Traditional family structures are falling apart for a variety of reasons. No use blaming parents for their inability to cope, or romanticising the past. When we look at the whole picture, we must also acknowledge that the sacred family unit was often a torture chamber of abuse. Affected individuals (predominantly women and children) suffered in silence. The shocking narratives that keep emerging from across all sections of society show ignorance perpetuated over generations about what a child needs to thrive.
On the positive side, there are new forms of families emerging, families of heart and mind. Housing policies seem blind to this new phenomenon. The trend is still to build little boxes rather than independent units around a communal space that would allow socialising and sharing.
On the negative side, why is the psychological knowledge that has been available for decades not disseminated to parents? Corporations offer courses on motivation and people skills to their employees, because they realise these skills improve business.
There were attempts. During the 80’s and 90s, I was involved with Parent Link, a non-profit scheme that offered a playful and empowering set of twelve experiential sessions transmitting people skills. The resulting emotional self-awareness reduced stress and frequently turned lives around. The charity, set up by I. Sokolov and J. Pearson, offered subsidised training to parents who had benefitted from what they learned, and unlearned. Consequently hundreds of parents went on to facilitate more courses, drawing in more parents. Teachers were keen to bring the programme into schools. Sadly, without government support, the brilliant scheme did not survive its popular success.
Since stay-home parents pay no tax, they are considered a drain on government resources, unless they get a job and perk up the employment statistics. The status of parents has been gradually eroded, and, to top it, they are blamed for the ills of society.
Ten years ago I hatched the following idea and was laughed at:
Offer an appropriate part-time wage (taxed) to those who choose to be vocational parents or carers and are willing to learn, since the wage would be tied to basic obligations, like involvement in the community and the attendance of courses to develop relevant skills and knowledge. A reward for the most vital of all contributions to society would shift the status of a parent or carer – lessen social segregation – defuse the destructive acrimonious fights over property and maintenance where relationships break up – raise self-esteem and build a stronger community spirit through networking and sharing of responsibilities, while still allowing part time work outside the home.
A parent or carer who has financial security will not be perceived as a burden to the state. No more would he/she be diminished by cliché projections and judgements.
It makes also financial sense – some benefits could be scrapped and the funds re-applied to wages, skills training and creative community projects.
And here is why any idea that proposes a shift in the social structure will be regarded as naïve, and not convince politicians:
Our social system thrives on unsustainability. Problems have become a growth industry. In the social sphere it is poverty, unemployment, sickness and criminality that have turned into the most profitable enterprises.
Present social policies are irresponsible, like building a high-rise in an earthquake zone disregarding safety regulations. They are based on blame, the lowest of all public denominators. They are an insult to the intelligence of ordinary people, who, with heightened awareness, tenacity, creativity and sacrifice, struggle to stay sane.
The above illustration is by Daphne Jo Grant, and was kindly provided for my 1993 poetry collection ‘Gapsy Truth.’