• Connect And Respect

The trend to parent blaming.

Updated: Jun 17

This morning I found myself reading an article about how there was an increasing rate of children who were ill prepared to start school. They cited children who couldn't say their names, were still drinking out of teated bottles, not toilet trained ... the list went on. The article, and the people in the comments section, went on a fierce and full force parent blaming attack. Whilst it may seem obvious to point the finger of blame at parents, it left me deeply uneasy. Life experience has taught me that when an answer seems "obvious", we are usually missing complexity and nuance.

I think it is fair to say that in modern history children have never spent so little of their childhood years actually WITH their parents/primary care givers as they do now. When I was young the vast majority of children spent most of their 0-5 years time with a parent in the real world. Preschool was actually playschool, it was entirely play driven and it accounted for a relatively small part of a child's week. Parents had time to support and nurture their children and this was valued by society. Today, young children may enter childcare/nursery as young as a few months old, they may spend the overwhelming amount of their waking time in settings and barely see, never mind interact with, their parents at all. And yet, parent blaming and shaming was the go to argument.

The article also added the impact of the pandemic on child development. The not very well veiled insinuation was that the extra time with parents and not in settings had contributed to this lack of school readiness. I am not commenting on the pandemic here, but I want to note that the burden on parents during the pandemic was significant. Many parents were expected to work from home full time, facilitate and teach school aged children full time , care for younger children full time and keep everything going under extraordinary circumstances. Again, parent shaming and blaming is unfair, derogatory and misses the point.

There are many factors driving the trend that sees children being increasingly separated from their parents. I am not stating that any of these things are inherently "good" or "bad" but that each impacts children in some way or other.

  • Soaring cost of living has meant that increasingly both parents need to work in order to pay the bills.

  • The increased emphasis on the desirability for both parents to have successful careers.

  • The increased emphasis on material possessions as markers of personal success, worth and value.

  • The devaluing of mothering/parenting and unpaid caring (none of these adds to GDP).

  • The promotion of the idea that the state/paid professionals are the only trusted, safe influence on children.

Even if young children do spend time with their parents e.g. at weekends/evenings/ holidays, there are lots of things that compete for time with interacting directly with each other:

  • Getting essential household tasks completed given parents are both working

  • Exhausted parents needing down time themselves

  • Use of technology in a way that separates rather than connects family members (please note, I'm not generalising by saying technology separates, I am saying the way it is increasingly used can separate, rather than connect).

  • Ever increasing amount of children's time spent in scheduled activities

One of the most powerful messages I have gained over the last 7 years of home educating is that children learn most naturally, efficiently and effectively by modelling, observing and copying people who are more skilled than themselves. Babies learn the incredibly complex skills of walking and talking by trying to mimic and join their older siblings, parents, grandparents and family around them. They are innately programmed to learn to be part of that world. They do this with incredible efficiency and without any direct instruction. When we remove children from these models and place them with same aged, equally unskilled peers which then provide the mainstay of their models, we are reducing the impact of this natural drive and mechanism. That is not to say that same aged peer socialisation is not important, it is, but not to the exclusion of real world, real family, real life interactions with more skilled people to whom they are attached.

The more time we separate children from their parents the less opportunities parents get to develop parenting skills, and the more deskilled parents become. This then iterates generation upon generation as nurturing, caring, parenting and educating is increasingly handed over to paid professionals. It is a vicious, self perpetuating cycle and one that I feel is highly detrimental to society overall. The less time parents spend with their children the less opportunity they have to deeply connect with them and truly know them. The less time parents spend with their children the less experienced, less skilled and less confident parents become about their own abilities. I clearly recall the engulfing feelings of inadequacy as my new mother peers returned to work and their children entered childcare complete with development plans, progression charts, next steps and ticks in skills matrices. At the time, my stay at home parent setup felt overwhelmingly inadequate, downright risky and disadvantageous to my son. Fortunately I no longer feel that way, but at the time the anxiety and doubt was real. The seeming answer to this deskilling of parents by society and governments is INCREASING the time children spend in childcare settings and away from parents.

Another trend I find particularly concerning is the subtle and continual undermining of parents by government, society and the media. A message in this article is that parents are inadequate and that all children are better off in government controlled, paid for childcare/schools. The message of parental inadequacy and state as optimum corporate parent is a deeply troubling general narrative and currently dominates education, parenting, safeguarding, health and well being discussions; the Schools Bill is a perfect example of just this.

I do not have answers to these complex problems. I do know however, that simply blaming and shaming parents is NOT the answer. It is too simplistic, and does not address the underlying forces at play in wider society. Please lets move forward together with kindness and compassion, not blame and shame. Let us connect and respect.

#connectandrespect #parentblaming #pandemic #schoolreadiness


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