Parents are besieged by “expert” advice these days and programmes pointing the finger at supposedly failing members of the species who can’t get their kids to eat veg or go to bed on time. The result, says child psychologist Dr Amanda Gummer, is that parents end up having their confidence undermined. She spoke to Workingmums.co.uk.
Do you feel constantly guilty about not spending enough time with the kids, about being a less than perfect parent, about not doing anything in your life really well? Parents are besieged by “expert” advice these days as well as programmes pointing the finger at supposedly failing members of the species who can’t get their kids to eat veg or go to bed on time.
The result, says child psychologist Dr Amanda Gummer, is that parents end up having their confidence undermined. “Those programmes are terrible,” she says. “Everyone makes mistakes sometimes. It’s not good to make people feel bad about themselves. Guilt is a very counterproductive emotion.”
She favours an approach called parent-centred parenting, which begins from the idea that children learn by copying their parents. She compares it to the airplane safety card which advises fitting oxygen masks to yourself first and then to your children. “How can you help your children if you don’t sort out your own life first?” she says.
She believes parenting has changed radically in the last couple of decades or so. “Parents are less confident. They are suffering from information overload with all the how to guides on what they should be doing. Parenting has been converted into a job, but unlike at work there is no appraisal system. They want to know they are doing a good job with their children,” she says.
Amanda normally gives sessions on parent-centred parenting to employees at City firms and has also done workshops for child care workers and at children’s centres. Now she is offering sessions direct to parents in the Hertfordshire area where she lives. On Friday morning she will give her first taster session, followed by another on 22nd June at 8pm. “It’s not a how to guide because I don’t believe in one size fits all,” she says. “It’s about getting people to think about their lives. I will talk about why parenting is different today and about child development and how you can apply parent-centred parenting to common problems.”
The sessions are interactive and designed so parents can talk about what they find difficult about their role as a parent, how they could tackle things differently and how that would work. “It’s not about getting your kids to eat vegetables or putting them on the naughty step. It’s not another parenting expert telling people how to bring up their kids because it all depends on parents’ own value systems,” she says. “It’s about whether you want to bring your child up as a free spirit or not and what kind of family you are. The child needs to fit into your household after all.”
Work life balance
She will give two introductory sessions covering the issues all parents struggle with, including work life balance. Although it is not about telling people what to do, there will be some practical tips about concrete situations because she says parents want something tangible they can try. Amanda hopes, though, that that is not the main thing they emerge with. “They need to think what would work for them. No-one knows their kids and their family like they do and it is ultimately their decision what they do,” she says. “I want to give them the confidence to make decisions. As a parent they are the only person who can make the decisions. A two year old can’t decide what they should eat.”
She says the feedback she gets from her workshops is very good. “A lot of people say it’s like a weight being lifted off their shoulders. They feel they don’t have to be supermums, that when they make mistakes they can rectify them. It is not about them having to strive to be perfect,” she says. “We talk about how to deal with your imperfections and how this can teach your children important things. A lot of people feel that it is reassuring and come out feeling they are doing a better job than they thought.”
Amanda hopes to get an idea from the workshops about what parents need most help with so that she can develop sessions for the future which will focus on specific areas, like how to deal with stress and work life balance.
For more information, go to www.parentcentredparenting.com