In my experience, many parents seem to spend a lot of time wondering how their offspring will ‘turn out’; what they will be like in the future. As a head teacher, I would often listen to parents as they spoke about their sons and daughters in terms of hopes, aspirations and expectations. I recall one mother of a 5 year-old who told me that my job was to ensure her son was set on the pathway to a particular Oxford college. Pushy parent? Yes, of course, but, also, a parent who cared passionately about education. If most parents are less narrowly focused, their focus on the future of their children is widespread.
Invariably, my advice has been that, as parents, we should enjoy our children for the present and, to some extent at least, let the future look after itself. Mums and dads can spend so much time thinking ahead for their children that they forget today and the current moment. And, then as the years pass by, and our children grow up, we no longer spend time looking ahead.
Instead, we spend our time looking backwards, reflecting on what our children were like when they were young. Too late! Enjoy them now, whilst you can and whilst they want and need you around, was ever my message. The time will come when you will want to see them a lot more than they will want to see you.
Sadly, it seems that this advice is becoming harder to follow. A recent teacher union survey has shown that parents and children are spending less and less time together as families. The cause, in the view of most teachers (94 per cent ), is that both parents are having to work. Too many children, some as young as four, are at school from 8am to 6pm. “They walk around like ghosts, do not talk to anyone, fall asleep frequently, do not progress as quickly as their peers,” according to one early-years teacher from Yorkshire, quoted by the BBC.
School days that are preceded and followed by soulless periods of childminding do not only cause children to be unhappy. They are often profoundly upsetting to parents, too. They are robbing many children and parents of a family life. The long-term price to be paid by our society is likely to be high. Human happiness, social harmony and, indeed, educational attainment are more closely linked to families than our governments seem to understand.
Instead of providing incentives, including tax incentives, to sustain family life, our political leaders are moving in the opposite direction. Frantically, the Government is searching for more and more ways to extend the school day through what amounts to ‘on the cheap’ childminding in order to allow what it calls ‘flexibility’ for parents to work.
And what if, in the future, an economic miracle happens and the UK is able to spend unlimited amounts of money on ‘pre’ and ‘post’ school day childminding? Would it make any difference? No! Government spending on childminding or anything else cannot ever buy the one thing that younger children, in particular, most need – time with their parents.