YOUNG MOTHERS, CHILDCARE AND BLAME

A response to the government’s new policy of sending 2 year olds to school and Poorer parents shouldn’t feel guilty for spending time with their children by Lola Okolosie focusing on young parents;

As reported, many children lack basic language and counting skills when they start school, and so find it difficult to catch up, leading to the continuing gap between outcomes for children from disadvantaged background and those from more affluent ones, even before the age of five. The current early-years system is said to be letting them down and giving children from poor families an ‘unsure start’. Hence the announcement this week from Ofsted chief, Sir Michael Wilshaw, that two-year-olds should be sent to school-based nurseries. This policy is well intentioned; reduce inequality by supporting those who are more likely to get left behind – I totally get it. What I feel a little uncomfortable with is the assumption that school based nurseries at a younger age are the natural and only solution. This feeds into an assumption that ‘poor’ children can only catch up in a formal school environment, with the unspoken underlying premise that their parents are ultimately to blame, and any distance between child and parent (especially if the replacement is a ‘professional’) can only be positive.

Being an advocate for young mother’s means that I support young mothers’ rights to choose what is best for their family. The reasons for teenage pregnancy are hugely varied (and for another post!) but, for many, becoming a mother is an opportunity to take more control of their future. However, young mothers, due to sheer practically of being young, overwhelmingly tend to start off poor. Their own material resources at this point of child bearing are low, sometimes none existent. So when you talk about poor mothers, young mothers tend to get lumped in. Correspondingly, when people talk disparagingly about mothers ‘breeding irresponsibly’, ‘milking the system’, living off other people’s taxes and not looking after their children, they often have the image of an irresponsible teenage mother in their head. People therefore think they have right to judge, not only a young woman’s choice to have a baby, but also the choices she makes as a parent. Teenage mothers are considered fair game in a society obsessed with identifying personal failings of others, particularly in mothers!  And no politician with their own public popularity in mind would want to be seen to be sticking up for them!

While middle class parents may get berated for being lucky enough to afford the choice to be a stay at home parent, no one ever suggests that their presence is fundamentally bad for their children. For young parents, however, there is often an automatic assumption that someone older, more important, more middle class, or professional, knows best!

The extent of ‘well meaning’ professionals, with their policies and targets to save the poor, are presenting quite a confused and sometimes conflicted picture. Raising the participation age means that young mothers will be required to be in full time education until they are 18, but DWP also want single parents to be looking for work and getting off benefits, and children’s centres (what’s left of them) want involvement of all teenage parent families in their activities (toteach them good parenting I presume), and public health want all young mothers breastfeeding; I’m sure there are many more. What young parents really need is to be supported in their choices, to be trusted to make the right choice for their own family. Some young parents may feel that school based nursery is the right thing for their child. Others may prefer to spend the time with their children themselves, or use informal childcare that is more familiar to them. For myself, as a parent at 17, I only felt comfortable leaving my son with my mother while I studied part time. I felt extremely lucky to have this opportunity. I’d been put off nurseries for young children after spending 3 weeks in one for my work experience. Hey, I didn’t have a lot of life experience to go on but what I did have I used. It was only about 10 years previous I was ‘playing schools’ with dolls, and I applied the same enjoyment and enthusiasm to playing made up educational games with my son at home. It pleases me immensely that he still remembers these now, although how much this has contributed to him studying Theoretic Physics is admittedly open to question!

 

We all have different experiences and values but on the whole we want to be good parents, and we care about our children. Until we recognise that choices made on this basis should be supported, many families will continue to struggle, or accept paths which do not feel right. Rather than expecting early formal nursery to be the silver bullet for every family with limited resources, we need to look at how different choices can be supported better. Poor and young parents are no less capable of providing positive and enjoyable interaction with their children but they are likely to struggle more if they are stressed and worried about debt or how secure their current housing is. Children can excel in many childcare settings but if the parent they go home to believes that the only positive influence in their child’s lives is those of professionals, then any apparent benefits are surely counter-productive. Parents need to feel confident in their own ability and worth; They need to feel valued, and that their time and presence is recognised as important in their child’s life, whatever their current level of resources. It’s very difficult to fix a parent who doesn’t want to be a good parent, but it’s very easy to undermine and knock the confidence of a good parent who is used to being told she is simply too young or too poor.

 

Prymface is about Promoting Respect for Young Mothers and challenging the stereotypical view of ‘teenage parents’ that seems to encourage judgement and discrimination simply based on age.

‘Teenage’ is just an age group. It doesn’t mean single, uneducated or poor and it definitely does not mean ‘bad parent’. Making assumptions and demonising all young parents is just an ignorant and lazy way of looking down on other people and for some reason, this seems to be a social acceptable form of discrimination!

Prymface is for young mums who feel they don’t fit into the box that others try to put them in, or the mums who are told they are the ‘exception to the rule’ and you wonder what the rule is based on, or who decided the criteria for the box, or why there even needs to be a bloody box. Prymface is for young mums who are bored of all the negativity and shame and guilt they are ‘meant’ to feel just because they did things a different way round.

April 2014

Originally posted on a room of our own

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