Tuesday, 12 June 2012

How basic is basic?

This morning's post brought two letter's addressed to the parents of Lucy Kate.  Steve and I opened one each joking that they would probably be the same, they were. They both contained a leaflet from the Welsh arm of the Basic Skills Agency and an invitation to Language and Play sessions run by the Education Department of our local council.
 I am sure it would probably be a lovely course and entirely enjoyable for other mums. Unfortunately it would not be so for me because I would have to take both Kerrie and Lucy. Juggling a wayward toddler and a young baby would rate high on the how to stress mummy out scale which I doubt would be the effect they are looking for.

Can someone please tell me why these things are always run with the assumption that we all have only one child? This really does aggravate me. The anonymous 'they' who plan these courses always seem to assume that all parents have only one child and that they all drive. The local baby clinic always seems to run on the same basis. I have lost count of the number of times they have sent me appointments for 2:30pm for a clinic which is always running late leaving me dashing to collect the other children from school. I have now given up pointing this out and after discussion with my Health Visitor choose to ignore the reminders and make appointments with the practise nurse at a more convenient time.

In this case the sessions run from 1pm till 2:30pm and they are located two towns away, I am a non driver. If I get the bus it wouldn't leave enough time for me to get back for the school run. It also wouldn't give me enough time to give Lucy her usual top up feed before the said school run unless I give it during the play session which means I would be trying to keep track of Kerrie the Houdini style escape artist in an unfamiliar environment while feeding Lucy and then dashing off to get the bus juggling both the baby and the toddler and a pram which they will probably want me to fold up because it wont fit on the bus and even after five children I have yet to work out how to fold a pram which needs both hands while also holding a baby and hanging onto a toddler, and lets not forget I would also be juggling a changing bag and bus fares.
 I will be late to pick the other kids up from school due to the bus route going past two local high schools at chucking out time and therefore that time of day being the worst time of day to travel anywhere  thus rendering myself mightily unpopular with my children's teachers.
 Are you knackered just thinking about it because I know I am. It certainly wipes out any benefit we might gain from attending doesn't it. Forget that idea then how about we stay at home and sing several repetitions of  'The Wheels On The Bus' and 'Wind The Bobbin Up' and have a nice cuppa instead? Yes shock horror I do sing to my kids without needing the intervention of the basic skills agency, admittedly I don't sing well which probably accounts for all the rain we see in Wales but my kids don't care and I am careful not to sing in public, I don't see why anyone else should have to suffer.

OK, so we have established that this course of play sessions is not for us this time. I did however read the leaflet which promised to explain the Language and Play sessions in more detail, well as I thought you never know who might be interested in this sort of thing and I might be able to pass the information on. One of the side effects of having so many children is that everyone expects me to know what is going on locally so I looked at the leaflet which turned out to be the most patronising piece of twaddle I think I have ever had the misfortune to read. The leaflet was split into sections headed by questions about the programme. The final section headed 'Why is it important?' read as follows.

"Being a parent is the most important and challenging job in your life. We believe you are your child's first and most important educator. We want to share some ideas that will make a real difference to both you and your baby or young child. To give your child a great start, try cuddles, talk, rhymes, sharing a story each day and playing together. All of these are absolutely free! Making the most of ordinary situations can change your child's life. You are in the best position to give time, stimulation and warmth. Why is it important to do this? Because you're worth it!"

I found the whole thing to be totally patronising. If they do as they claim see us as our child's first educator then they clearly don't have much faith in our abilities if they feel we all need to be told to cuddle and talk to our babies. James was four years old when Lucy was born when she cried he sang to her, we didn't suggest this to him, it was instinct pure and simple. His response to her distress was to try and soothe her. If such a young child can work this out then why does the basic skills agency think we are all so incapable of using our common sense?

I would go so far as to say that while I recognise that some parents for various reasons do need extra help with a new baby, generally speaking a parent who doesn't instinctively recognise that babies like to be cuddled should not be allowed within an inch of Mothercare's automatic doors. Why do they think we can't even manage to cuddle and talk to our offspring? I know that life in Britain is not that great at present but are things actually that bad that parents en masse must be talked down to? Does every iota of literature intended for us have to be dumbed down to such a level that it can be clearly understood by the Jeremy Kyle generation? My mind boggled as I read the kind of ideas they were so eager to suggest as something new that would not have occurred to us. Cuddles, talking and playing together, give me strength these are not new ideas, this is what should come naturally surely? Talk about stating the obvious!  The writer of this leaflet excitedly imparts this information with all the joy of someone finding the Holy Grail, right down to the L'orealesque line 'Because you are worth it' although surely in this case it should have read 'Because your child is worth it'?

  I am honestly not being snobby. I grew up on a council estate, went to the local schools and I chose not to go to university in favour of going straight into the workplace. I know that being a parent is the hardest job I will ever do and that is OK, no one ever said this would be easy but as I am often heard to say I made my bed and I will lay in it, I might be found to be banging my head against a brick wall sometimes but hey ho such is life. If I need help with something I will find it but please give me some credit for having a few brain cells left yes even after having five babies I still have one or two chunks of the old grey matter rattling around in my head. Sending leaflets with such content does not help me be a better parent, it just made me cross for both myself and my fellow parents. To add insult to injury they sent us two copies as if we couldn't possibly be expected to understand it first time around. Dumbing down Britain, just how basic do we have to get?


  1. Maybe they sent two copies so you and Steve have one each...just in case you don't talk to or cuddle your husband either!!!

    1. Tal, you made me chuckle! Quite possibly although I suspect it was more likely a case of the left hand not knowing what the right hand is doing!

  2. Helen, you write so well. Might I suggest a career in journalism when the kids have grown up, you would be fantastic? You are witty, insightful and have a turn of phrase that makes me laugh out loud. No shortage of grey matter whatsoever - go girl xxxx

  3. Naomi, thank you for your encouragement and your very kind words which made me a little bit blubby I have to confess. Not sure if I am brave enough for the journalism route but I would love to do something involving writing in the future. We shall see and as they say watch this space xx