Parents Anonymous

(The Nationalist, 11 February 2000)


The hardest job in Ireland today is that of a parent. It must sometimes seem to them that everybody’s hand is raised against them. The partnership of former times between home, school, parish and society is dissolving fast in the face of many new influences which can broadly be grouped under the general label of secularization.

Whether it’s unstable marital relationships, drugs, pornography, peer pressure, alcohol, freewheeling sexual practices, exam or career pressure, the demands of money-making and marketing or family-unfriendly legislation, there is a formidable array of forces lined up against stable family life and a healthy process of maturation in the young. And the problems which flow from these are there for all to see.

As someone who has no experience of bringing up children, I sometimes think it must be terrifying for parents to find themselves facing these difficulties, especially in their children’s’ teen years. Am I mistaken in thinking that parents are often afraid of their children, even to the extent of trying to buy them off or to win their affection with money and presents?

If the description I have given above is anywhere near the mark, it must surely raise the question of what can be done to help parents exercise their role as parents, a role which is among the most important of all in society. When you look at the situation as it stands now, there doesn’t seem to be a great deal of help on offer out there.

Perhaps that is a challenge to parents to begin helping themselves. After all, there are community and voluntary groups for just about every social ill one can imagine. Why not one for parents? As one step among many in that direction what about a Parents Anonymous along the lines of Alcoholics Anonymous? I’m thinking here of meetings on a regular basis in which parents share their difficulties in confidence and help each other by lending a sympathetic ear. Think of how much it could mean to a parent in difficulty simply to be listened to by someone like themselves who understands what the problems are like. It’s not a question of a problem-solving agency – there is no such fairy godmother – but a matter of human solidarity. Many vocational sectors have support groups; why not parents?

I have a lot of confidence that when people come together, motivated by a common human concern, they can do great things. Let’s not sell ourselves short: rather than look at a problem and say ‘Why?’ would it not be better to look at a possibility and say ‘Why not?’