Three people sent me this article to post on the site, “Talking to Your Child After You Yell” by Sue Shellenbarger. Thanks, everyone. The subject is really interesting and valuable but right now I want to point out another aspect of the article: It was published in the Wall Street Journal. The WSJ readership’s income levels are the 4th highest among news sources according to the Pew Research Center. They are the 3rd highest in education level and they are 2nd highest in percentage of male readership. Among 25 news sources studied by the Pew Research Center, the WSJ readers rank 4th highest in income levels. They are the 3rd highest in education levels and they are 2nd highest in percentage of male readership. And as we see, an article on parenting without harmful yelling appears there. This shows that the idea of continually improving your parenting awareness and skills is well accepted among high income/high education people of both sexes. But bringing those same skills and insights to low-income parents runs into unique obstacles.
1. Support or Blame?
I recently raised the topic of helping low-income mothers with parenting at a conference on poverty and an experienced social service leader bristled, saying that there is too much “blaming the parents”. I was a bit stung since that is definitely not what drives my passion for these programs, but I can understand his reaction. There are some people who believe that low-income parents are culturally deficient and are thereby the cause of multi-generational poverty. In that context, parents are blamed for poverty created by many forces such as the structural changes in our economy and parenting programs could indeed be viewed as attempts to “fix” something in poor people that isn’t broken.
But depriving parents of something beneficial because someone might support it for the wrong reasons is not the answer. Instead, I suggest we:
- Make it clear that low-income people are just as highly motivated to be great parents as are affluent parents.
- Support the programs that work side by side with parents, bringing out the best in them and boosting their confidence, instead of one way lectures from “experts”. Those are the programs have proven to be most effective anyway.
2. Maximum Efficiency Needed!
Remember what was said about being Ginger Rogers vs. being Fred Astaire? She did everything that he did, but backwards and in high heels. That seems to apply to the challenges of low-income parents vs. those of wealthier parents. Low-income parents often work multiple jobs. And many tasks simply take them longer or are more difficult: Commuting via mass transit can take many hours, administrative tasks get complicated when your work hours are not flexible, fewer labor-saving devices and services mean more time spent on housekeeping and maintenance, etc. In summary, low-income parents are often more time constrained and stressed than their wealthier counterparts. So parenting coaching and training for poor families needs to be as efficient as possible. No “spray and pray” approaches. Among the traits that can make programs for low-income parents efficient:
- Focus: Reflect our best research and understanding of keys to raising resilient children in adversity
- Include active application by parents and individualized coaching
- Available where and when the parents are available
.A prominent social services leader told me that her child goes to a private school where it seems like every week, parents are offered a seminar or advice on some aspect of parenting. She noted that she saw remarkably little of that kind of support reaching the low-income people she serves. Like all good things, some parents may take fine tuning their parenting to an extreme as they try to maximize their children’s opportunities and success. But in moderation, there are clear benefits to all parents, children and society.
We have heard a lot about the Digital Divide and much has been done to close it, but there seems to be a Parenting Support Divide ready to reward our attention and investment.