Who Needs Parenting Education Anyway?

Today and tomorrow I’m in Minneapolis at the annual work meeting for the National Parenting Education Network (NPEN). The room at the Search Institute (our host for the two days) is filled with very nice and very intelligent people—all of whom are deeply dedicated to making high quality parenting education a norm in the United States. Being with these fabulous people gave me a 15-year-old flashback.

I transported back in time and saw myself as the executive director of Families First Missoula, making a routine appearance on a local television news show. The vintage female newscaster was interviewing me about the upcoming Missoula “Parents’ Convention.” The Parents’ Convention was a full-day—including  a keynote speaker and 75 minute break-out sessions—all designed specifically for parents. It was pretty darn cool.

The newscaster nodded attentively. I explained how the event was created for parents because parents often didn’t get respect for all the knowledge required to fulfill their parenting commitments. This Parents’ Convention was about treating parents as professionals. As I finished talking, the newscaster turned to the camera, exclaiming, “Do go!”

I was pretty happy.

But moments later she scrunched up her face and muttered: “If you need that sort of thing.”

I wish I’d been ready for this negation of my message. But I wasn’t and so I just ignored her. Instead, I wish I’d explained that good, competent, and effective parenting is NOT NATURAL. I wish I’d emphasized that everyone needs parenting education and that everyone should want the sort of knowledge that just might make them a little better parent.

And this flashback takes me to another one.

This time I’m doing a short stint of in-home family therapy. There’s a mom with her 8-month pregnant teenage daughter and the room is filled with worries—worries about whether this teen mom is ready for what she’s facing. In a massive effort at denial, the soon-to-be grandmother turns to me with a strange and strained grin, stating, “Once she holds that new baby in her arms, she’ll know what to do . . . don’t you think?”

The answer then—and now—is the same. “No. She will not naturally and automatically know what to do. Parents need education. Parents need support. And parents need to know they need education and support. Rarely are parents really ready to face the enormity of their task. It’s hard to competently cope with sleep deprivation, mood swings, a wailing baby with poop somehow defying gravity and making its way up your child’s back, as well as the many other emotional, physical, and psychological demands of parenting.

And so this is why I invite you all to go to the National Parent Education Network’s website. For a mere $25 a year, you can join the movement to make high quality parenting education more accessible for to all parents. Somewhere inside, behind our strange and strained grins, we all know that parents need our help and that it’s the children who will benefit.

NPEN’s website: http://npen.org/

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