THE PARENT TRAP
Today’s parents are tired of being blamed for the ills of society. It’s time they were given a break
The information revolution has made ours the most over-analysed generation in history. There are surveys to reveal anything you want to know about life, which is wonderful – unless of course you’re the parent of a dependent child. Scarcely a month passes without new research to show what a mess parents are making of their most important role in life. In recent times, the Institute for Public Policy Research has shown how our children drink more and are more promiscuous than continental children and most damningly UNICEF has revealed that our children are the unhappiest in Europe. On my own bookshelf I have a copy of Sue Palmer’s best selling book ‘Toxic Childhood’. I bought it to help nurture my ministry with parents but have been reluctant to open it since. I just don’t want to know what else I am getting wrong as a parent. Perhaps Philip Larkin was right all along about what parents do to their children (not that I’d repeat it here!).
Despite hearing evidence of how children are more cosseted than ever before, parents are reluctant to change their approach because of what has been termed the amplification effect.
It only takes one horrible thing to happen to one child somewhere and through loud media repetition many parents unconsciously amend their behaviour. One child abduction case in Portugal has influenced the way every British family now conducts their summer holiday. And which parent is willing to take small chances with their child’s safety, having seen the way Kate and Gerry McCann’s parenting choices were callously shredded in the media?
The Church has a huge mission to children in a world which otherwise suppresses talk of God, but it also has a growing responsibility to parents. I am a strong supporter of parenting courses because simple skills can be learned in theory and later appropriated under pressure, but even with parenting courses there is an assumption that parents could and should be doing things better. In doing group preparation for baptism I have enjoyed hearing parents share what they most enjoy about parenting and what they find the hardest. Some say how much they appreciate the chance to talk with other parents of young children in a structured way which helps them to see they are not alone in the choices and obligations, the fears and aspirations they face in bringing up a dependent child. This has usually been an adjunct to formal baptism preparation, but I wonder if it ought to have a more prominent role in our church’s ministry.
Romans 8:1 famously says that there is no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus, yet in today’s culture parents feel routinely condemned for the way they bring up their children and live with a constantly nagging sense of guilt nurtured by a potent partnership of think tank research and media scare stories. Perhaps there is a latent ministry to lift the inappropriate guilt parents feel and help them find encouragement in God, without cementing another layer of social expectation on top of an already wobbly edifice.
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