It’s hard to think of a TV programme in recent memory that has created a cacophony quite like Benefits Street has. It’s been labelled as “poverty porn” by many, demonising the working classes by focusing on manipulated caricatures and presenting them as the norm. Then there’s the argument that, far from distorting reality, it lifts the lid on a scandal we as a nation are all too keen to keep out of sight – namely that to be poor in today’s UK is to be an outcast.
Among all the tweets and turbulence the show has generated though, a micro-debate has surfaced around how we raise our children. When some of the inhabitants of the street were offered parenting classes, the backlash, especially on social media, was instant. The very notion that adults should need to be somehow taught how to bring up their own young was derided as lefty lunacy.
But are parenting classes really such a barmy idea? Yes there’s an intuition to being a mother or father, a sense of what to do that kicks in with most people – but how far does that really take us?
You don’t have to live on Benefits Street to have sought help in how to pacify an endlessly-crying baby, tantruming toddler or zoned-out teenager.
And no matter what may or may not be innate in terms of style and approach, there’s no doubt that we all learn to parent primarily from how we were raised – the plethora of phrases from your own folks you hear yourself repeating word for word to your own kids confirms that in spades.
Eating and feeding oneself is just as “natural” a life skill as raising children, yet we don’t find cookery classes so abhorrently depressing a phenomenon?
When you shut the door behind you having brought a baby home from hospital for the first time it becomes immediately apparent that you and your partner – if you have one – are on your own. We are given more guidance on how to look after a new mobile than we are a new child.
Being a parent is the simultaneously the hardest and most important thing most of us will ever do – getting help to do it can only ever be a good thing can’t it?