I seldom blog about parenting, nor am I an “expert”. I have been a parent for almost 21 years, but I am still careful about how I give parenting advice. The resources, blogs, books, commentary about parenting can seem endless. I felt there were conflicting messages about parenting when I was a new parent — is it more overwhelming for newer parents of today?
I do blog about parent involvement in education and it naturally can overlap into parenting areas and issues. I wrote a blog post about the parenting part of parent involvement in education in which I also stated my reluctance to tell any parent how to parent, as well as questions about who should offer this advice in education settings. Parent engagement is defined in different ways, if not poorly defined, but many do view it as part of parenting.
A number of articles circulated this week regarding parenting. Larry Ferlazzo posted about an article from a British newspaper with concerns that parents were “failing to get children ready for school”. Their national association of head teachers and government produced leaflets for parents to give advice on getting children ready to learn. I don’t think Larry was off the mark with his response,
“As I’ve said before, written materials like this are only useful if they are used by school staff as excuses to initiate genuine two-way conversations with parents. If they are just passed-out, then they become examples of one-way communications that just end up in the trash.”
The president of the association was quoted in the article suggesting that “large numbers of parents failed to speak to their children because of the demands of work combined with over-exposure to television, DVDs, games consoles and the internet.” A message to the association also suggested that this was also an issue for middle-class families, “where busy parents fail to spend enough time with their children”.
The first leaflet offers the following list or advice to parents to help with “school readiness”:
• Setting time aside for talking to children “without being interrupted by phones, TV, radio, computer etc”;
• Playing games together as a family that encourage concentration, such as jigsaws and board games;
• Encourage physical play and exercise by taking a trip to the park or the local leisure centre’
• Give children “lots of hugs and praise”;
• Check your child has their name on everything they bring to school;
• Make sure they have a healthy breakfast at home or at the school’s breakfast club;
• Set aside time for “homework, reading and talking together, and bedtime stories”;
• Set appropriate sleep patterns, including 15 hours a day for under-fives, 10 hours for primary school pupils and at least nine hours for older children.
I wonder what the next leaflets will entail. Most of these are focused on things that will require time – some tasks more than others.
Larry also shared this article on Twitter regarding American parents, What American Need to Do Better: Lessons From the Rest of the World. There is an interesting video interview with the author of a recently published book, “Parenting Without Borders”, and much of it is captured in the article. I was relieved to hear/read that the author and parent, Christine Gross-Loh, stated that there were many ways to be a good parent, but adds this point, “And a lot of them involve a lot less involvement than we believe we should be doing.”
I think this is where things get really confusing. The message often is, “Be more involved”, but also “Don’t be too involved”, or “Be involved like this..”. How does a parent find the happy, balanced medium? Who should say? We often know parenting and experiences from our own context. And just as every child may learn in unique ways, each child may need to be parented in unique ways. I have found that with just two of my own. And really, aren’t most parents just doing the best that they can do? The parenting resources and advice are just that – resources and advice. But what good are they if time for parenting and family is at such a premium for all families? Time spent dedicated to parenting and family may also not be supported or valued in our society and communities. Chris Wejr also recently posted a response to another article about parenting and also asked about the impact and influence that family time could have on childhood issues.
I also wonder… if time for parenting was more valued, supported, and respected, would the questions, debates, and discussions about involvement or less involvement still occur? Are the appropriate questions being asked?