Saturday, 17 January 2009

Quick hit: Parenting programmes for all!

Who knew the University of Auckland has a Professor of Parenting Studies and Family Psychology? Here's the column he's written for the NZ Herald on the role of parenting classes.
A whole-of-community approach to supporting parenting can be contrasted with the traditional "clinical" approach of targeting only the most troubled parents with the most difficult children. We stand a better chance of reducing child abuse and preventing behavioural or emotional problems if parenting programmes known to work are available to all parents.
I was particular struck by Saunders' inclusiveness - he refers to "parents" throughout, which makes a refreshing change from "mothers should do this, that and the other."

I did a parenting course through Plunket when Wriggly was four months old and it was very useful indeed, not least for helping me realise that parenting is hard work for everyone, not just for me.

23 comments:

lovestitches said...

It's always refreshing to be reminded that every parent finds it hard at times and that we're not born knowing everything about it.

Giovanni said...

I shudder at the thought of how the idea of parenting programmes for all might go down in a country that still harbours such vehement opposition to the repeal of s59 and - the horror! - the suggestion that we should use better light bulbs in our homes. Still, I wonder: what did the course you attended consist of, in practical terms? I'm finding with the sprogs things change so much from phase to phase that - whilst it would be good to receive and exchange advice - it's difficult to imagine it working in an instructional setting (and have generally find Plunket nurses to be judgmental and generally not very helpful on that front - but I'm sure it was our bad luck rather than a generalised isse with the organisation.)

OTOH the ante-natal course we attended at birth wise was excellent in that it focused on the first few weeks of the baby's life more than on the birth itself - that was really useful.

hungrymama said...

I'm always leary about universal parenting education. I guess it would depend on who was delivering it and how respectful of different parenting styles it was. I've had some shocking and outdated advice from Plunket such that I didn't use their services for my second child and probably wouldn't for any subsequent children.

lauredhel said...

What hungrymama said - there are two sides to this, and the other side is very often not looked at. I've had friends with somewhat-atypical children be completely blown off by those running the off-the-shelf universal parenting classes. The teachers (and these were not the same teachers) were just not prepared to cope with children who didn't respond in a cookie-cutter way to a cookie-cutter approach, and just repeated that they should do the same thing over and over and over, despite the fact that the interventions were either ineffective or downright counterproductive.

Similarly, people with very deeply thought-out and consistent parenting philosophies, particularly in the "attachment parenting" spectrum, tend to be poorly served by programmes based around praise and arbitrary reward.

And I'm also deeply suspicious of organisations like Plunket getting their hands on compulsory parenting classes in early childhood, sponsored as it is by an infant formula manufacturer. My friends' and associates' experiences with Plunket have been very .... mixed, in that regard. Lip service to breastfeeding doesn't always translate into real support and information. Would the formula company be providing curriculum support material in regards to feeding, scheduling, settling, sleep?

Lastly, in what way is it proposed that these classes be "universal"? What sanctions would there be for non-attendance? Which parents and carers would these sanctions be applied to? (Mothers? Fathers? Step-parents? Informal carers? Prospective or current adoptive parents? Those considering or undergoing ART? ) If somehow compulsory, how would they be made _fully_ accessible to all parents, including those with disabilities or in remote areas?

Julie said...

@Giovanni - In practical terms I learnt a lot about child safety, eg how car seats work, what many of the hidden choking risks are, that kind of thing. They also included financial skills, with a great discussion about how to save money and how to consider getting some more, and options for childcare too, explaining what all the different ones meant. The course covered the shift to solids as well, which was very useful to us as I had no bloody ida how to do that! That's what I can remember off the top of my head.

From reading and talking to people about Plunket I'm coming to the conclusion that we have been quite fortunate to date. Our nurse is great, she has a background in maternal mental health which I think makes her particularly well suited. We mysteriously got lots of extra visits until I went back to work and I think that was because she assessed that I was pretty high risk for PND. We have also used one of the Family Centres for support when our midwife wasn't very helpful around breastfeeding, and that was a lifesaver. A relative and close family friend are Plunket nurses too and I've found both of them, adn the one who took the course, quite realistic and non-judgemental, but I hear otherwise from some of my friends.

Plunket isn't the only provider of parenting courses, and I certainly don't advocate that they should be, or that the courses should be one-size-fits all. But it would be great if courses in general were more widely available. I don't think they should be compulsory, but I do wonder if there would have been such a furore about s59 if more people had done them?

Julie said...

I should also note that our ante-natal class didn't focus very much on anything but the birth. At the time we thought it was a pretty good course (albeit woefully under-resourced) but in hindsight we really needed to know stuff like how to change a nappy, which luckily the midwives at the hospital taught us.

Giovanni said...

On the last point, I really couldn't recommend Birthwise highly enough. They focussed a lot not only on the shall we say mechanical aspects of caring for the child, but also on the psychological ones, and without trying to hammer any particular philosophy (I think it has a reputation of catering for the natural birth crowd but we ended up being the only home birthers in our group).

Plus, four words that cannot be stressed enough: "No freaking birth videos!"

Julie said...

Thanks G, we had real problems getting into a course at all, as we needed a weekend one. If we ever do this again I'll take up your recommendation :-) Although I found the birthing videos quite good because they helped me realise I could do it! I understand men on the courses tend to feel a bit differently though? ;-)

Giovanni said...

You might have a point there, you could almost hear the sound of a lot of male butts unclenching when the words "we won't be showing you any birthing videos" were uttered.

Anna said...

I heartily agree with this article! I also found it refreshing to see a man speaking about the support needs of families - it makes a pleasant change from seeing ACT MPs mouthing off about parenting licenses, Nats talking about boot camps, etc.

It's worth noting that Plunket has its origins in social control as much support for families - it's tied up with ideas of empire and eugenics and building a strong and healthy version of Britain at the other end of the world. Of course, it's changed over the years, but the individual staff you get (and their vintage) have a bearing on how helpful or otherwise they can be.

I think we seriously need to debunk the idea that we're supposed to be born knowing how to parent. My ideas of how to discipline children, for example, have changed massively over the last few years, and will likely continue to change. The assumption that parents (read mums) have some innate ability to raise kids is, I think, terribly damaging to women - it sets up an expectation that you can and should parent without support, and that you're a failure if you don't.

And as the article rightly points out, parenting classes have been targeted at 'failed' parents, often beneficiaries. Some political parties who shall remain unnamed have proposed making beneficiaries attend compulsory parenting classes. The assumptions behind this are incredibly dodgy - and they act as a barrier for other parents to seek advice. You can end up in that situation Julie points out, thinking that you're the only person struggling.

Besides, most of us seek parenting help at some point - we just don't do it through 'official' channels. We ask our own parents, friends, even THM, etc. I do this constantly (although I weigh up advice rather than taking it all on board uncritically). And not everyone has parents or friends with useful advice to impart - where should they go?

barvasfiend said...

Makes me quite sad to see people who have to learn to change a nappy from their midwives. It's great that there is assistance, but have we really got to such a rarefied, specialised society that men and women can become parents without having changed a nappy?

I've changed lots of nappies - of various kinds, and then learned the techniques for the option I chose (fitted cloth) off a friend who had a baby and was using the same technique.

I'm certainly not judging people for not knowing how to change a nappy, I just find it kind of sad that many of us can and do educate ourselves in a million different ways in a million areas but still miss out on the simple business of looking after babies and young children. It makes me kind of sad for our sense of community - that the first kids many people end up caring for are their own.

barvasfiend said...

I just read my comment - sounding a bit family firsty with the "become a parent without changing a nappy"....

I seldom ever comment on birth/baby issues on anything, so I'm not practiced at it. My point is that people of all ages make up our community, and that compartmentalising childcare - or elderly care for that matter - until it directly affects us, is, I think, a failure in the way we live.

hungrymama said...

Julie - I'd be interested to know what you learned about introducing complementary foods from Plunket. In my experience their advice on this is pretty outdated and definitely influenced by being sponsored by a formula/babyfood company.

Also, if experiencing breastfeeding difficulties I'd heartily recommend bypassing plunket and giving La Leche League or (for the big stuff) an International Board Certified Lactation Consultant.

hungrymama said...

And that last post would make much more sense if you add the words "a call" to the end

Julie said...

I agree about the broader issues that the nappy changing virginity speaks to. On my partner's side we are the first to have kids. On my side we are the last, but by quite a long way, so at the time when my nieces were in nappies I was not very engaged in their lives (I did the selfish teen thing in my early twenties). I'm not sure I would have considered learning to change a nappy a relevant skill, back when I went through a period of being scathing about traditional women's work. I hope I've grown up a lot since then ;-) I'm always encouraging my nieces (9 and 7) to help me change Wriggly! Hasn't worked yet, but.

Anna said...

Barvas, I think you're right on the money about the 'compartmentalising care' thing. I guess that's got a lot to do with the move away from living in extended family groupings, and towards smaller, nuclear families.

I grew up as the eldest of five kids, so know very well how to care for a baby when I had my own. However, I had no idea what it actually felt like to be in sole charge of the welfare of another human being, or all the angst that comes with being a new parent. I didn't have family near by, as my mother had when she had kids. I'd assumed, because breastfeeding was very familiar to me, that I'd immediately be sensational at it, and I quite frankly was stunned when it took me two weeks to master it.

Even though I had all the 'technical' skills, it took my partner and I many months to feel like we were even slightly competent. It was quite a lonely few months. It never really occurred to me to get some help - but some moral support, and reassurance that many (perhaps most) parents feel like they don't know what they're doing at times, would have been really valuable.

barvasfiend said...

Yes I think that's my point...we get into these 'streams' of life - so when you're a woman and you're working, you can and do go without being with people with babies, or oldies or many other kinds of life. We move away from our families for work, we rarefy our lives down to just doing the roles we get paid for, (I did both of these to some extent) and then I think we miss out when it comes to some of the real basics of life - like having kids. I'm really lucky to have extremely supportive (and knowledgable) in laws 10 mins away, but my family is in NZ (I'm not) and it never even occurred to me how important these contacts were until the real family bombshell kicked in.

I think also my rampant 20's feminism bit me in the arse too - I saw child business as "women's business" and although I didn't dislike it, I definitely distanced myself from it to focus on what I thought were more career oriented things.

Fortunately, I grew up, and realised that your intellectual projects and your family projects are mutually reinforcing, rather than exclusive.

Julie said...

HM, sorry I missed responding to your query before. My recollection of the Plunket advice on the course was slow introduction of solids from 6 months. An earlier start was verbally advised against by the nurse (and all the nurses I've encountered) however the food chart did say 4-6 months for the first stage, and it is sponsored by Watties. Is that out of date? It would be a big worry if so, I'm sure I'm not the only mum who relies on advice from Plunket...

Deborah said...

I got the "solids at six months" message too, but that can't be a hard and fast rule for all babies. Some babies may be able to manage solids a little earlier, and some a little later, surely, depending on their physical maturity.

I started olde daughter on solids at about 5 months, at my doctor's suggestion, but at that stage, it was maybe a teaspoon a day of rice cereal mixed with milk (plain old cows milk - nothing special), very slowly and gently, to introduce her to the sensation as much as anything. I started her on pureed vegies, again very slowly, from about 6 months. It was a bit later with the younger two - maybe around 5.5 months.

hungrymama said...

Six months then follow baby's cues is good advice. The gut becomes less porous around six months meaning the risk of allergy becomes considerably reduced. Solids should be introduced VERY slowly and breastmilk should be the majority of the diet for the full first year. Four months is way too early for a breastfed baby though there are varying opinions as to whether earlier solids might be more appropriate for formula fed babies as formula is a less complete food than breastmilk.

I've heard it said that following the schedule on the chart Plunket hands out is a good way to ensure a baby is weaned from the breast at or before a year (contrast with WHO recommendation that breastfeeding continue for a minimum of two years).

It sounds like you got one of the good Plunket nurses Julie. I'm glad there are some of them out there. I had an absolute gem for my first visit with baby #1 (who later and unrelatedly became a good friend) but she went off on maternity leave and her replacement was just awful.

lauredhel said...

Agreed, hungrymama. The materials by Plunket itself start by saying that the time to start solids is around six months, but warn that it should never be delayed beyond six months, and shouldn't start before four months - so they're obviously actually recommending a 4-6 month start (as is also obvious by it being in the 4-6 mo section of the site!)

The Heinz-Wattie's website and their babyfood labels also clearly recommend starting solids between 4 and 6 months.

They recommend starting to offer solids before "breast or formula milk" at 8-9 months instead of 1 year. Instead of the WHO recommendations about breastfeeding to at least age 2 being normal, they keep saying that the "ideal" is to breastfeed until they are "at least 1 year or older". ("Ideal" language around breastfeeding is carefully designed to reinforce the notions that it is difficult and not really necessary; that "ordinary" parents don't really need to bother.) However, at the 1 year mark the "breastfeeding" tab vanishes, and the website switches to talking about introducing cow's milk. There is no mention at all of breastfeeding in the 2-5 yo section, where it is assumed that all children will be drinking cow's milk.

I can't find the leaflets now, but in the past their solids leaflets have had prominent "Wattie's" branding, and have recommended large and frequent solids feedings from an early age.

I also noticed a firsthand report here of an "independent nutritionist working for Watties" handing out samples to parents of infants aged 3-5 months at a Parents Centre course, along with misinformation about breastfeeding and breastmilk.

Heinz-Wattie's is a rampant and long-term WHO Code violator, up there with Nestle, so none of this is surprising. I am, however, disgusted that a peak parental advice body should be accepting sponsorship and even co-branding with such a company.

While no doubt some are altruistic, the motivations of those pushing for "mandatory 'parenting' courses", and of those designing content, should be closely examined.

hungrymama said...

My Plunket nurse got very sniffy with me when I asked her why the "Thriving Under Five" booklet made no mention of breastfeeding after one year.

That was the same visit that she told me the way to put more weight onto my (small but perfectly formed) nine month old was to "withhold the breast" so that he'd eat more solids. Because mashed pumpkin has so much more goodness than breastmilk.

Julie said...

Wow, I am starting to feel very lucky about my Plunket experiences now.

And wondering how much it played a part in Wriggly weening at a year, along with the issue of my ever diminishing milk supply... Hmmmm.