Yesterday evening, I attended a debate at the Palace of Westminster, organised by Family Law in Partnership and Researching Reform. I’ll be honest, I wasn’t expecting to find much to agree with. Supporting families after the riots and the role of family law would, surely, just be another opportunity to blame the apparently 120,000 ‘problem families’ for the summer’s riots.
So I was pleasantly surprised to hear Elaine Halligan, Director of the Parent Practice, argue that there is too much ‘parent bashing’ these days. We need to get beyond the ‘blame culture’ she said . Many of those young people rioted ‘despite rather than because of their upbringing’. Sadly, and rather incongruously, what at first sounded like a defence of parents turned into its opposite. There is a ‘crisis in parenting’, said Halligan, and we ‘need to help parents become good role models’. They need a ‘comprehensive package of support’. All of them. Sue Atkins, the BBC’s parenting expert, agreed. It is not just poor parents who are, well, poor parents. Parent classes are spoken of as if they are ‘akin to therapy’, she argued, when really they’re just about ‘coaching’ parents.
So they’re all pretty clueless. Atkins didn’t say as much but she may as well have done. Why else would she want to challenge the ‘taboo’ against parenting classes? If only they were taboo, I thought to myself, it would be a sign that parent’s retain at least a modicum of self-respect. And I wouldn’t have to sit through this depressingly familiar mantra. Tis a strange taboo that can be uttered so freely ad infinitum and provoke such consensus. So there were lots of nodding heads on the panel, and around the room, about the importance of instilling confidence in parents so that they can be more effective role models for their children. There was no end of agreement that yet more parenting interventions are definitely the way to go, but this must be ‘free from finger-pointing’ of course.
The idea that parents need to be counselled or coached in their relationship with their children is an insult. As I tried to argue, being a parent is a relationship not a practice or technique to be learned from so-called experts. To the extent that parenting had anything to do with the riots, it is the parenting industry not parents who we should be pointing our fingers at. Parenting classes don’t build the esteem of parents or make them any better at rearing their children. Quite the opposite. These sorts of interventions can only undermine parents confidence in themselves, and their children’s confidence in them. There isn’t a stigma about parenting classes, but there bloody well should be. I didn’t say that last sentence. I was trying not to get any more worked up than I already was. I tripped over my words as I struggled to know what to say. I didn’t know who to be more angry at: District Judge Nicholas Crichton, who wondered out loud ‘why did the almighty make the feckless the most fertile’? Or his fellow panellists who must have thought this an outrageous thing to say. They’re all feckless, aren’t they?