Jane Merrick: A mother's SOS - Save our Sure Starts

Free help is a godsend, but spare us the texts

Share

The idea, announced by the Prime Minister last week, of exhausted new mothers and fathers receiving parenting advice via text message is intriguing. It's a shame the texts won't be written personally by David Cameron, because I imagine they would read: "OMG is your baby not sleeping through yet?" or "Call that a middle name? LOL."

There will also be parenting classes, which can be bought with £100 vouchers handed out for free at Boots, and advice telling mums and dads to "keep calm during labour". LOL, indeed.

It is a pity that the coalition government will not ring-fence Sure Start centres, which are already giving out parenting advice across the country, from closure. But, we are told, Sure Start centres are not used by the people who "need them most" and have been simply hijacked by middle-class mummies who fancy a bit of free fruit and yoga.

Yet is this idea of "hijacking" resources a myth? When my daughter was nine weeks old, I turned up for my free fruit and yoga at my local Sure Start centre in Peckham, south London, expecting to see a queue of Bugaboo-driving yummy mummies outside. But at my weekly baby massage group this was not the case: we were from a range of backgrounds. And I was probably one of the most clueless in the room.

Because here is the second myth: that middle-class mothers and fathers automatically make the best parents. When we talk about "those who need it most", who do we mean?

Yes, it is just a handful of families, as Tony Blair first identified, causing the majority of anti-social behaviour in any one neighbourhood. But besides that core of "feckless" parents, what about the rest of us? At the time, my daughter was not sleeping, barely feeding. The Sure Start centre was invaluable.

The midwife there gave us advice about language development, and handed out free children's books. I smugly thought I'd be top of the class for already building up a library, but then she told us we shouldn't have the TV on when talking to our babies, even at this young age, because it might affect their speech later on. I was struck by guilt, because earlier that day I'd been entertaining my daughter on her playmat while a particularly juicy re-run of Dynasty boomed out in the background.

A health visitor told me that she believed many older mothers in the middle of their careers found it difficult to cope after having a child because they were used to being in control, and were suddenly confronted by a messy house and the unpredictability of a baby.

In her view, working-class, younger mothers coped better because they were used to life dictating to them, not the other way round. The working-class parents were more likely to have their own mothers living near by, while the university graduate was more likely to live in a different city from hers. So support networks were better, the health visitor said.

This was her experience, but is it true? It would be better to avoid generalisations altogether, and we must not assume that the middle classes make good parents just because they can afford the nicest clothes and toys. But many can pay the £200 or so for the antenatal classes offered by the National Childbirth Trust, for example, which, crucially, put parents-to-be in touch with a ready-made support network of new mothers – a huge advantage over parents who cannot afford the NCT classes.

Sensible, calm parenting should not come at a prohibitive price. The benefits of networks such as the NCT's perhaps show that there is a need for what Mr Cameron called a "sensible state" to offer help, for free, to parents who want it. But, please, Prime Minister, protect our Sure Start centres, too. And maybe go easy on texts telling us to "keep calm during labour".

React Now

Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Head of Marketing and Communications - London - up to £80,000

£70000 - £80000 per annum: Ashdown Group: Group Head of Marketing and Communic...

Nursery Nurse

Negotiable: Randstad Education Manchester: Level 3 Nursery Nurse required for ...

Nursery Nurse

Negotiable: Randstad Education Manchester: L3 Nursery Nurses urgently required...

SEN Teaching Assistant

Negotiable: Randstad Education Manchester: We have a number of schools based S...

Day In a Page

 

Ed Miliband's conference speech must show Labour has a head as well as a heart

Patrick Diamond
A roller-coaster tale from the 'voice of a generation'

Not That Kind of Girl:

A roller-coaster tale from 'voice of a generation' Lena Dunham
London is not bedlam or a cradle of vice. In fact it, as much as anywhere, deserves independence

London is not bedlam or a cradle of vice

In fact it, as much as anywhere, deserves independence
Vivienne Westwood 'didn’t want' relationship with Malcolm McLaren

Vivienne Westwood 'didn’t want' relationship with McLaren

Designer 'felt pressured' into going out with Sex Pistols manager
Jourdan Dunn: Model mother

Model mother

Jordan Dunn became one of the best-paid models in the world
Apple still coolest brand – despite U2 PR disaster

Apple still the coolest brand

Despite PR disaster of free U2 album
Scottish referendum: The Yes vote was the love that dared speak its name, but it was not to be

Despite the result, this is the end of the status quo

Boyd Tonkin on the fall-out from the Scottish referendum
Manolo Blahnik: The high priest of heels talks flats, Englishness, and why he loves Mary Beard

Manolo Blahnik: Flats, Englishness, and Mary Beard

The shoe designer who has been dubbed 'the patron saint of the stiletto'
The Beatles biographer reveals exclusive original manuscripts of some of the best pop songs ever written

Scrambled eggs and LSD

Behind The Beatles' lyrics - thanks to Hunter Davis's original manuscript copies
'Normcore' fashion: Blending in is the new standing out in latest catwalk non-trend

'Normcore': Blending in is the new standing out

Just when fashion was in grave danger of running out of trends, it only went and invented the non-trend. Rebecca Gonsalves investigates
Dance’s new leading ladies fight back: How female vocalists are now writing their own hits

New leading ladies of dance fight back

How female vocalists are now writing their own hits
Mystery of the Ground Zero wedding photo

A shot in the dark

Mystery of the wedding photo from Ground Zero
His life, the universe and everything

His life, the universe and everything

New biography sheds light on comic genius of Douglas Adams
Save us from small screen superheroes

Save us from small screen superheroes

Shows like Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D are little more than marketing tools
Reach for the skies

Reach for the skies

From pools to football pitches, rooftop living is looking up
These are the 12 best hotel spas in the UK

12 best hotel spas in the UK

Some hotels go all out on facilities; others stand out for the sheer quality of treatments