So…David Cameron plans to introduce parenting classes (actually he is reintroducing the idea – there was little uptake before). He thinks they should be “the norm” and that we all need help. Well…I agree with him. I thought I would make that clear because I am about to make a series of caveats and if you aren’t paying attention you might get the impression I don’t agree with him at all.
Firstly, choose your particular cup of tea: neuroscience? clinical psychology? psychoanalysis? common sense? trite statements of self-evident fact? Well, all of these will tell you that ages 0-3-years-old, and how a child is looked after during that time, are the most important by far when it come to influencing how a human being will relate to the world around them and the people in it. Essentially, what happens to you during those years will go a long way to deciding whether you give a fuck about other people and whether you believe they give a fuck about you.
So…for parenting classes to have a significant impact – they will have to be prenatal.
Secondly, can you teach people to be emotionally attuned to their babies? To set aside (to an extent) their own needs, desires, wishes and so on? Crucial if the child is to form healthy attachments and a trusting, functioning relationship with the world around them.
But not if the parent or parents are so overwhelmed by their own emotional turmoil, their own dysfunction, their own neurosis. They would need help with that first. And only if they wanted to be helped.
Perhaps those early years were just about good enough. Perhaps circumstances have changed and the parent or parents have different pressures. The kid has “gone off the rails”. Surely with help they can reintroduce boundaries, refocus on the childs emotional world? Possibly, but not if they’re drunk, or working long shifts, or depressed, or selfish. Not then. Three sessions? Six? Sitting in a bleak community centre being talked at after work won’t help then.
But they might help people who sincerely love their children, who aren’t too fucked up themselves and who are genuinely confused about what to do and, crucially, want help.
In short, parenting classes are no panacea for all societies ills and I am pretty sceptical about the efficacy of them. But…it has got to be worth a punt.
Before I here cries of “nanny state” – that may be an argument that applies to how you live your own life (how much you drink, what you eat, perhaps whether you wear a seat belt in a car) but a child’s right to grow up safe, emotionally healthy, productive, and only ordinarily dysfunctional, far outweighs any right parents have to bring up their children how they want – in fact, the right to do that does not exist at all…