Jana Hainsworth - Structural barriers to good parenting need to be addressed first

As a working mum of 2 girls aged 4 and 8, I salute Expoo’s campaign to allow ‘imperfect parenting’. 

We are bombarded daily with advice on what to do and what not to do to parent well. We have a natural tendency to compare ourselves with others and find ourselves somehow falling short. And the marketing of all those lovely holidays and activities families take together would suggest we’re surrounded by happy 2 parent families with 2 smiling children. Here comes my admission. In my family we have daily battles and I’m sure my neighbours have heard me shouting on more than one occasion, my daughters are allowed to watch Barbie movies and Winx over and over again and, horror of horrors, they do not always wash their hands before dinner! And yes, I go on regular guilt trips because I prioritise my work over my children (they are currently watching a Barbie movie!).

But I also come at this blog from a professional perspective. Eurochild has been actively promoting family and parenting support as central to its efforts to promote the rights and well-being of children in Europe. This means investing in services – public and private – that support families – struggling or otherwise – to provide a more nurturing and supportive environment so children grow up happy, healthy and confident. 

The quality of family relationships is one of the most important factors in determining outcomes for children. And we know there is a lot of ‘bad parenting’ out there (including my own!) that impacts negatively on children’s development. But what interventions work? And what is ‘good enough’ parenting? For those working in parenting support, how do we filter out cultural bias and personal preference or indeed prejudice? Who is deciding what is in the best interest of the child?

From a policy perspective, our first question in Eurochild would be to ask whether the right structural conditions are in place to support families. Too often we focus on changing behaviours when in fact if families had less material stress – a stable income, housing security, access to decent jobs, debt relief, affordable childcare, child-friendly public spaces etc – parenting would also improve. Investing in complex parenting programmes designed to change behaviours without addressing basic needs is doomed to fail.

But beyond getting the structural conditions right, psyscho-social support for parents has its value. This can range from offering formal parenting training, to providing easy access to information and advice, to supporting peer networks and informal support.

In all interventions the key to their success is empowering parents themselves. It should never be about aspiring to some kind of artificial parenting ideal. The starting point is usually strengths-based, focusing on what is working rather than what’s not. Parents need acknowledgement for just coping with the multiple pressures and expectations. We should not strive for perfection, we should strive to be good enough. With that I’m going to turn the television off!

Jana Hainsworth, Secretaris Generaal van Eurochild

Wat doet Eurochild?

Eurochild is een netwerk van organisaties en individuele deskundigen die zich binnen Europa (de Europese Unie (EU) en daarbuiten) inzetten voor verbetering van de levenstandaard van kinderen en jongeren, voor een samenleving waarin kinderen zich het meest volledig kunnen ontwikkelen en waarin hun rechten bekend zijn en gerespecteerd worden. De basis voor de activiteiten van Eurochild ligt in het VN-Kinderrechtenverdrag. 

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