Every Child Matters: Parents Under Pressure

Barnardos. (2002). Every Child Matters: Parents Under Pressure. https://knowledge.barnardos.ie/handle/20.500.13085/208
There can be no denying their significance to all of us, both in our individual lives and in terms of their importance to society. Yet there has been surprisingly little detailed study made of the family in an Irish context, particularly when one considers the status accorded the family in the Constitution. While undeniably this has begun to change, it has coincided with a time of unprecedented pressure on families which, in turn, raises fundamental questions about the relevance and sincerity of much that is said and written about their value. Barnardos has long believed in the value and necessity of supporting families as a vital means of advancing the well-being of children. For many years we have provided an extensive, and growing, range of family support services with a particular focus on those children and parents who are most vulnerable. But the reality is that all families need support of some kind or other at some stage or other. Some families need a wider range of supports for a longer period than others – and that may be influenced by the extent to which they are isolated from support from their extended family – but it should not blind us to the truth that all families experience considerable pressure, for a variety of reasons. Very often it is linked to a transition, for example, becoming a parent or a child leaving home, starting school, moving to secondary school, adjustment to trauma caused by illness, bereavement, or family breakdown. Barnardos’ conviction that support for families is critical to the well-being of children is fundamentally founded on a belief that parents have, in the main, the desire and the capacity to provide their children with a positive nurturing experience. It is a vote of confidence in parents – focusing, as it does, on their strengths and on their crucial role as the glue of society. It acknowledges that there are great rewards and joy in parenting. But it also recognises the reality that many parents encounter serious obstacles in meeting their own parenting aspirations. If we truly care about children and childhood, then we must seek to understand the current realities of family life in Ireland and consider how we can support parents in their parenting role. Importantly, we must recognise that all families are different, so a "one size fits all" approach to family policy and provision will not succeed. While welcoming the increased focus and debate on families and related matters in recent years, Barnardos has two main concerns. Firstly, children have not featured sufficiently. For example, "the child care debate" has much more to do with employment and gender equality policies than it has about the rights, needs or interests of children per se. Secondly, the debate has become polarised, driven by emotive and ideological differences over, for example, gender and the desirability or otherwise of both parents participating in the labour market. In developing our advocacy programme, Barnardos’ goal is to put children into the centre of the policy debate on the family and to ensure that this debate truly reflects the realities faced by children and parents every day in Ireland. Barnardos believes that, as a significant provider of services to children and their families in Ireland, we have a responsibility to bring that experience, substantiated by the evidence of this commissioned report, to the attention of a wider public. It is essential, we believe, that we seek to influence not only "family policy" in the narrow way it is generally understood, but also the very broad agenda of issues, pressures and constraints that impact on families. That parenting is increasingly difficult in the Ireland of today, there is little doubt, in spite of our economic progress. But the source of much of the stress that parents experience is in the economy, fiscal policy and provision, the labour and housing markets, the educational system, transport infrastructure, and so on. Spongelike, it is as though families have to simply absorb the pressures from all these sources and too often they feel wrung out when it comes to the core of their parenting role. Too many parents feel they spend their lives rushing around attempting to meet the conflicting needs of employers, schools, childcare providers, bank managers, landlords, negotiating traffic, etc. so that they have little time to spend with their children. The resultant time poverty has become one of the greatest threats to children’s well-being and a major stress factor for parents. Families who are particularly vulnerable are affected by these stresses also, but here it can have the effect of seriously undermining them and contributing to their breakdown. Previous generations of parents reared their children in very difficult conditions, too. But for all the material progress that has been made, today’s parents face challenges that were unimaginable no more than a generation ago, particularly to their primacy as nurturers of their children. In terms of both children’s right to be nurtured and to develop to their full potential in a stable and supportive environment, and from the perspective of society’s own self-interest, an investment in children will always produce dividends, for children are our future. This is why Barnardos believes in the importance of all aspects of public policy having, as its primary focus, support for parents in their critical role. We are convinced that the pressures of parenting can only be relieved by a comprehensive and integrated approach across all areas of public policy that puts support for children and their parents at its core. It is time to affirm parents in their vital contribution to society. It is time to ensure that they have opportunities to exercise the choices that are in their and their children’s best interests, recognising that this will vary for each family. It is time to truly celebrate the positives of parenting and the benefits we all gain when families are supported.