The scramble to find reasons and culprits for the recent riots in England has demonstrated again just how visceral is our desire to apportion blame. Once more, parents, particularly single parents, were right up there along with gangs, drugs and schools. Never mind that single parents may have experienced years of abuse themselves, or may be struggling to hold down two jobs to provide for their family; now it seems we expect parents to know where there teenage children are, and what they are doing, at all times. Pointing the finger to the bottom of the pile is easier than asking more troubling questions about our attitudes to those different to ourselves, about the values we have come to hold as a society, and the priorities we have placed on growth, wealth, advancement. Arguably we are all to blame once we buy into this way of life.
In a culture that holds parents responsible (read: to blame) for their children’s actions, individuals coming new to the field of parent abuse can struggle with the call to move away from this parent blaming response, particularly with regard to the group of adolescents which has come to be described as “over-entitled”. Those children and young people who have grown up in an environment where their wishes were readily met, where they had all they needed, where parents wanted to be involved and give them lifts, help them out with purchases and support them in conflict situations, can come to believe the world owes them everything, and parents wake up one day to find they have become simply servants, or slaves.
If social work has taught me anything, it is that most parents, most of the time, are trying to do what they genuinely believe is best for their children. They may be over-indulgent, ignorant, misinformed, under-resourced, thwarted at every turn or simply exhausted, but there are far fewer than you would believe from the media coverage, who either actively wish ill or have abrogated all responsibility. It may be, after fuller assessment, that we find habits and practices which are not helpful and can be changed. But when a parent finally seeks help, wracked with their own guilt, shame and fear, the pointing of fingers merely deepens their sense of hopelessness.
Sometimes it is good to look back. Moments of achievement, small successes, can give us encouragement to carry on now and in the future. But looking for blame keeps us stuck in the past, picking at wounds, revisiting nightmares. To give parents a sense of hope, we need to look forward, to a future free from abuse, exploring alternative models of interaction and putting support in place to bring about change.