“Listen man,” he said in his inimitable laconic style, “just know how stuff works. Practise how to change a nappy. Put up and dismantle the buggy a few times. Know how to put a bottle together and definitely figure out how the car seat works. They’re tricky and the last thing you want, is to be coming out of Holles St figuring out how to put the damn thing in with the Mrs hovering over you and a newborn baby.”
At the time, I laughed it off but I did exactly what he said. It was without doubt the best of all the streams of advice that was given to me leading up to the little fella’s birth. What my friend couldn’t give me advice on was how to deal with the emotional stuff.
Now, the reason I bring this up is because I have always found it funny — not right, not wrong just funny— that we need a licence to drive, have a TV and own a dog but there is no such requirement for the slightly more responsible role of being a parent. In fact, you don’t even need to go on a course.
A recent study carried out by The University of Auckland found that parents who had enrolled in an eight-week positive parenting programme reported less conflict about child rearing and fewer child behaviour problems.
The study involved 42 families who had children aged between three and eight. All of the children had diagnosed behavioural difficulties. In this case the course included extra father-child components meant to highlight the relationship between them.
Researchers said the father-relevant parts were based on data collected from the fathers about topics they believed were important to include in the course. (They actually asked men something about being a parent? Wow!) This included how parents influenced their child’s development, ways to show affection, and ideas for spending quality time with their children.
One of the research team, Dr Tenille Frank, noted: “When mum and dad are a team working together, both learning the techniques, both seeing the results, they’re more likely to use the strategies in the future.”
According to the findings, mothers also reported being more confident in their parenting practices and felt their partners were using positive parenting practices more frequently.
It is worth pointing out the parents in this case already had kids and were not about to become parents for the first time. But surely studies like this one can help to inform would-be parents about potential bumps in the road, either between each other or between the parent and the future child.
For example, and this is only my own idea, I’ve never heard of a couple sitting down with a recording of a crying baby on a stereo and seeing how long they can last before they have to turn the stereo off. But would it not make sense to find out how both of you deal with the noise, let alone the stress?
Would it not be worth getting checked for your abilities to communicate, both listening and speaking, before you have the child? How long can you last before you start telling the other how to do something? How long should you hug a baby for? Should you always pick them up when they cry?
Perhaps it is ridiculous to suggest that everyone needs to do a parenting course but would it really do any harm? It certainly would have helped me, at least the first time around.
There is an age-old assumption that women have an inherent knowledge of how to look after babies. But does that ‘social truth’ put an insipid pressure on them to take on more than they should? At the same time, does the same ‘social truth’ relieve men of some responsibilities or worse, gradually shut them out of the parenting loop?
Knowledge is power and perhaps its attainment should be a prerequisite to becoming a parent.