Before I had children, I was bothered that politicians today have an unhealthy interest in lecturing people about how they conduct their personal lives – what they eat, how much they drink, whether they take enough exercise, and so on. It seemed to me that individuals are quite capable of making these decisions for themselves, and that politicians should be looking at the bigger picture, trying to solve some of the big social problems.
Then I got pregnant – and I realised that, until that point, I’d had it relatively free and easy. From breastfeeding to toddler-taming to packing lunchboxes to helping with our children’s homework, parents find ourselves buffeted on all sides by advice from people calling themselves experts, and disoriented when the advice conflicts, or the techniques don’t work. And then we find ourselves looking up from the textbook or the TV programme and wondering, what does any of this have to do with the reality of bringing up children, or the actual relationship between me and my child?
Parenthood is a grown-up thing to do. But parents today are treated, not like adults who are capable of making responsible choices, but as children in need of endless instruction about what we should be doing and feeling. The justification for the swathes of ‘parenting policy’ that have come out of policymakers’ computers over the past few years is that if only people were better parents, children will be more educated, healthier, better behaved. This assumption passes the buck for dealing with social problems, putting everything onto parents. It also implies that the responsibility of parents is to accept meekly the kind of intrusion into our lives that non-parents never have to put up with, because that is what is best for our kids.
But the infantilisation of parents is as bad for children as it is for mums and dads. Parents should be trusted to raise their families without constantly having to account for ourselves to external sources of authority – and we should trust ourselves. We need to liberate ourselves from the tyranny of the ‘parenting expert’, and stand up for our families against those who seek to politicise them.
Jennie Bristow is the author of Standing up to Supernany, published by Imprint Academic (September 2009) at £8.95.
Jennifer Howze, Tracey Jensen, and Zoe Williams will join Jennie Bristow to discuss Standing Up To Supernanny: Why we need a parents’ liberation movement on Sunday 1 November at the Battle of Ideas festival. The Battle of Ideas 2009 festival takes place on 31 October and 1 November 2009 at the Royal College of Art, Kensington Gore, London SW7 2EU. For details, see: http://www.battleofideas.org.uk/index.ph