The Family and Parenting Institute published a series of 32 essays this month, considering the pressures on modern parenting, what can be learnt from the reaction to the August riots in Britain, and the implications of these for parenting policy. The essays cover a range of topics through single parenting, working lives, welfare, grand-parenting, but were of particular interest to me for the discussion around parenting support: how did it come about, what does it say about the role of the state in parenting, is this what parents want? “Authors … consider the way in which parenting has become professionalised and the extent to which a deficit view of ‘problem parents’ is now in the ascendance.”
While certain parts of the media seem to thrive on stories about how parents have lost all their power, are no longer allowed to discipline their children, and so are punished by the state for having failed to do the very thing they are forbidden to do, it is useful to find some ballast for the arguments against this view. And yet, while we can sensibly argue that parents are allowed to discipline their children – and that we have tried to offer some suggestions for how to do this other than by hitting – it is also the case that the state has indeed intervened more and more, as parents are deemed to have increasingly failed in their main task, the care and nurture of the next generation as polite, respectful and productive members of society.
Alongside a historical and political commentary on how we got to where we are now, the collection offers evidence for ‘what works’ in supporting families, and even looks at what parents themselves want. The authors are from different professional and political persuasions and so there is something for everyone to disagree with! While there is, though, considerable acknowledgement of the pressures faced by modern parents, the rapid changes in society and the demonisation of some families in particular, I am disappointed that the solutions are seen in terms very much of ‘more of the same’, universal parenting support with targeted help for the most troubled. We are still some way off a clear understanding of the complex dynamics disrupting normal life for many families.