Tuesday, 12 August 2008

Family-Friendly Policies

At the Mothers Uncovered session last week (a project I've been taking part in which gives new mothers the opportunity to discuss the rewards and challenges of motherhood), a topic of discussion was Conservative MP David Cameron's new 'family-friendly' plan to bring maternity nurses into the homes of every new parent, for six hours a day during the first week of a baby's life. He apparently was impressed by the Dutch use of this system.

Looking into it further, I think this is typical of political strategies to divert attention away from the 'real' issues that make family life difficult. Cameron claims he wants to help 'struggling' middle-class families who apparently cannot take their babies 'out and about' due to the streets not being safe. I had to laugh aloud at this suggestion. It reminds me of other familiar 'fear-tactic' strategies, e.g. 'The War on Terror' that convince us the enemy is without, rather than within.

I'm more than a little uneasy at the prospect of some Gina-Ford style maternity nurse coming into parents' homes at the very time when they should be building a new relationship with their baby, and imposing her regimes and ideas on often impressionable new parents. I can't think of anything I'd have wanted less than someone funded by the state to do this job, foisted on me at this point. A cleaner and cook would perhaps have been welcome, but what makes the state think that they know better about how to look after babies? This remark was most telling: "To have those extra pair of hands around - and the advice of a real expert [own emphasis added]- could, I think, have a dramatic effect on the beginning of a baby's life and perhaps help in setting a positive path for the parents to follow."

How about focusing on helping mothers who want to be primary caretakers, so that they do not have to go back to work to support their families - instead of steering them back into low-paid jobs as soon as possible? How about working towards longer paid paternity leave for fathers (recent improvements are promising, but still only a few days paid leave)? Educating NHS hospital staff about attachment theory, which is amply supported by evidence, and eliminating the kind of experiences other mothers tell me about, where they were told not to hold or touch their babies more than strictly necessary? Or to ensure health visitors have up to date and extensive training on breastfeeding and, also, attachment theory, so that they do not advise abusive methods of care such as 'controlled crying' in the name of 'sleep training'?

This kind of proposal is a subtly dangerous way of encouraging parents to believe that they should listen to 'experts' over and above their instincts. Mothers have been mothering for millenia without maternity nurses. I appreciate that there are many families were children are at risk, due to poverty, substance abuse and other factors, but surely a blanket approach of state involvement is a little over the top? I think it's giving a whole new meaning to the 'nanny state' concept.

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