Parents – are you bad or just misguided?

I recently read an article in The Telegraph titled: ‘Parents told: ‘stop treating your children as friends’. Based on the advice of Alice Phillips, the president of the Girls’ Schools Association, it warns misguided, if not ‘bad’ parents against sympathising with their worried children, including them in ‘adult’ conversations, and treating them like friends.

L0064590 Children walking up a grassy knollApparently you are wrong if you can’t help your child with homework thanks to your own inabilities and should get on the internet to figure it out (she clearly doesn’t know me and maths). But you are also inadequate if you advise your children about what they might want to do after school. Worst of all is:

“Discussing school matters in front of children – even reacting in front of them – can turn small disgruntlements into huge issues. Your child will latch on to your ideas and repeat them as ‘gospel’.

Is it a coincidence that Alice Phillips is a Head Teacher?

So, don’t discuss things in front of them: keep secrets because:

“This is a practice which causes children to grow up far earlier than is necessary or good for them.”

As a historian of parenting in England it strikes me that parents are always being criticised by so-called ‘experts’ who often condemn them for following what was considered perfectly reasonable behaviour only a few years earlier. So most of the time us well-meaning parents are told NOT to keep secrets from children as this damages them. We also love our offspring and want to talk to them and console them – which last time I looked was okay. And, by the way, the BEST thing to be in the eighteenth century was your child’s bosom friend.

So – to offer consolation to all poor benighted parents and to show you that you can’t win, I have decided to post a series of quotes from the parenting advice I’ve collected for my book and also for a new project curating humorous quotes, provisionally called the Happy Parent.

Here’s one to start us off which echoes the message of not being too sympathetic to your children. William Gouge, in his Of Domesticall Duties (London, 1634 2nd edition (first ed 1622))

Many parents neglect themselves: they moile and toile, they carke and care, they pinch and spare, to leave their children store of wealth thinking thereby to do good to their children, when as withal they too much cocker [spoil] their children, give the raines unto them,and care not how little duty they performe. Gods curse will lie upon all the store that is laid up for such children, as a fire to consume it all.

Alice Phillips warns us: ‘

“The accumulation of well-meaning but misguided attempts by parents to support their children can severely restrict the path those children take in life.”

I suppose that is better than Gouge’s message for 17th century parents that by spoiling their children they’ll invoke God’s curse on them all!

Image: Wellcome Library, London

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