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Our children suffer because this State doesn't value parents

SITTING in the sun with my daughter doing the final nit-check of the summer, I asked her if she was excited about going back to school. Yes, she said, she was. But she was worried about it too. She never understood her homework.

A worm of anxiety wriggled in my heart. All my kids get far worse results for homework than for class work. What that really means is that my grades for supervision are far worse than theirs for school work.

I don't cut the mustard as a parent.


I have an excuse. My special needs son takes up so much of my attention that the others are left to sink or swim. This doesn't sound like a good enough excuse, as I look down on the worried, glistening head of my poor daughter.

"This year, we'll crack the homework," I tell her. "You and me will sit down together every day, after I've done Tom's homework or before."

But Tom has chronic dyslexia and I've already promised the worm in my heart that I'll sit down and read to him every day. And then there's the kid starting secondary, who'll need extra support. And then here's the kid who never reads at all. Last year one of his teachers looked me full in the face and told me my track record on ticking off my child's homework in his notebook was so bad that the kid had begun forging his mother's ticks.

His dad got him really stuck in a book for the first time this summer by reading it aloud in funny accents. I promised to buy my son all the books in the series if he finished the first.

But I don't even know where that book is. Lost down the back of the bed somewhere, with all our good intentions.


This year, like every year, I promise that things will be different. I swear I will go tick, tick, tick, in every homework notebook every night.

But you know and I know that I won't. Life just gets too busy for me to get around to them all. And that's coming from me, who works part-time and freelance, when my kids are asleep or at school.

I often have moments -- say, in the middle of a cooking and homework supervision double act like something from Fossett's Circus -- when I think, how would I do this and work full-time?

And yet this is what we're all meant to do. We have a tax system that penalises families in which one parent stays home, no matter how needy their kids. We have a social welfare system that is about getting parents back to work, as if kids were not work. The State speaks through its tax regime and its social welfare system, and it says that rearing kids is not work.

Our kids' educational standards are slipping, and everyone points the finger at the education system. But it's not rocket science to see that the work-obsessed Tiger economy, which gave parents no time to parent, has taken a toll. And if parents fail their kids, it's very hard for the State to pick up the pieces.


As Education Minister, Ruairi Quinn is putting the emphasis on getting parents involved in their kids' school work. He said recently that any child not read to at bedtime was "an abused child". He got a lot of stick for that unfortunate phrase. But it was high time somebody recognised the crucial part which parents have to play in their kids' education.

The only problem is this -- how in the name of God are they to get the time to play that part, when the tax system hammers those who stay home, and the social welfare system is threatening to force recipients to work?

I don't think we will see an improvement in our kids' educational standards until we value parenting. That means seeing parents as vital workers in our economy and giving them as much space to parent as the tax and social welfare system can allow.

I have worked out how this could be done, but I'm too busy to share my thoughts with you right now. I have four school bags to pack, 29 school books to cover and several hundred nits to pick between now and the starting line of the school year.