Modern parenting is rubbish, let’s change it

… as school and family life come under new strain, teaching union head Mary Bousted urges a return to traditional values

Published on Times, from The Times, March 29, 2010.

There are few subjects that unite the middle classes more than bad behaviour in schools. Because although no one comes out and says it — it wouldn’t quite be form — the debate rests on the cosy assumption that the middleclass children are the victims and the working class the aggressors. As the well-heeled mother shelters her precious from the masses at the school gate, muttering “I blame the parents”, what she means is, “I blame poverty”. When did you last see a Boden family subjecting themselves to the wrath of Supernanny? … //

… There are two main causes of the problem. The first is time. Bousted talks sympathetically of parents rushing to “pick children up from the childminder after a 10, 11-hour day. We get home, we’re exhausted.” Now 50, she has a 20-year-old daughter. 

“I want to be quite careful about this. I do know how hard and stressful it is to bring a child up when you are working full-time. It’s something I’ve done all my life. I do know how tired you are at the end of the day, I’m certainly not saying TV or computer games per se are bad.”

Isn’t she, indirectly, blaming feminism here? The unintended consequence of women entering the workforce is that neither parent is around for the leisurely meals of old …

… What is her best piece of advice for parents? “As a parent you are not your child’s best friend. They will grow up and make their own best friends. As a parent your job is much more serious than that. Your job is to show by example and through the exercise of proper authority how to grow up.”

“Parents are under tremendous pressure to provide for their children. Resisting that can be very wearing, I know myself. I understand, I’m guilty of it myself. The sulks, the rages, the tantrums; it is very hard.

“But we have gone too far in the belief that if a child asks for something they must need it, and if they demand something they must have it. That all rules are negotiable and that children know what’s best for themselves in the long run.

“Some children arrive at school unable to realise that they may sometimes have to do things they don’t want to do. One of the most important skills parents can teach children is the deferral of gratification.”

What else? “Discipline, restraint, prudence, budgeting, economy. All very important life skills, we are not doing our children any favours if we treat them like princes and princesses.”

She suddenly stops, and reflects. “They’re all very old-fashioned words aren’t they?” Does she remind herself of her father when she talks like that? “I do, I do”, and she laughs. “I think I’m sounding terribly serious, I think parents should have a nice time with kids . . . if they’re prepared to do the hard stuff too.”

So, I say, getting up to leave, what about your own schooling? Well, she tells me, it was a Catholic girls grammar school, run by nuns. Could hardly have been stricter then?

“No. But I was quite badly behaved. I was one of those girls with . . . let’s call it spirit. You couldn’t be general secretary of a union without a bit of that.”

What, I say? Doesn’t this undermine your whole theory? Disciplined parents and disciplined school, and still you were naughty?

“Well,” she says laughing. “It doesn’t work all the time. I had a distressing tendency to say what I thought, which has stayed with me.” (full long text).

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