Open Forum

Our failure to support new parents may result in putting some children at risk later, writes Alison Domakin.

I recently became a mother for the first time. Before the birth, I had paid no thought as to what my skills as a mother would be. I took it as read that I would be patient, loving and kind. The reality was very different.I fell far short of my expectations, swept along by a wave of nappy changing, feeding and broken nights.

As the weeks went by, caring for my son became easier. There were good days when I was rewarded by this experience. But there were also dark days when I was stretched beyond  anything I could have imagined.

I have found it invaluable to talk through these difficulties with friends who have shared similar experiences. This is in contrast to conversations with other mothers I know less well. It is as though we have absorbed a prohibition on sharing information detrimental to our image as mothers.

After my son was born I came into contact with many professionals, yet I was never asked how I was coping. My experience indicates that we are losing a golden opportunity to offer support to new parents and to safeguard children who may later be at risk.

Also, my experience has made me think about how difficult it must be to share concerns about harming a child. There must be additional pressures to remain silent when the current message is that, if you are foolish enough to admit that caring for a young child can push you to the edge, you are a “bad” parent. The power of this label should not be underestimated.

If discussion about taking on the role of parent was encouraged in our communities, we might begin to break the silence on this issue. We might then begin to allow ourselves to speak about the more difficult aspects of caring for a child and routinely offer support to parents. In the long term we might also make it easier for parents who may harm a child to seek and make  constructive use of such support before there is a need for intervention by social services.

Alison Domakin is a part-time tutor in social work at Manchester Metropolitan University

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