This is the final article in a series about 21st century families.
Q: What is parenting like for 21st century families?
A: Families today experience increasing pressures for time and money, and have higher expectations for children in school performance. The following article, “Parenting Challenges in the 21st century,” was written by Cosina Marriner about parenting in Australia, but also applies to parenting in the United States. Family structures include single-parents, same-sex parents, step-families and cohabiting families who live with their own children or children from other parents.
There is information overload about parenting. Just when they think they have things right, they get more input on parenting that causes them to doubt their parenting. Many parents take their children to play groups and stay for themselves. Parents watch other people, usually other mothers, and keep in mind what they observe for future use.
First-time mothers find play groups helpful because they can learn what developmental milestones to expect and how to handle them. Playgroup is the most influential for learning techniques for discipline. Parents can learn what to do and what not to do. Playgroups can be supportive or judgmental.
Mothers, nannies, grandmothers and dads bring children to playgroups. Smaller playgroups are better because they tend not to develop cliques like larger groups do. Groups also provide younger children with peer group interaction before they start school.
Researcher Bronwyn Harmon interviewed 150 mothers about how their birthing experiences affected their mothering. Difficult births contributed significantly to difficult bonding with babies. The mothers defined difficult births as those that hadn’t gone according to plans, such as premature birth, emergency C-section, use of forceps, an episiotomy or epidural. Negative birth experiences led to negative feelings about parenting and doubts about their ability to mother. These mothers felt detached from their babies.
In summary, mothers who had negative birth experiences projected their feelings of failure onto their babies. Those feelings included frustration, disappointment and anger. Those mothers who had positive birth experiences recovered from childbirth quickly, bonded early with their babies, and were more apt to have another child soon.
Stepmothers often are confronted with hostile ex-wives and have a lack of parental authority in their roles as stepmothers. Stepmothers have responsibility without any decision-making authority. Regarding discipline, when stepmothers set rules and consequences, they are perceived as punishing the children and getting involved in something that is none of their business.
One researcher found that if step-families issues were not resolved within the first five years, the step-family’s relationship broke down. Stepchildren know stepmothers have no authority and cannot make decisions about them. In those step-families that lasted, stepmothers reported they really loved the children and knew when they married that they took on the whole step-family group.
From a publication titled “Sociology for the twenty-first century,” there is a good summary of the fundamental changes in society. Technological innovations for the 21st century include the development of reliable and fast computers, the internet and social media. Twitter and Facebook are social media sites that have revolutionized virtual and online communication. They provide politicians with ways to connect with their constituents. Events such as a town hall provides politicians with a format that saves time and resources. Citizens can be mobilized through social media to support popular causes or to protest unpopular events.
The second fundamental change in the 21st century is a system through which countries can develop a global economy. Globalization has led to intensifying the power of international organizations such as the United Nations, World Bank and International Monetary Fund. For example, the UN has been important in mediating for peace in countries that have civil unrest. Worldwide civil organizations have become important in advocating for women’s rights, advocating for environmental protection and providing assistance to the vulnerable.
In the 21st century, attention has been paid to realizing gender equality. Women have learned skills to multi-task as employers, employees, mothers and wives. The current society is satisfied with the model of two working parents. A survey in 2003 by the Bureau of Labor Statistics found one-third of wives earned more than their husbands. Women in the 21st century enjoy gender equality and now have endless possibilities for leadership in economic, social and political arenas.
The fourth main social change in the 21st century is the different family structures. The predominant family formed half a century ago was biological parents with two or three children and immediate extended family to provide support. In the 21st century, it is difficult to define what an ideal family is.
Extended family are no longer readily available to help parents with children. Grandparents often move after retirement to a warmer community and one that caters to retired families and individuals. People move frequently and live all over the world.
The loss of a sense of community and neighborhood is primary. People do not attend church as much, and social group activities related to the church are more rare. Because of the busy schedules of most families, most of the socialization of children is done by schools and peer groups. However, the family still is viewed as the primary socialization agent. It does provide part of the overall socialization, but is not the main agent.
One of the types of families increasing in the 21st century is single-parent families. This increase is attributed to the increase in divergent values and divorce. Children from single-parent families face problems due to the absence of a second parent. The lack of a second parent impacts negatively on children’s well-being. The presence of a supportive, cohabiting male or stepfather can remedy the difficulties faced by single parents, provided the man has a good relationship with the children.
Judy Caprez is professor emeritus at Fort Hays State University.