herald

Thursday 26 April 2018

Suzanne Power: certificates and study can’t teach experience

I had lunch with my friend and colleague. His eight-year-old son has a toddler sibling doing his nut in. Nothing's sacred to his younger sister.

My friend is a life coach and works with everyone from those with learning difficulties to businesses trying to make themselves more human. He took his training and put it into principles for his son: "I put in a reward scheme; he earns his pocket money by controlling himself around her, and we talk every day, so he can let off steam."

My friend has a future in family coaching. I advised him to keep a journal of the daily talks he has with his son and turn it into a book. It sounded as if a lot of us could use his ideas and techniques.

"Maybe I should do a parenting qualification," he said out loud. Then we both burst out laughing. There is a modern theory that a piece of paper saying that you have studied modern theories somehow equips you better than experience itself. This is like saying that a front-line soldier who has no theoretical qualifications in staying alive is not qualified to do battle.

Parenting is a front-line experience. You are worn out and often left for dead. There are times, we admitted to each other at lunch, when you do not like your children.

Just like any relationship, children go through stages where they are excruciating, where you fail to get it right with them and they put your skull as close to the angle grinder as it's possible to get without laceration.

The way of dealing with that is to tap into the deep love and even deeper instinct to raise them right that we all have. You need to forgive yourself when you lose the rag and to hold on to the rags of your patience when your sons and daughters make you wish you were in an asylum. There you get breakfast, dinner and tea given to you, as well as the sedatives all pressurised parents crave.

My life coach friend has the skills to put his work principles into action, not because he learned them, because he has them implicitly. He is one of the best dads I know. He uses the word 'support' in relation to his family in all the right ways. He will write a great journal and it will become a blog people read to get over the hell of age difference among siblings.

Then someone will give him a medal. Because he came back from the front and made life in his family more peaceful and deeper for the understanding he brought to it.

Theories come from practice. Not the other way round. Practitioners need to have spent years in their areas of expertise, as people not as experts. Only then are they qualified to pronounce to the rest of us.

For generations before the 20th century, parenting wisdom was handed down by previous generations of parents. I think the most insulting thing is to tell your child's grandparents that you can do it better than them. I know the ethos has changed and the individual is more expressed and expressive than in the 'put up and shut up' era, but the experience is just the same. The frazzled nerves and sleepless nights and terrifying responsibility for developing brains and bodies and for a child's every need, all these are just the same.

Nothing beats experience but someone with even more of it. Our parents should be our first port of call. Our friends in the trenches second. Books come a distant third.

Over the top we go.

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