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.