This new fad for parenting classes is crazy… mothers just need to trust their instincts
Posted by: Sue Atkins
I am planning my new signature workshops “The Secrets to Well -Behaved Kids” at the moment ready for September and next March to coincide wth my new Parenting Made Easy – Secrets to Well Behaved Kids App launching next week on i-phone and i-pad so I read this article in The Daily Mail with interest today !
“Sitting in a room at my local healthcare centre, I am surrounded by ten other women. We are all here for the same thing — to learn to be ‘better parents’. We have signed up for a nine-week course, covering topics such as ‘saying no’, ‘bed times’ and quite simply ‘how to be more effective’.
There are a fair few classes to choose from: ‘Troublesome Teenagers’ and ‘Tearaway Tots’ to name a couple.
But whatever age group the classes are dealing with, one thing is clear: they are on the rise. They are cropping up all over the place and an increasing numbers of parents are attending them. Some are run through local doctors’ surgeries, via health workers, some are run privately.
Even Helena Bonham Carter said recently that she went to parenting classes to help her be a better mother to Billy Raymond, aged seven, and three-year-old Nell. ‘I’m not working right now and I need to learn to be a mum,’ she said. ‘I’m taking parenting classes. No one ever taught me what to do. It’s much harder than being an actress.’
Natasha Kaplinsky, once the highest paid newsreader in the land, and now mother to Arlo, aged two, and Angelica, one, would be the first to agree. Earlier this week, Kaplinsky revealed that she is so overwhelmed by the demands of parenting that she is desperate to get back to work. ‘It’s much easier having a job,’ she said.
It certainly seems that the tide has turned. Suddenly, there’s a greater awareness that raising children is seriously hard work — and that we parents need help.
The pressure to be brilliant at a role that most of us feel totally unprepared for has never been more acute — an astonishing five of the ten mothers in my class say they don’t feel they are ‘good enough’.
‘I can’t cope with the mess,’ one woman says, ‘and when I ask my daughter to clear it up she just refuses.’ Another woman talks of how she feels we get classes in every other area of our life and yet we are not taught how to be good mothers. The issue that everyone seems to want to talk about is, basically, how to get children to do what they are told.
And so, today the class is discussing ‘boundaries’. The lady next to me, a pretty woman called Anne, tells me she has a set of three-year-old boy twins. ‘They won’t do anything I tell them to,’ she says. ‘I just shout all day and I’m really tired.’ She seems close to tears.
Our leader, Janine, who looks barely out of her 20s, is sympathetic. ‘It will change,’ she says. Anne looks at her dubiously. ‘But I want it to change now,’ she says.
‘You need to have clear boundaries,’ Janine explains.
‘I have clear boundaries!’ says Anne.
‘And then there must be consistent consequences if those boundaries are crossed,’ says Janine.
Anne turns to me. ‘I’ve tried time out,’ she whispers, ‘and a naughty step and none of them has worked.’
As a mother to Raymond, 14, Leonard, seven, Jerry, six, and Ottoline, three, I know how Anne feels. Every time I turn on the television or pick up a parenting book, I feel increasingly confused. Programmes such as House Of Tiny Tearaways and Supernanny bombard us with different tips and ideas. It’s as if we have lost our collective confidence in how to look after our children.
GP Clare Bailey, a mother of four who set up Parenting Matters, an organisation that runs a variety of parenting courses, says: ‘We lead such singular lives we never get a chance to experience looking after a baby before we have our own. Whereas, in the past, we lived in extended families and knowledge was passed down.’
I should admit that this is my second go at parenting classes. I originally came to them just after I had my third child. The arrival of a new baby turned my second son Leonard into a mini-Lucifer. He screamed, he shouted, he broke things, he abseiled out of his cot. In short, he drove us mad
One day, when I was at the health clinic, hormonal and barely able to control my tears, the health visitor suggested I attend classes.
At first I thought she was joking. The very idea! I took it to mean that I wasn’t coping. As it happens, I wasn’t — but I thought I’d been doing a pretty good job of looking like I was.
Then I panicked. I felt I’d let my children down, that I somehow did not know by osmosis how to be a ‘good mother’. All this was a bit taboo back then — which is clearly not the case now with so many mothers signing up.
Despite my scepticism, I did learn something first time round. It calmed me down and I realised that I am no disciplinarian. Instead of barking orders at my children, I found staying calm and listening to them worked well for me.
‘I think it’s about being given strategies to cope,’ says Dr Bailey. ‘Most mothers get upset when they feel they have lost control. They then get cross and scream and shout because they want their control back, but these are not ways in which harmonious families work.’
But do so many of us really need parenting classes? Our parents certainly didn’t. Could the problem be that we simply expect too much?
Sometimes I feel we are all so goal-oriented, with our children dashing off from one extra-curricular activity to another, that we parents have lost the art of trusting our own instincts.
And then there’s the fact that most of us are working mothers these days and shoulder guilt about the lack of time we spend with our children. At least with parenting classes, we feel we are doing something productive.
After all, we have goals at work and, for some people, this means needing goals at home for their children, too.
On top of this, women are having children later, often after they’ve achieved great things at work, with teams of people following their orders. They then find it absolutely mind-boggling, and upsetting even, when their children do not act in the same way.
One health visitor told me that the women she monitors most for post-natal depression are not the teen mums from the local council estate, but the older successful career mothers who have such high expectations for themselves and their children.
‘They have an unrealistic sense of what children are and do,’ she says. ‘If the children do not behave as they wish, they get depressed.’
One week later, I check in with Anne and her twins.
‘It’s all working well,’ she says happily. ‘I put them in bed last night and told them to stay there or else they wouldn’t be able to watch their favourite TV programme the next day and it worked.’
This may seem like a small victory but, for Anne, it’s a major breakthrough.
‘So it’s working for her,’ says Dr Bailey. ‘That’s great. I think all parents could benefit from classes and that’s why they are on the rise.’
But I can’t help but think that maybe it is just a question of regaining trust in ourselves.
There can never be an official guidebook on the subject of parenting and, when it comes to my own children, my instincts are usually right — no class in the world can teach you that.”
Well actually I DO think there is a handbook for bringing up kids and guess what it’s called….
“Raising Happy Children for Dummies” and I wonder, I just wonder who wrote it ! 🙂