deflection of blame – that those who have made bad choices blame them on bad circumstances and see help as essentially judgemental, whereas those who are in dire straits largely through bad circumstances couldn’t give a stuff about the judgement and will take whatever help they can get

      • Ah, posted before I saw your reply at 4:14 pm

        • There seems to be a case that the more you blame others for your circumstances, the greater likelihood that the fault lies with you. I’m not trying to be judgmental in this, just making an observation. Only when people are able to change their mindset are they likely to improve their situation.

  2. Anything that can help is welcome. The problem is also one of direction and expectation. The ethic of family responsibility and accountability has been so often played down by the media – soaps and newspapers – that many poor souls get caught up in the make believe and forget the reality. Like shooting someone or getting pregnant after a drunken one night stand with a stranger in a tv drama. These are depicted as norms to be accommodated without much problem. The reality is the ending of a life – the actor gets up and goes off home – the real dead person leaves behind a distraught and grieving family, The same with the pregnant girl/woman – the actress goes off to her own world with no thought or worry about the non-baby she is not-carrying – the real pregnant girl/woman has a life changing reality to deal with.

    If parenting was shown in a more positive light and most parents are positive caring people, with families depicted as getting along normally without resorting to violence, extra-marital affairs or drunken misbehaviour in their lives, and I do think most families do not do this, then direction and expectation would be based on a reality normative and not a sensationalistic non sequitur. Parents do need physical and in many cases financial help – but a reviewing of priorities and realistic expectations and responsibility as a mum and dad has to also be part of the help.

  3. Children need love, the security that comes from consistent boundary setting,praise and reward, fun and play and an encouragement to respect think and do for others. These are mainly learned from parents who in many cases have not experienced them themselves.Children are like great big sponges who learn from their immediate environment so if there is bad language, aggression, conflict, drug or alcohol abuse, and a general lack of respect for authority in the home this is what the children will learn. Many parents have a feeling that they cannot cope and find the whole business of parenting beyond them and that frustration is often then directed at the children. Parenting classes are a great idea but if they are not entered into voluntarily with a desire to improve they are unlikely to be effective. Changing an antagonistic parent would be a massive challenge. Financial incentives might help but good parents may resent what would be seen as a reward for bad parenting. The subliminal messages we see through the media often present role models contrary to what children need . Individualism, cynicism criticism,rebellion, selfishness. With all the corruption we have seen reported about M.P s Newspaper media and the Police we are presented with the worst aspects of human nature a lot of the time and are less likely to be aware of positive examples of people we can look up to.We are all influenced by this to some degree yet God can be a counterbalance to all this and provide the love we require to pass on to our children

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