Why greater parental access widens parenting skills’ gap

By Peter Jones

Proposals to give mothers and fathers equal access to children will further heighten the major issue of addressing inadequate parenting skills.

No one would argue that children should have equal rights to see both mum and dad, but pity the poor child who is exposed to an angry, bitter or reluctant parent.

The second reading of the Children (Access to Parents) Bill 2012-2013 in the House of Commons is due on 30 November. The prospect of this Bill becoming law fills me with hope and dread in equal measure.

I welcome the greater clarity around children’s rights to see both parents, but how exactly is this going to be legislated? An unwilling father can’t be forced to see his children; similarly, it’s almost impossible to persuade an embittered mother that she should allow the man she sees as her worst enemy to share her family’s life. The law is black and white; family life never is.

The key to making this proposal work is to ensure that couples are better equipped not just to deal with separation and divorce, but to be better parents. So what are the issues?

  • Family relationships come under the cosh in separation and divorce. If good parenting skills aren’t there in the first place, their absence will be magnified in any break up. Also, financial necessity often demands that both parents work and families are becoming more pressured and fragmented. Parents sometimes struggle to know how to juggle family life whilst a family unit – let alone when that unit breaks up.
  • In the UK we don’t have the traditional Mediterranean-style extended family model, where several generations live together or are nearby and where skills and knowledge around parenting and child care are passed on.
  • There are no evening classes to teach parents how to deal with a separation but greater collaboration between schools and parenting groups could help to provide on-going support for couples. And why not teach parenting skills from primary school age? Younger children can be taught the basics of behaviour in a family unit and older pupils can learn essential parenting skills that include how to understand the difficulties associated with a family break-up.

The Family Justice Review consultation also recommends giving children a greater say in their own futures. Attempting to guarantee children contact with both parents after a break-up is a step in the right direction. We need parents with a better understanding so that they listen to their children and one another in order to resolve child contact issues.

How do you think we can address the parenting skills shortage? Comment below or e-mail us here.

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