Historically, one of the most significant changes over the past hundred years has been the move away from large families living and remaining in one community to smaller family units that are required, through the economic necessity of employment opportunities, to be as mobile as possible. Extended family networks are often weaker: in many instances parents are unable to call on the support of children's grandparents, aunts and uncles, and for some people parenting can be a very isolating and isolated experience. The context in which parenting takes place has changed to such an extent that it may no longer be feasible or even desirable to lay all parenting responsibilities at the door of one or two individual people. Of course, most parenting still takes place in the ‘birth family’ but, as you will see as you study this course, there are a variety of adults in society who become involved in parenting. Changes in parenting patterns, styles and priorities have, without doubt, been influenced by wider changes in society. Parenting needs to be seen in a broader context.
At the same time, we need to acknowledge the internal forces which shape our perceptions about parenting and parenting support services – our ‘belief systems’ (Dallos, 1991), which are likely to have a bearing on the views and opinions we hold. For example, if in your experience of family life parenting is based on a formal relationship between adults and children, where ‘good’ behaviour equates with obedience, you may see ‘good’ support services as those which teach parents and adults how to ensure that children behave properly.
In addition, it is important to understand that the image of ‘ideal’ parenting may not coincide with what people actually do. The lived reality does not always conform to the image presented to people through the media, for example.
Television advertisements which could be regarded as portrayals of idealised family life have, until quite recently, shown almost invariably white nuclear families with two children and two parents adopting traditional gender-delineated roles; these images draw on the idea that there once existed a golden age of the family in which children and parents lived together in complete safety and unbroken harmony. Situation comedy programmes often satirise non-conventional families, and gay and lesbian people in particular. One feature of contemporary soaps is that they do have characters who live in unconventional, ‘non-ideal’ families, yet this is a fairly recent development and often the mode of presentation underlines the difference from the ‘norm’.