Mixed messages

Photo: iStock.com/blackred

Nobody offers you lessons in how to be a parent which is a mixed blessing. Matthew Smith laments the fact that one of the biggest challenges of being a parent is dealing with all the conflicting advice you receive.

Many years ago, I remember talking to a well-known prep school headmaster. Being somewhat new to the nuances of the education world, I put it to him that teaching prep school children represented a unique challenge. 'Oh no' was his instant response. 'You don't realise – educating the children is the easy bit. It's educating the parents, now that's the problem...'

These words have stuck with me ever since and I am reminded of them when pondering over any dilemmas relating to my own children. Nobody offers you lessons in how to be a parent (let alone how to be a 'good' parent) and we are all, for better or worse, thrown in at the deep end. There are few poems as oft-quoted as Larkin's This Be The Verse, not least for the impact of its opening line and the effect parents can have on their child. For me, however, the more damning sentence is the second: 'they may not mean to, but they do.'

And that's the problem. Few parents are anything other than well intentioned when it comes to making decisions for their children but one of the biggest challenges is dealing with the conflicting advice you receive. If you read any parenting guides out there, you very quickly find yourself trying to decide what character traits you bring to parenting. Are you permissive and indulgent – 'one more Percy Piglet won't do any harm, will it?' – or something of a disciplinarian – 'we never had Percy Piglets in my day and I won't hear any more about it...'

Matthew Smith is the Editor of Attain.