Serious Parenting

We all know the cliche – children don’t come with an operating manual’. Well, nor do jobs, professions, careers, companies or organisations. Yet, in those areas of life, people perceive that if they are to be successful they must invest time and effort in developing their skills, reflecting (alone and with others) on what does and doesn’t work, strategising and exploring best practices. So, why do we insist on treating parenting as a purely instinctual practice where ‘winging it’ and crossing our fingers are the easiest routes to take?

The world has changed. When we all lived in simple agrarian communities our work skills were generally passed down through some form of apprenticeship practices. It was almost inevitable that a son would follow the same profession as his father, so he would learn the skills directly through observation and then trial and error as he grew up. Child rearing was almost entirely the female domain and mothers also learned their skills through the family. This often started with small duties as an elder sibling and then moved on to being a parent themselves.

Just as the world of work and being economically productive has changed, so has the domain for parenting. In the developed world the vast majority of children are raised in nuclear families and the time investment by parents is something to be juggled with professional and other duties and a whole lot of potential distractions. Yet, whilst the vast majority of people invest time and effort in getting as good as they can at what they do professionally, the parenting domain is yet to catch up. People see it as somehow stigmatizing to admit that their parenting skills are less than stellar.

Skill levels at parenting aren’t determined by class, profession or background. Good and bad parenting exist at all levels of the social spectrum. Perhaps more importantly, the ability to do it better – to be a better parent – also exist at every level.

This is why i can fully understand the rationale for the recent announcements from the Prime Minister of Britain, David Cameron about provision for parenting classes;

The Guardian – David Cameron

I think the title of the article is a bit off-putting – a bit of journalistic licence that contributes little. Effective parenting is about so much more than discipline and control. The article leaves a few things unclear. I’m not sure if this is only targeted at parents of very young children, or right through the age ranges. Courses and programmes do need to be tailored for their audience and the age of their children. Also, there can be variations in the extent to which programmes incorporate the theoretical background to what’s put forward. I would recommend a very workshop based approach where the parents are actively engaged in the process of figuring out solutions for themselves. Also, it probably makes sense if courses don’t try to convey too much in a single session, but give parents time and chance to take away their ideas, try them out and then come back and reflect on their success. Also, some element of ongoing ‘coaching’ support could be appropriate for a period of months.

Some might question whether government are the right body to be engaging i this process. However, my view is – if that’s what it takes, then so be it. I have long seen it as an important part of the service offering of schools where i have been leading – to support parents in the process of being the best parents they can be, as they assist and motivate us to be the best educators we can be. This moving forward in partnership can be incredibly powerful as an influence for children. However, I’m conscious that in the UK the reaction of schools, their teachers and leaders to being asked to take on this task might be very negative as they perceive they are already very overstretched n terms of manpower and resources.

So, in short, I back David Cameron on this one and believe it’s worth the try. As a society we have to come together to work for the good of all children, to give every one of them the best possible opportunities to grow to be the best they can be. For that, the better their parents and educators are at their ‘jobs’ the better.

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