Saturday, November 1, 2008
The Urgent Importance of Parent Education
When I say I think there’s no social issue that’s more important than parent education, I mean it literally.
Have you ever been in a grocery store and seen a parent jerking or smacking around a child? Have you struggled with how to intervene without making the situation worse? Have you been the parent who reacts to your child in a way that you’re less than proud of? WHO HASN’T???
Almost always, a few simple skills or ‘tricks of the parenting trade’ can make a dramatic difference in the way we react, or don’t react, to our children and, in turn, in the way they respond to us. Diffusing a stressful situation rather than reacting with resistance and anger can make all the difference in the outcome. But it’s difficult or impossible to do this if you don’t know how, and even harder if you ‘don’t know that you don’t know’.
Also, stress and fatigue can play a big role in parenting, so self-care is essential, something it’s taken me way too long to learn. My friend, David, has told me often, ‘put the oxygen mask on yourself first and on your child second, just like in an airplane emergency.’ I thought this was an oversimplification until I really thought it through and lived it through. It’s actually quite profound.
This relates to homelessness in a very direct way. So often when I talk with people who are homeless, particularly those who’ve been on the street for a long time, I’ll hear some reference to being ‘knocked around’ as a child. They are not complaining. They think that’s the way the world is. And on some level, they seem to feel they ‘had it coming.’
I was impacted by a comment on this blog made by David Scott in response to the post, “Looking For And Finding Good Things”:
“Contrary to popular belief, most homeless did not become so out of choice. Most did not become homeless because they are lazy, stupid, or immoral. Many homeless people are victims of abuse in the form of neglect and abandonment by their parents or other caregivers. Like many victims of abuse, a lot of them have chemical dependency problems. Their existence is so miserable that they use alcohol or other drugs as an escape.” [blog: http://www.FreetheGods.com/phts/]
I remember a billboard I saw in my hometown almost a decade ago which read something like: “Spend money on parenting and education in early childhood, or spend it on prisons later.” Dramatic and simple but profoundly true. I look around me and see so many costly social problems that began in early childhood.
Recently my older daughter sought and found a book that addressed a particular issue she was having with one of her children. When she changed her behavior with him, his behavior changed noticeably for the better. What impressed me most was that she moved, actively, to find a solution, and was willing to examine her own part in the puzzle and make changes in the way she approached her child, which led to changes in him.
To be human is to have problems. To be wise is to move to solve them. I wish parenting classes were a mandatory part of parenthood, but, alas, there comes the issue of yet another government program. I heard a report on National Public Radio tonight on an organization called “Roots of Empathy” and the positive impact it is having on reducing bullying among the population it serves. The report emphasized that the most important aspect of any relationship is empathy. If we don’t feel the ‘other’ has pain and that their pain matters, we have no problem inflicting suffering on them. [http://www.rootsofempathy.org/]
This also made me think of our homeless friends. So often, we think it’s ‘them’ and ‘us’… until we meet them face to face, and see that they are us. Empathy.