Wednesday, January 31, 2007

Taking choice from Parents

I'm slightly concerned at the Government's proposals to force lone parents back to work and off benefits when their youngest child reaches the age of 12. Yet again the value of raising children goes unrecognised. I know of a fair few parents who worked when their children were small but gave up when they were teenagers because they needed a parent around for all sorts of reasons. Adolescence can be scary and difficult and having a loving parent around when you need them can make the difference between a damaged adult and an effective contributor to society.

It's not the principle of working parents I object to - I'm one myself and I know that if my mum hadn't gone back to work, one of us would not be alive today to tell the tale. It's more the idea of compulsion. Parents know their own children's needs best, and it's the taking away of that choice to do what they consider best to meet those needs that I think is wrong.

Actually it's not just lone parents who have that choice taken from them. Many families can't afford to live without two incomes with the lack of affordable housing and rising energy costs.

I'm not impressed by the argument that all we have to do is provide childcare. The reason we are usually born one or two at a time is because we need a fair bit of nurturing in our early days, preferably from a small number of people. I would always recommend a book called "Why Love Matters. How affection shapes a baby's brain", by Sue Gerhardt for a comprehensive illustration of why responsive, individual care is required for optimum brain development. Put simply, take a baby out if its comfort zone, away from a parent, and you risk flooding the brain with cortisol and interfering with the development of the part of the brain that deals with social skills.

For older children I worry about the move to have schools open from 8 until 6. The school day can be quite onerous and many children need some quiet time and space after school just to rest or play. The noisy environment of an after school club can be quite stressful for them.

I think we need to find more flexible methods of working and supporting parents to be with their children if they want to do that, not invest massive amounts of money solely in keeping parents and children apart.

Of course, working is much more stressful if you are a lone parent. You don't always have anyone else to take care of the children if they are ill. You can be totally lost if your shifts are changed or you are expected to work extra hours and employers are not always understanding about time off for family responsibilities. I wonder if the Government has actually thought about what it is actually like for real people to have to do this. Somehow I doubt it.

2 comments:

Scott Rennie said...

Hi Caron,

Just discovered your blog today. Its very interesting. IN response to this article I would say is your arguement is fine but for the fact that people shouldn't be so dependant on the state. There is no reason why the state should pay some people to be at home instead of working like everyone else, especially when their kids reach the age of 12.

I think provision of childcare is the answer, and helping people find a work life balance, but the balance is surely not staying at home home all day.

Scott

Caron said...

What if you're home educating, or if your child is ill - employers can be quite unsympathetic if you have to take time off to look after sick children, and if you're a single parent, chances are you have no back up.

What if your child is being bullied at school and you need to be around to support them through that?

I think there are legitimate reasons why a parent could find it difficult to hold down a job, even in secondary school. For most it would be fine, but for some it could be a real problem. How do you get round that?

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