07 August 2018
Eli Gardner remembers why she started Kids Matter in the first place…
Parenting is hard. As a mum of three I would go so far as to say it is quite possibly the hardest thing I have ever had to contend with in spite of my rigorous Child Psychology training and more than adequate social and economic support. Nothing and no one it seems can prepare you for the physical and emotional onslaught that tiny humans can inflict on parents: the utter exhaustion and the multiple collateral mini impacts on your body, self-esteem, confidence, relationships and time.
But how much harder still is it for those of us parents who are not just dealing with the above that we all can share stories about, but are also dealing with multiple adversities such as poverty, cramped or inadequate housing, joblessness or single parenthood? All of these we know make us far more prone to mental health issues such as depression and anxiety which lower our ability to manage our lives well and deal with everyday hassles and stress which abound in the lives of any parent.
Some years ago, after a particularly tough day of what felt like terrible parenting of my then 2 year old son, I took him to the local playground as much as a distraction for myself as for him. Whilst I was there, a young woman crossed the road from the housing estate with 6 children and joined me at the swings. Aghast, I asked her if these were all hers, to which she replied that only the one in the swing: a cute little 4 year old boy was. The others were all in her care as a child minder. As we swung our boys I learned she was a single mother, had a day a week working as a child minder. Living alone in a high rise with a small child had been lonely and often frightening. She had no support and had dropped out of school at 16 after she got pregnant. She told of unpaid benefits, multiple moves, struggles with addiction and the ever present stress of paying bills and feeding her son.
As the morning wore on and we each moved around the playground, I noticed her getting increasingly frustrated with her son: first she tried reasoning (I’d done that) then she got a bit louder and firmer whilst grabbing his arm (yup, I’d done that) and then she started to shout at him intensely and he put his little arm up to block her face shouting into his and she bit it. (OK…I have never done that.) She was not coping. Not at all. She had no resources or reserves. The other five children looked on silently.
What will be the impact of this on that little 4 year old? Well, it’s serious. Research tells us he’s at risk of growing up fearful, being violent when under stress. He’s likely to find it harder to form close secure relationships, he is likely to do poorly at school and therefore in the work place.
Family breakdown is rising in the UK and in particular in disadvantaged settings. The social and emotional cost to society to deal with the sequelae of poor parenting is huge. We must do all we can stem the tide.
My response to this crisis has been to adapt and extend an existing parenting programme to make it accessible and tailored to the needs of parents facing adversity like the mum I shared the playground with. Kids Matter is a six session evidence based yet accessible parenting programme that we train local church facilitators to run in their local communities. The programme is run in small groups, around delicious food and coffee. Its warm, inviting, non-judgemental atmosphere led by facilitators who know them by name and who share of their own parenting experiences; meaning vulnerable parents can open up, often for the first time in a safe setting and can be receptive to learning useful tips and skills to manage family life better and to see their children begin to flourish. As the programme is community based, once it is over, parents are invited to other community based activities; thus ending isolation and stigma and starting a positive cycle of growing self-confidence and better adjusted children. Kids Matter’s vision is to transform society in the hardest to reach corners of this country one family at a time. Check us out at www.kidsmatter.org.uk . Do also let us know what your response is to this national crisis.
Dr Eli Gardner is a Child Clinical Psychologist who started Kids Matter in 2015 after 25 years of working in the Health Service. Do email her to continue the conversation: firstname.lastname@example.org