Let’s give parents our support, not our condemnation

Of course young children should know how to brush their teeth - but let's not be so hasty to judge t

Of course young children should know how to brush their teeth - but let's not be so hasty to judge their parents, says Steven Downes. Picture: Thinkstock - Credit: Getty Images/iStockphoto

Maybe it's time we gave struggling parents a bit of a break - and our support - says Steven Downes.

What is the most difficult job in the world - stuntman, Alaskan fisherman, mountain guide, head of PR for Visit Ipswich?

None of the above, I reckon. My vote goes with being a parent.

Unlike every other job, parenting is 24 hours a day, seven days a week, 365 days a year, from the moment of birth until you turn up your toes.

To get it right, you have to be relentlessly alert, organised, full of energy, with an endless supply of love, patience and forgiveness.

Even when you get it 'right', it can go wrong, with all of the above no guarantee that your children won't get themselves into a fix.

That applies when your children are adults - even, as my parents will testify with rueful smiles, when they hit their 40s.

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Bearing all of this in mind, and the physical and mental stress parenting can exert, perhaps we should be a little more forgiving and less judgemental when things don't go right.

Sadly, we are all too eager to be smug and holier-than-thou.

At the school gate, there's an almost gleeful relish as parents pass on the gossip about a child who has got into trouble and the mum and dad who have fallen short.

They should be stricter; they should be more lenient; he watches too much TV; he is spoiled; he is neglected; they never read to him; and so on.

This week, it was revealed that growing numbers of pre-schools are giving children lessons in how to brush their teeth.

Can I get a deluge of righteous indignation?

That's the natural response, sadly. We condemn parents for leaving teachers and carers to do what should be their job.

I know from teachers that this is not the only task that they have inherited: they teach littluns to tie their laces, button their shirts, wipe their noses and use cutlery. Sometimes, children start school while still wearing a nappy.

All of these things distract school staff from the task that they are paid to achieve - educating.

So should we round on the feckless parents who are too lazy or dull to keep their end of the bargain?

In some cases, yes. For there are some who really don't deserve the gift of a child. They treat their youngster as an encumbrance.

Most, though, are not bad parents - they are under pressure, struggling, lacking support, inexperienced or lacking role models (ie their parents didn't show them the right way).

They are also often isolated - and maybe that's where we are going wrong.

This island is more crowded than ever, with endless opportunities for communication with others. But the absence of genuine friendships built over the garden fence or a cup of tea is harmful.

Instead of finger-pointing, perhaps we should build those friendships and offer support to people who are finding life lonely and parenting tough.

Community, not condemnation.