I do not, personally, know any bad parents. All of the parents amongst my friends and acquaintances care deeply about their children’s well being and work hard to ensure that they are kept happy and healthy. Certainly, there are many differing views on the best way to deal with issues that arise, but all of the parents that I have come across over the years have had their children’s best interests to the fore when they make decisions that affect the child’s quality of life.
I have only ever heard anecdotal evidence of families who do not have this caring attitude. I am aware that in one of our neighbouring towns there are children who regularly arrive at school looking dirty and unkempt who have not been fed. What I do not know is the reason behind this. I do not know if the child’s carer is unable or unwilling to fulfil their obligations. I do not know what, if any, help they are receiving.
The main stream media loves to churn out statistics about child poverty and very young mothers not knowing how to care properly for their babies. This type of sensationalist reporting has been discredited so many times in the past, on so many subjects, it is hard to know how widespread the problems reported truly are. It is hard to know if a small number of cases that are affected more by mental health issues than poverty are being promoted for political gain.
Poverty is a much abused term in my view. Poverty suggests a struggle to provide the essentials – food, clothes, a bed in a warm house. It does not include nights out, a car, holidays or ipads. The social impact of a lack of these non essentials is a complex area, particularly in relation to crime, drug abuse and aspiration. On a purely practical level poverty is a lack of the things essential to physical health. Mental wellbeing is much harder to quantify and treat.
The parents that I have come across range from the comparatively wealthy to those who struggle to pay the bills each month. These financial differences certainly impact their quality of life but not their quality of parenting. All care deeply for their children and work hard to do what is best for them. Those who have been unfortunate enough to have suffered marital breakdown are well aware of the impact that this can have on their children, and work especially hard to support and nurture. Good parenting is about attitude more than bank balance.
When I first became a parent I searched for advice on the best way to care for my babies. I soon discovered that seeking advice was a double edged sword. I came across so many older mothers who had been there and done that so much better (in their view) than any mothers around since. I potty trained my children between the ages of two and four. I was quickly told that this was very late and babies used to be dry at eighteen months. This little nugget of information was added to my personal failures; I did not go to that mother for advice again. How often I wanted support, only to be told that I could and should be doing better.
The mothers who loved to share how amazing their babies were did not bother me because I could observe those children first hand and understand that these were just proud mothers taking pleasure in their children’s achievements. All parents see the best in their offspring and this is good. Alongside the hard work, let them enjoy the achievements. Those first steps, whatever age they happen at, are a minor miracle at the time.
What I found more damaging was the thinly veiled criticism given as advice. If a young child was heard to utter a swear word then there would always be some mother commenting that it was no surprise when they picked up on what was heard at home. It didn’t seem to cross the critical mother’s mind that it could have been picked up in the playground, perhaps even from their child. Children love attention and will sometimes act to get a reaction. They pick up on what they think their parents will approve and disapprove of as much as on observed habits and example. Even at a young age, they pick up a great deal from their peers.
Now that my children are older I can look back at the anguish I felt over the criticism from others, the conflicting advice from books and the media, and realise that I learnt more from observing my own children and acting on what worked for them. I would have enjoyed raising my kids a whole lot more if I had listened to myself more than others. However, all those children who have been raised around them in so many different ways seem to have turned out okay as have mine. The differences between children seem to be more often down to the child’s genes and character than to the impact of the type of parenting they received.
I have no doubt that both nature and nurture affect a child’s development, but wonder if it is only the extremes of parental behaviour that really create life long problems. Abuse, neglect and a lack of love are likely to have a significant effect, but whether or not a parent has allowed a child to stay up late, fed them regularly at MacDonalds, allowed them to watch certain TV shows, play certain computer games or made them tidy their own bedroom is less likely to be life changing if done in the spirit of fun, love and attention. These are what children need, and they can be offered in the day to day mundane as much as the carefully planned.
Parenting is a complex issue because people are complex beings. If there were one right way to raise a child then advice would not keep changing. Parents are all different, so are children, and the world in which we must live is dependant on the changing circumstances that surround us. We cannot fully understand the world in which our children must live, but parents share a gene pool with their children so are likely to have more shared understanding than strangers. What a concerned parent needs is positive support and a bit of empathy. If they are doing their best then this should be applauded. Most kids get by just fine if treated fairly, consistently and lovingly.