Being a parent is the greatest responsibility in life and should be the greatest joy

May 10, 2002 ,

THE pleasure of watching a child grow, and learning to see the world through their eyes is the same for a politician as it is for any parent.

Indeed, my lovely wife told me the other day how our 8 year old daughter sees politics through the world of the Harry Potter books. Each of the political parties is one of the Houses in the Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry. Griffindor for Labour, Slytherin for the Conservatives, Hufflepuff for the Liberal Democrats, and so on.

But every politician feels guilt about their parenting too. Most would disagree with Margaret Thatcher, who once said, ‘Home is where you go to when you have nothing better to do'.

Working away from home puts a strain on any family, and the nagging fear that long parental absence might damage a child's development is ever present for politicians. Occasionally, when politicians' kids go off the rails they inevitably, like any good parent would, wonder if any of it is their fault.

That is one reason why we all feel uneasy when parenthood becomes an issue in politics.
Should parents be permitted to smack or beat their children? Should children be protected from assault in exactly the same way as adults are?

Should parents be responsible for the actions of their children when they break the law, or engage in anti-social behaviour? Should parents be financially punished when their children continually flout the law and cause havoc and misery for others?

Should Child Benefit be withdrawn, as the Prime Minister has suggested? Or will that simply penalize the poorest families, and make it more likely that these youngsters will rob and steal?
Should the taxpayer be expected to pay the rent of families, through Housing Benefit, when parents allow their children to make life a nightmare for their neighbours and the community?
Should the State interfere more in parenting, by requiring parents to attend parenting classes at an early stage, to be taught about positive parenting? Should they be compelled to learn skills on how to give a child self-confidence, the importance of rewarding good behaviour and of teaching values like the difference between right and wrong?

It is a difficult area for politicians because there is a danger of creating a Nanny State. But the correct balance must be found between rights and responsibilities.

Each parent has the right to bring up his or her child as they see fit, but also the responsibility to make sure their child does not to run wild and cause misery for others.

But politicians cannot shift all the blame onto parents. Most of us are parents ourselves and know there is no guaranteed recipe for bringing up children. We are also responsible in part for the society in which children are growing up, and for the laws which govern it.

Tomorrow is the twelfth birthday of a young boy from Cardiff who has appeared over 150 times in front of the Youth Court for a string of car thefts.

The Courts have been powerless to stop him up until now because of his age. No doubt his parents bear some of the responsibility for this. But politicians bear responsibility too. The system which has allowed this to continue unchecked has not only failed the community; but also failed the child.