Raising children: Not like driving cars

Due to not being famous (yet, obvs), there are only three points in my life during which I have found myself thinking “well, excuse moi! Don’t you know who I am???”.

The first involved bumping into Stephen Hawking in a bookshop in Cambridge and, in a moment of total confusion, deciding that I was the world-renowned genius and that he was just being rude (this moment passed when I remembered I was clutching Sophie’s World, bought in a desperate attempt to cover up the fact that I had an essay on Kant due in two days’ time and still hadn’t got a fucking clue what “pure reason” was, let alone how one might “critique” it).

The other two points came when walking out of different hospitals, two years apart, but each time carrying a day-old baby that was, apparently, mine. I found myself staring at the nursing staff, utterly bewildered that no one was doing a thing to halt this ridiculous occurrence. Didn’t they know who I was? I wanted to scream at them “look! I’m a total fuckwit! I might do all sorts with this poor little person! I might drop him! I might sit on him! I might feed him to next doors’ guinea pigs! Can’t you see that I HAVE NO IDEA WHAT I’M DOING?” And yet, no one seemed to see this. They just smiled benevolently and waved me goodbye (having first checked that my partner had fitted the correct car seat. Because obviously the car seat is the main thing, nay, the only thing. Get that right, and the next 18 years is a piece of piss).

Given the levels of insecurity, not to mention sheer bewilderment, that I’ve felt when starting out as a parent, you’d think I’d consider parenting classes to be a very good idea. After all, as David Cameron says, it is “ludicrous” that one should receive more training into how to drive a car than in how to raise children. I mean, it took me a year to pass my test and I’m still shit at driving 18 years later. So what kind of parent must I be?

Actually, when it comes down to it, I’d still like to think I’m worse at driving than I am at being a mum. Clearly, there are times when the one influences the other; I’m particularly shit at driving when trying to switch over the “Wheels on the Bus” CD for “Harry and his Bucketful of Dinosaur Shite” (to give it its full title). I’m not sure what the motherhood equivalent is for parallel parking – probably being good at using a sling, and I’m totally cack-handed at both. But I think I’m there with the “love” thing (love is probably equivalent to petrol or diesel. Only last month I nearly destroyed my diesel car by filling it with unleaded. I don’t want to go into the details of what filling your child with “the wrong kind of love” might mean, but suffice it to say, I definitely haven’t done that).

Thus, having established that I’m better at something for which I’ve had no training at all than at something for which I had to go through hour after miserable hour of arguing with my dad about uphill starts on a rainy industrial estate (god, the memories!), you might think I’m pretty relaxed about the whole parenting class idea. Good for some, but not for me (although actually good for no one, not even imaginary social types, as illustrated by a brilliant Babberblog post on the subject). The trouble is, the idea is just not one I can dismiss with a disinterested shrug. I can’t help feeling bloody outraged by the very concept, and I’ve been finding it hard to articulate just why. And then last night I started to wonder whether not being able to articulate the problem is, to some degree, the problem itself. It’s the vagueness; I can’t stand the vagueness!

As a concept, the parenting class is accusatory, and a means of deflecting blame. Just as the government currently uses education policy as a means of excusing its shit record on the economy (you’re unemployed because you’re ill-educated and exams are dumbed down, not because the jobs don’t exist), it’s now using parenting classes, and the associated notion that, to quote advisor Frank Field, parents are “no longer inspired to do a five-star job of bringing up their children”,  as a means of excusing its record on everything, ever. Because it’s not just a way of getting around properly investing in families, support networks and flexible employment options. Blame parents – the people who bear responsibility for raising all other people – and nothing can ever be your fault. When a teenager tries to blame Mummy and Daddy for the fact that he or she is a total knob, we don’t give him or her the time of day. But now the government seems to suggest not only that this is legitimate, but that the responsibility for all knobdom lies with Mummy and Daddy alone (but mainly with Mummy, I’d say).

The trouble is, there is no direct accusation. Why, for instance, should parents be shit now but not before? Is there any thinking behind all this? If there is (and I’m not even convinced of that) I reckon there’s some dubious gender politics underlying the “crap parents” message. Mummies work (because, like, they never have before). Single mums are considered halfway acceptable members of our society. Violent men in batman costumes are ousted from their rightful position as head of the family. Basically, women are doing stuff and it’s fucking up the kids! But none of that is, I think, what motivates the parenting class move. Along with class prejudice, it’s just a particular bias which encourages people to go along with the idea that parents are worse than they were before. What I would really like is for politicians to make these accusations direct, and specific. Then we’d be able to dismiss them in an instant, as opposed to wading through treacle and having to preface every objection with “look, it’s not that I’m one of the millions of people who are vehemently in favour of bad parenting, but …”

Anyhow, I think it’s really apt that the parenting class programme is launching with vouchers being distributed in Boots. This is a shop which specialises in selling items which have the sole purpose of convincing you that you’re not good enough, and that whatever goes wrong around you could be improved if only you looked better, weighed less, weren’t such a shit mum etc. etc. None of this is true, but none of it matters. As long as there are enough light-reflecting particles to blur the fine lines. All together now: Ta-dah!

5 thoughts on “Raising children: Not like driving cars

  1. I know what you mean, these classes make me feel a bit icky but I can’t understand why. I actually argued FOR parenting classes in an essay on criminal psychology. Oh those heady days of my early twenties.

    The reality is who decides what parenting style to teach? Are they going to be Gina Ford advocates? Smackers? Unconditional parenting types? There’s no one size fits all approach, yet the government are funding these classes, a state sponsored parenting technique. Next thing David Cameron will be bringing out his own parenting manual The Conservative Little Baby.

    1. Actually, now you mention it, smacking is an issue I do get very worked up about! I can’t believe politicians are suggesting parenting classes as long as the physical chastisement of children is still legal. [off to get on high horse again]

  2. Ok here’s a thing: I agree that there’s some underlying suggestin in this initiative that we’re somehow less good at being parents than previous generations were, which is not true, and I agree that the government has mucked about with the underlying support for families, and there’s been so much chopping and changing that no one really knows where to g any more, but when my 2nd was about 3 months old, I went to a short parenting course that was run through our local church, and it was totally fantastic. I know you;re going to read this and say – oh yes, Mrs middle class, middle class attitudes to parenting etc etc, what did she need classes for, and my circumstances might be considered ‘extreme’ but I wouldn’t be too quick to knock any kind of initiative like this if it’s voluntary.

    At the time, my older child was 2, and undergoing serious chemotherapy for leukaemia, we had not long moved into the area, and had had to stop work earlier than planned birth) to care for my son (he was diagnosed 3 months before my daughter was born. Although my mum came to stay and help lots, she doesn’t live locally, and she was so devastated about what was happening to my son that i just didn’t feel like I could talk to her about other parenting stuff that was worrying me and my OH – she could only focus on his illness, and we were so convinced (we had to be, although I’ll confess to lots of dark moments) that he would be OK that we didn’t want to throw everyting else up in the air on the boundaries front or on dealing with tantrums etc, and actually how to deal with the parenting issues that the treatment threw up – do you tell a 2 yr old that everything’s going to be fine – or do you explain that it will hurt but that it will be OK afterwards and discuss how we might get through it. It was hard (actually impossible) to go to any of the coffee groups to make friends. I just totally lost it on many levels and when I heard about the parenting course I lept at it with both feet.

    To be fair it wasn’t offering advice in the way that these parenting classes sound like they are, and I totally agree that more money should have been put into the Sure start programme etc, but it was a hugely valuable opportunity to discuss the things we were going thorugh as parents, and startegies we could use. No one told us what we shoulld and should not do – although I guess that if any of us had professed to beating our kids or locking them uin a cupboard or anything, there probably would have been some comment. It was non-judgmental and I found it a complete and utter relief.

    I agree that there are lots of people who might be labeled as needing parenting classes who won’t go, and may be what is on offer won’t be like the course I attended, but maybe, just maybe there will be people who are doing their nut and who just can’t see a way through whatever it is they are going through, who will take the opportunity to go along and it will help them.

    1. Thank you for your comment. I’m so sorry your family had to go through that and hope your child has recovered, and that all of you still get the support you need.
      What you were offered sounds brilliant. I (also Mrs Middle Class!) saw a therapist when I was pregnant with my first child, in order to deal with abuse issues from my past and my own concerns that this would make me a bad parent through not having had the right parenting models. This was through my GP and it was ace. I just don’t feel convinced that what the government is offering is like that, or the help your received, at all. The idea of “lessons” (rather than support) sounds prescriptive and values-ridden, and it is also being linked (very directly, in the case of what Frank Field has said) to the idea that parents are somehow not as good as they were before (his idea of someone no longer “aspiring” to be a great parent, rather than someone needing specialist support, doesn’t, I think, represent someone like you at all). I strongly believe parents being able to turn to others for support and advice is vital – we needed this when our second child was ill and were given masses of help from the local Sure Start Centre and our health visitor. It just strikes me as remarkable that these support measures are being restricted while the “lesson” message gets louder and louder.

      1. This is really interesting. I got huge amounts of support from a health visitor too, but my my understanding now is that HV service is now mor of an extension of social services, just checking up on ‘at risk’ families rather than providing across the board support to mothers. There should be much more support all the way through the system

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