In the state of NSW you must practise for 120 hours before getting your driver licence. Every turn is indicated, every park meticulously critiqued and every stop sign given a full ‘three Mississippis’ before the consideration of continuing. Yet when you have a baby the state appears to give no fucks about your qualifications. There are no tests, no 120 hours of practice, no requirements for having to be responsible for the upbringing of another living human being.
With TV shows and our own (often incompetent) parents as our only examples, it’s little wonder why most people struggle. Whilst the state’s approach to driving ensures adequate support for safety on the roads, when it comes to parenting they seem more concerned with punishing ‘bad’ parents rather than helping them.
With such limited support, do we judge our parents too harshly for their fuck ups? It’s pretty easy to be tricked by the apparently conclusive evidence. Poorer families are statistically more likely to have their kids end up in foster care or juvenile detention centres; statistically more likely to abuse drugs and statistically more likely to end up in abusive relationships.
We tend to blame this on a pattern of bad parenting in poorer communities. But are these statistics truly accurate? And is the blame we place on these parents unfair? It seems fairly clear that poverty and domestic violence are intergenerationally cyclical, so why does the state continue to focus on punishing those apparently ‘responsible’ rather than giving support?
Let’s assess the flipside. Parenting records in wealthy communities appears to be quite irreprehensible, or so may it seem. I would argue that sucking at parenting is something that doesn’t discriminate based on income. Growing up on the North Shore, it’s safe to say that behind every mansion door every family has their problems but they seem to manifest in different ways when you’re rich.
Drug abuse problems tend to be hushed up; abusive relationships slowly and strategically break off with the father moving to China for ‘business reasons’ and products of bad parenting end up looking like sociopathic CEOs rather than criminals. As a society we are quick to judge the failures of the disadvantaged but slow to realise that this failure is collective.
It’s probably true that some people are born with a natural parenting ‘instinct’. Perhaps it’s a gene that makes you more caring, patient and selfless. Regardless of what it is I know I most definitely don’t have it.
Just like no individual really has a clue on how best to reverse park on King St with a line of cars waiting behind you, in the same way that no parent really knows the best way to discipline a belligerent teenager. At least in one scenario we get to practise.
Parenting is a thankless and tiring task, but that is made worse by one’s financial situation. The state needs to provide support, not judgment. To enable that, we as a society need to change attitudes about who is and isn’t a “bad” parent.
It doesn’t just run on class lines and perpetuating that myth undermines many wonderful parents and invisibilises the struggles of many other children.