Children need consistency and our love, not tick lists

The Rev Canon Bob White with representatives of the groups involved in our Christmas campaignh run with churches in Portsmouth - Comfort and Joy

NEWS COMMENT: Dig deep and help to spread some comfort this Christmas

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I never thought I’d be grateful to David Cameron until Nancy-gate hit the press. Radio phone-ins were inundated with tales of similar parental cock-ups – people driving off with the car seat (including baby) on the bonnet, toddlers scaling the walls of the leopard enclosure at Marwell.

You get the gist. The spectre of ‘perfect parenting’ was briefly supplanted by a refreshing outpouring of honesty.

Our litigation culture, plus a growing industry of ‘how-to’ parenting books, have inflated the expectations placed on parents to raise perfect children.

These demands mingle with the other pressures of life to produce undesirable outcomes for the child – miserable, arguing parents with a constant sense of failure and half-hearted discipline.

Children need love and consistency, not a tick list of achievements. However, we toe the line because there’s nothing worse than the label ‘bad parent’.

We put so much into trying to cover every base with our own children that we disengage from our communities. Those children facing real neglect become the exclusive concern of the state.

So I took myself to playgroup in the hope we mums would be a bit more open in the Cameron cock-up amnesty.

‘I blame SamCam,’ pronounces Well-heeled Mum.

‘For not checking for her daughter?’

‘No! For assuming that her husband would. Never trust fathers with anything.’

‘But he’s running the country.’

‘And he might do better at that if she gave him a laminated checklist.’

Ah, the stony ground of sisterly feeling that is the playgroup.

‘But oughtn’t she to trust him with his own children? And a few other people besides, like, family, friends, even the people in the pub?’

I recount the African proverb about it taking a village to raise a child.

‘Great for Africa. This is North End.’

Undeterred, I ask her to keep an eye on my daughter while I change the youngest’s nappy.

‘Of course. Does she have any allergies? And will you be back before we sing Humpty Dumpty because Arthur likes to sign it with me in Makaton?’

So Portsmouth is that African village – just as soon as you sign the disclaimer.