Learning parenting

Happenstance - a circumstance especially that is due to chance. They came together by mere happenstance.
— Merriam-Webster.com


Biology is as close as our education system gets to teaching us about parenting. Maths, science, geography, English, history physical education, chemistry etc help us make sense of the world and what we want to “be” as an individual. Biology focuses on human reproduction rather than parenting though this, in part, helps us avoid being a parent until we choose.

Our education system, and its underpinning philosophy, has been captured by a scientific world-view and this perspective privileges quantifiable facts over intangible aspects of our world. We teach children the process of creating a child (understood scientifically) and omit to educate about parenting (a mystery to the science community and many scientists) which is the more important aspect of the operation. This logic unfortunately repeats across many disciplines. We teach doctors to treat medical conditions not patients, accountants to balance the books but not understand the impact on people (staff, clients and society in general) and lawyers to apply the law, not seek justice. If they do pick up more humanistic skills, it is from their own experiences and their ability to learn.

So, the elephant in the room is where do most people learn their parenting skills? The answer is likely to be from their own experiences of being raised, their own parents, school teachers and other care givers. Some parents also arm themselves by reading books and chat with friends to gain knowledge. In other words, happenstance! I hope I’m not alone in thinking that is a crazy way for society to treat what is “that most difficult of all undertakings: being a parent” (North & South, Sep17).

The saying - it takes a village to raise a child – we now view as a historical notion yet in it I can see logic and sense. All children will be raised in roughly the same way as there is a collective view of what is, and what isn’t, good and appropriate parenting. In this way parents too are educated about what is expected of them. Parenting is clearly high on the village’s agenda. In our society parenting has fallen completely off the radar and we have adopted an ambulance at the bottom of the cliff approach providing parenting services primarily when things go badly wrong. It seems a sad, but logical, link that the lack of parenting education is accompanied by the need for the Ministry of Vulnerable Children.

Our society is dominated by the individualistic (neoliberal and economic) view and the idea that a village operates as a whole belongs to a collectivist view that has fallen out of favour. You can see this in New Zealand’s debate regarding child poverty. The individualists (neoliberals) point at parents and believe this problem is theirs alone to solve. The collectivists look at our society and say how have we created a world where this has happened. Obviously, there are also a range of views in the middle but, interestingly, neither extreme view does anything to advance a solution for a hungry child today.

This is because another problem we face comes from our love of science and, in turn, its love of reductionism - the practice of analysing and describing a complex phenomenon in terms of its simple constituents. Thus child poverty is viewed as a separate problem from unemployment or education yet, if we just stand back, they are all so obviously intertwined it is dim-witted to try and solve the problems individually. But society is divided into discreet ministries that allow us to treat a child’s medical issue (Ministry of Health) and send them home to sleep in a car (Ministry of Housing).

What I think would help is to introduce basic parenting education in schools that will arm our youth with knowledge of their future role and responsibilities. Most parenting classes are logically aimed at parents but the classes miss the majority of parents who would benefit from them. Imagine if we only offered driving lessons once our children are behind the wheel and most didn’t attend. We would likely need a Ministry for Vulnerable Pedestrians, Cyclists and other Road Users (the MoPCRU).

I like the way Congressman Bob Filner (24 May 2005) put it in a speech to the US House of Representatives.

Is it not strange that one of the most important and difficult skills, raising children, goes untaught? Learning parenting skills is vital because the early experiences of children's lives impact their potential for learning and for mental health. We need to create better parents because neglected or abused children are especially prone to perpetuate this cycle when they become adults without resources for healthy parenting. School-based Parenting Education programs can help to prevent future child abuse and work to build healthy children by developing an understanding of child development in future parents and by providing parenting skills such as empathy, listening, problem solving and critical thinking.

My plan, admittedly long-term, is to write the book that school children throughout New Zealand will read as part of their schooling. My current book is focused on improving parenting and how dad’s in particular see their role as parent. That’s ultimately why I wrote then book in the first place although self-publishing is a tough way to get to people! Interestingly it adds the voice of a single dad into the discussion. If we don’t educate our teenagers about parenting then the concept of single parenting or being a single dad’s must seem other worldly. Yet the statistics tell us many soon find themselves in this position.


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