Society should be curious as to why ‘parenting classes’ are now so vociferously promoted. After all, parents have been raising kids successfully for thousands of years – why, all of a sudden, are classes now required?
Some parents may welcome the classes as useful advice given that parenting is now a minefield. But the view of parenting as a minefield is actually a recent phenomenon, and it is a natural consequence of the state stripping away parental autonomy. For example, you are seen as bad if you do the following things:
- discipline your child through smacking
- allow your older children to try alcohol in small doses such as a small glass of diluted wine with a Sunday roast
- let your kids go to school on their own
- let your kids play unsupervised
- ever leave them on their own, even if you think they’re old enough to cope for a small while
- fail to instil parental controls on the internet or let your children watch programmes or films or play video games that are deemed ‘unsuitable’ for their age category
In the past, when society was more liberal, there was no unofficial code of conduct over these examples – it was left to parents to decide how to navigate these examples. There was no ‘good’ or ‘bad’ way, it was up to you. And all of the above examples were commonplace. But now the moralisation of parenting means that parents, denied autonomy, are incredibly confused about what’s allowed. It is not just parents who are confused about what’s allowed but also the police themselves. In England and Wales, they arrest an average of one parent per day for leaving a child at home alone, including the case of a mother who left her 14 year old daughter at home for 10 minutes whilst she nipped to the corner shop. By contrast, David and Samantha Cameron were not arrested when they left 8-year old daughter Nancy in a pub. Thus amidst all this confusion, parents may be tempted to try the classes for guidance in this land of mystery.
Tragically the classes only compound the problem because parenting is not an exact science, contrary to what the state implies. Parenting classes, i.e. parenting parents, only ends up further eroding autonomy. One comes out of there none the wiser, but probably worse off since natural confidence has been further squished.
Even if one doesn’t welcome the classes, if one has courage in one’s own abilities, then they still might be thrust upon you. Prime Minister David Cameron honestly believes, “the quality of parenting is the single-most important determinant of the life chances of a child”. Thus to improve people’s life chances, he has to make everyone ‘perfect parents’ even though there is no science here or indeed any academic agreement on what this means. Nevertheless Cameron targets the classes at “problem families” or “troubled families”, of which he reckons there are 46,000 in the UK. He rarely spells out who he means, but the implication is clear enough – he means the lower orders, people on lower incomes. For example, parenting classes are advertised in Job Centres, places the middle class never have to go to. “Troubled families” is just a PC way of indicating what Cameron really means: ‘chav scum’.
But ‘good’ and ‘bad’ parents are not black and white issues when held up to any scrutiny. A welfare-dependent single mother may be better in some ways than career-driven parents because they spend more time with their child. There really is no easy answer. Given there’s no scientific basis for good parenting, it’s probably better if the state backed away from teaching it as a skill. Yet I suspect they won’t do that because it’s in their nature to interfere. For all of Cameron’s repeating that this isn’t “nanny statism” (he says it time and again in various newspaper quotations), it does look to me like unwarranted intrusion.
North of the border, things are even worse than parenting classes. The SNP wants state guardians to be appointed for all children aged 0-18. These ‘named persons’ will monitor the upbringing of the next generation, making parents feel constantly on edge and warping young minds into strange views of what is normal.
For this ‘support’, no thanks.