A Conversation with Steve Biddulph
It was that world-renowned paediatrician of the sixties, Dr Benjamin Spock, who first coined the phrase, ‘parents, you know more than you think you do’! It’s a message parent educators and family therapists, Steve and Shaaron Biddulph are keen to carry forward to the current generation of parents.
The title of their new book, Love Laughter and Parenting in the precious years from birth to six indicates that this is more than a how-to manual on parenting. Together Steve and Shaaron have written many world wide best sellers on parenting issues, including The Secret of Happy Children and the ground-breaking Raising Boys.
Steve says, ‘our aim was to get away from the focus of everything being problem, problem, problem, so let’s look for a solution. ‘What you really want when you’ve got little kids is a whole bunch of experienced friends that you could say, ‘now what’s this all about? – a kind of mentor situation.’
The result of their more than 22 years of talking with and to parents is reams of stories and ideas, a collective parental wisdom if you like. Steve says it’s all about offering choices. Parents don’t always want to be told what to do, but do want to have their choices broadened a little with options.
What does he see as the major concerns of parents today?
He responds, ’Everything today is to do with being too hurried and being brainwashed to think that money buys happiness. That’s robbed parents of the joy of children. There’s enormous emotional aspirational advertising out there, implying that we should have everything for our kids, and frankly that’s not what I want for my children.’
Steve feels that we’re raising our kids under sometimes hostile circumstances, where governments encourage a quick return to work, while the economy promotes expensive consumer ‘must-haves’ like brand name runners or video game units. He sees parents as feeling torn between the need to just be there for their children and the desire to provide such goodies.
‘Shaaron and I say that hurry is the enemy of love. The key words in the title for us are ‘the precious years’. Kids are so much joy, it’s worth trying to carve out some time. If you’re surrounded by rush, then it’s hard not to fall in with it, and children ultimately feel less and less connected with their parents.
‘If children to the age of three can always be with someone who loves them they have a totally different experience. Parenthood is specifically about making another human being more important than yourself. The maturity issue of life is realising that in fact, you can’t have it all, so decide what matters to you. That may well mean sacrificing time at work for time with your children.’
(Steve is on record a few years ago as one of the first parent educators to be brave enough to state that long day care does not work in the best interests of children under three. This was at a time when parents, and mothers in particular, were being told they could have it all.)
And their book is not afraid to delve into the emotional needs of parents and their children. Steve credits Shaaron here, saying that it was directed by her thinking; they wanted to incorporate a spiritual dimension by looking at the personal values at the heart of parenthood that parents want to help their children to develop. That extended to the selection of the photographs.
‘We wanted to toss out the glossy magazine concept of picture-perfect babies and made-up mothers; we wanted real mums and babies that aren’t better looking than yours.’
As the parent of a 9 year-old daughter and a 16 year-old son, he is concerned with the way that accepted images can affect the self-esteem of our kids. With the latest teen fashion of bare midriffs, he is horrified to hear of children checking out each other’s tummies to see if they’re fat, resulting in wholesale ditching of their lunches because they don’t want to put on weight!
He says, ‘my focus on parenting skills has changed over the years. I used to think that if you just become very informed, then you can run your family really well. Now I believe that the focus has to be on making the world a better place for families.’
Love Laugher and Parenting is a special book, one that you’ll refer to again and again for reassurance, help and humour. As the authors themselves say,
‘We parents need help of three kinds.'
‘We need practical advice and clues on what to do.'
‘We need inspiration that it is all worthwhile and has a purpose.'
‘We need to feel connected to other parents and their joys and struggles so that we can feel that we are normal and that we have friends around us.’
This article was first published in Australian Family Magazine, May 2001.