Ian Grant leans against the podium, happily chatting with his audience. His wife, Mary, stands alongside, holding her microphone and waiting for a space in which to slip a word. It is her turn to speak, but Ian has suddenly realised he has a few more encouraging quips to share with the roomful of parents who have come to learn and be inspired by this dynamic couple.
Between the two of them, Ian and Mary Grant seem to have an answer to every parenting problem anyone has ever come up against. Recognised for the past 13 years as New Zealand's parenting experts, they have not only been married for 42 years, raised three children, and enjoy five grandsons, but they have also spent more than 30 years working with young people.
After being asked to speak to numerous groups of parents with teenagers in the 1990s, Ian and Mary identified a need to equip parents for a new generation of techno-savvy teenagers growing up in a new-look global world, and as a result, the non-profit organisation Parents, Inc (initially Parenting with Confidence, Inc) was established in 1993.
The Grants' outlook on uncomfortable (and sometimes downright dysfunctional) family relationships is that they are often able to mend themselves with inspiration, humour and some practical tips. To this end they travel the country presenting “Hot Tips” seminars. The tips they provide could be considered old- fashioned but they're happy with that image. “That [being old-fashioned] is probably what sets us aside from some parenting organisations,” Mary says. “We're not just behaviourists saying, ‘Make your kids do what you say.' We want to build strong connections, atmosphere, boundaries and communication— the ABCs of parenting—so families launch loving and responsible adults into the world, but with strong connections and warm memories.” Regardless of the problems parents experience at home, most people leave a Hot Tips seminar feeling at least a shard of confidence in their parenting ability. It is a response that thrills Mary.
“Our whole dream is that we're not there to fix people,” she says. “We give them this sense of possibility."
“Many parents just want a bit of coaching,” she continues. “They don't need long sessions of counselling, unravelling all the history. They just want some clues.” Ian adds, “Our attitude is we're just two beggars telling any other beggars where there's bread.” Humour and storytelling are trademarks in the Grants' message. Parenting tips are embedded in their stories—and one doesn't have to be too intelligent to make the crossover between tall tales and real life. Ian often tells the story of a Maori bus driver driving tourists around New Zealand. He would come to a hill and point out how a battle occurred there between the British Imperial Forces and the Maori warriors defending their land—10 Maori warriors had held up the British Imperial Forces for six days so their people could escape. Next day he came to a river and told how three Maori warriors had defeated 20 British troops. This went on day after day, until an American tourist eventually asked him, “Excuse me, sir, but did the British Imperial Forces ever defeat the Maori warriors?” His answer was, “Not while I'm driving the bus, lady!” The bus driver was writing the script, and he was in charge! Not only does humour feature in their presentations, but Ian and Mary insist that it must overflow into families.
“Every family,” they say, “needs rules (and parents need to know how to set them with their kids), routines (structure takes the stress out of family lives) and ridiculousness, which is the fun part.” the ideal home Australian Prime Minister John Howard has stated that every Australian child deserves two parents. In New Zealand, the government's focus is different.
Prime Minister Helen Clark used her speech marking the opening of Parliament in February 2005 to boast about providing dawn-to-dusk child care.
“Mary and I passionately believe every child deserves a mother and a father, but we know that doesn't happen in life. We recognise and admire solo mothers who can do a remarkable job—we don't want to make them feel bad. But we see as a problem the politically correct view that the state can solve family issues and that the state can be a parent. This is where New Zealand loses out. The fact is unless there are a couple of adults that are irrationally committed to a child, the child is not going to thrive as much as they could.” “People in Australia mock New Zealand as being the most family-unfriendly nation,” says Grant. “The Doha Declaration of the UN's International Conference for the Family [issued in November 2004] was brilliant but New Zealand dissociated itself from it, claiming the resolution promoted one form of family at the expense of diversity.” In his book Growing Great Boys , Ian suggests the key to good parenting for solo parents is to compensate for the parent who is absent. “In other words, if you are a dad parenting on your own, you will need to be more nurturing sometimes than may be natural for you. If you are a mum, you will need to toughen up and be more simple and straightforward.”
The Grants' vision
Being creative, forward-thinking people, the Grants have a vision for a parents' centre that has the capability to be life changing. Using audiovisual technology, creativity, environment and marketing savvy, their intention is to inspire and educate parents and offer resourcing and encouragement for parents from all sections of society.
“In medieval times people would go and sit in cathedrals because there was beautiful art there,” says Mary. “The [proposed parents] centre will be a beautiful place, a nurturing place where parents can access information in a variety of ways—from classes, handbooks, coaching and support.” Features will include a centrepiece containing 52 virtues common to every civilisation with layers of how those virtues build into a meaningful life. Visitors will use tablet PCs to guide them around the centre and link them to an intranet offering parenting information.
Volunteer grandparents, parent coaches and specialists will be part of the team.
The parents' centre is a big dream and will require huge amounts of resources and, even though they still need to raise the money to bring the dream to fruition, the Grants remain positive. “We always say the keys to a meaningful life are a self to live with, a work to live for, a faith to live by and a great cause worth your life,” says Ian, “because kids won't give their lives away for nothing if they've got a great cause.
All of us sense we can make a difference; we can do something really meaningful with our lives.”
Mary is a qualified primary schoolteacher. She has developed and written many of the publications and resources for Parents, Inc, including editing their Parenting magazine and Attitude programs for high schools. The Singapore government has selected her book, Cappuccino Moments for Mothers , as one of five recommended parenting books. “Cappuccino moments,” Mary says, “are short, snatched opportunities, designed for mothers to sit down, and in that brief space plan an activity or event that will contribute toward a ‘childhood to remember.' Cappuccino Moments for Mothers is designed to help refocus on what is important. They are simple, creative ideas that anyone can do with the resources they have in their own homes.” Ian has written three books, including Fathers Who Dare Win and Parenting Teenagers: The White Water Rafting Years, which are bestsellers in New Zealand, Australia and Singapore. His most recent book is Growing Great Boys, in which he shows how to work with the essential character of boys, using understanding and emotional support to raise loyal, passionate, hardworking, sensitive, funny, fearless and strong men.