WHAT makes a good parent? Unconditional love? The patience of a saint? A never-ending supply of milk chocolate buttons perhaps? After nearly three years at the job, I have to confess I am none the wiser.
I managed to complete a law degree in the same period of time but I am nowhere near my graduation day as a parent.
There is still so much to learn, I wonder whether I’ll have mastered it by the time my children leave university (if we can ever afford to send them).
I could write an essay on what makes a bad parent though.
Not talking to your children, not playing with them or reading to them, failing to feed, clothe and bathe them would surely get me top marks.
So I wasn’t surprised to read the five-day pledge that a think-tank has come up with to teach mothers and fathers across Britain how to become better parents.
1: Read to your children for at least 15 minutes a day. (Check.)
2. Play with your child on the floor for 10 minutes. (Check, depending on how full the washing basket is.)
3. Talk to your child for 20 minutes with the TV off. (Check, although not Countdown as it’s educational.)
4. Adopt positive attitudes towards your child and praise them frequently. (Check, although not so much that they turn into Shirley Temple.)
5. Ensure your child has a nutritious daily diet. (Fish fingers contain Omega 3, don’t they?)
It might sound as easy as ABC but some parents lack these basic “skills”. Labour MP Frank Field revealed last week that some children start school without knowing their own names because their parents barely speak to them.
A teacher recently revealed how, when asked to bring a book into school, one child produced the Argos catalogue as the only example of the written word in his house.
Critics argue that such pledges are examples of the Government taking too much control of family life but what about those parents for whom the state is their only nanny?
I sometimes wonder how people think the children of bad parents grow up to become good parents themselves. It’s not as if they are taught at school.
Parenthood is the hardest job in the world, yet we don’t receive any formal training.
Field, who like Iain Duncan Smith believes that a child’s first five years are the most crucial developmentally, has not only proposed that all new parents attend classes but that there should be a GCSE in parenthood so that the next generation do not repeat their parents’ mistakes.
The trouble with teaching parenthood at school is that the children who would benefit most from those lessons are the very ones whose parents are so bad they allow them to play truant.
Similarly parenthood classes will work only if they are made compulsory, otherwise only the good parents will attend them, not the bad ones.
It is not the parents who actually worry about whether they are doing a good job or not that the Government needs to worry about. It’s the parents of Wotsitsdust-covered children who seem to think there is nothing wrong with addressing them only in a volume above 100 decibels and bringing them up to believe a pencil is for stabbing with rather than for writing with.
The only way these people can possibly improve is with one-to-one sessions in parental skills and anger management training.
That is where the coalition should be channelling its resources because rescuing a child by the age of five is a lot cheaper than paying for their imprisonment at 18.
Those parents who refuse help should have their child benefit stopped. That might sound like extreme action to take but it certainly works for Supernanny.