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!