National Post

Tuesday, March 16, 1999

What if your parenting licence is revoked?

Roy MacGregor
National Post

Newspaper columnists should start each morning not with a cup of coffee or a bowlful of Aspirin but with a quiet prayer in thanks for academics.

It is the academic, after all, who often does most of the work, who sometimes supplies the research and the historical reference and the all-important quotes, who pads out the weak column -- and who, every now and then, hands over a column we in the business call "room service."

As Alanis might sing, Thank you, Katherine Covell, Thank you Brian Howe.

Ms. Covell, a psychologist, and Mr. Howe, a political scientist, are married to each other and are also directors of the Children's Rights Centre at the University College of Cape Breton. And they have come up with an idea that is, surely, to have a great many Canadians wondering exactly why it is we have higher institutions of learning -- apart from a free support system for lazy columnists.

They want parents to be licensed.

What Ms. Covell and Mr. Howe have recommended is that prospective Canadian parents be forced to complete high school, take a certified course, get a licence, and then sign a contract committing themselves to take good care of whatever results from the late hours they don't spend studying.

They would also force parents to stay current -- like auto mechanics -- by taking upgrade courses along the way, so they would know how to deal with such complications as teenagers, divorce, and even death.

This, on a day when the morning paper in our town carries a loving feature on Irene Crosbie, mother of 18, grandmother of 58, great-grandmother of 110, who died Friday in Perth at the age of 95. A teenage bride and mother, she had neither course nor diploma and didn't even seem to know when to back off, working in the family general store until she was 93 and, one Christmas Day back in 1942, insisting on cooking and serving the turkey and cranberries before retiring to her room to give birth to a healthy baby girl. There's even a picture of Irene on her 90th birthday, surrounded by her adoring children -- all of them blissfully unaware that she couldn't possibly have known what she was doing.

"We'll never see a woman like that again," one of the children is quoted as saying in the headline.

Certainly not, if Ms. Covell and Mr. Howe and their supporters have their way.

Those who believe that we should have no more Irene Crosbies winging it, but instead have specially trained parents with a course outline to pin to the refrigerator, are beginning to marshall their arguments. They point to a Statistics Canada study that, after considerable expenditure of taxpayers' money, recently concluded that parenting has a larger impact on a child's behaviour than any other known factor.

To quote that American expert on childhood, Bart Simpson, "Duhhhhh . . ."

The true believers also say that it only stands to reason that we should license parents. After all, we license car drivers.

It is, a skeptical columnist must admit, a compelling argument. If we did not license drivers, we may well have people on the road who floor the accelerator when they see an orange light, who pull within an inch of your back bumper in the passing lane, who tear across three lanes without signalling and believe, to the bottoms of their hearts, that it is possible to drive with your knees while using one hand to dial a cellphone and the other to give the finger to the car they just cut off.

Would there, we wonder, be a "points" system similar to the driver's licence, whereby one could lose a parenting licence?

- Four points for blowing up, as opposed to blowing 0.08.

- Three points for yielding, as opposed to failure to yield.

- Four points for improper control of emotions, as opposed to improper control of vehicle.

- Two points for having a limit, as opposed to exceeding the limit.

And would losing a licence mean that, just as in driving, someone else would have to parent your kids for a year or two?

Perhaps I've been a trifle hasty here . . .

Copyright Southam Inc.