2 What makes for quality parenting?
The answer to the question ‘what makes for quality parenting?’ may not necessarily lie in textbooks. As we hope you will see as you work through this section, your own and other people's experiences can be a rich learning resource about the positive and negative aspects of parenting.
There is a wealth of literature on children's developmental needs and an entire industry which produces guidance for parents in the form of books, pamphlets, magazines and now websites on caring for children. A number of general criticisms have been made of these manuals. One is that they may be culturally specific, that is, they promote a particular mode of parenting as the one acceptable or ideal method, whereas there may be many acceptable styles of parenting which vary according to people's beliefs, values and social and cultural backgrounds. For example, enthusing about the necessity of children going to bed in the early evening may conflict with a cultural norm that the family (including children of all ages) eat together in the late evening. Attitudes to breast-feeding and toilet training vary widely between different cultures, yet some reference books seem to imply that there are fixed definitive views on these issues and, by implication, that other views are wrong. This can quickly lead practitioners wedded to the same views to conclude that deviations from the guidance are not only wrong but are also potentially harmful and even abusive. Given that variations in beliefs and values are likely to be associated with different social, economic and ethnic groups in society, we can see how this might develop into an example of oppressive practice. Any guidance which is prescriptive, that is, tells people how they ought to parent, risks the accusation that it promotes middle-class (and white, Western European or American) models of ideal parenting and, again, by implication castigates those who do not subscribe to these norms.
This inevitably raises issues about broader power relations in society. Why do certain ideas about ‘correct’ parenting become dominant at particular times? In what ways do politicians promote certain views of the family and parenting and perhaps devalue others? What happens when views about the family become translated into social and economic policy? There has been, and continues to be, a great deal of debate about the role of the welfare state in this regard. One example has been the influence and assumptions of the Beveridge Report (1942), which was fundamentally underpinned and sustained by the concept of fathers as breadwinners and mothers as dependent homemakers (Muncie et al., 1995; Pugh, 1999). The repercussions of assuming certain roles and relationships within families require consideration.
An alternative to a top-down approach, in which politicians, practitioners and the powerful (including academics) impose their views on how parenting should be carried out, would be to start the other way round by asking children and adults what they think makes for quality parenting. A useful way of examining the issue, from a practitioner's point of view, is to consult people about examples of good and bad parenting from their own life experiences. This approach may well commend itself not least because it makes no prior assumptions about the rights of practitioners to impose their models of parenting on others. In addition, it provides live data that can test the validity of what may appear to be established wisdom and ideas on the delivery of parenting services.
The next activity is an attempt to do just this. You are asked to reflect on your own and others’ experience of being parented, and use this reflection to explore your own views about what is meant by quality parenting and which support services may be best able to promote and sustain such parenting.
Activity 3: ‘Good’ or ‘bad’ parenting?
Thinking back to your own childhood and your experience of being parented as a child, try to identify one example of good parenting and one example of bad parenting. It may be an event which you feel was handled well or badly by a parent, or an aspect of family life which was consistently supportive to you as a child within your family. Now talk to another person and ask them to do the same from their own experience as a child.
There are different interpretations of what makes for good parenting.
Take, for example, the following statements:
My parents were quite strict. They gave me clear boundaries so that I always understood what was expected of me.
When I was bullied at school my parents never took it seriously, and always said stuff like I should learn to stand up for myself.
My parents valued education. They sent me to a private school a long way away when I was 11 and I was quite lonely for a while.
I was brought up by my grandparents, who made me feel different from my sister who stayed living with my mother.
I remember my mother saying ‘Never let your disability get you down. Make sure that people respect you and always treat you with dignity.’
My father always said to me that life would be more difficult as a black person.
I remember my grandmother dying and me feeling really sad for a long time. She seemed to be OK just a few days before. I remember my mum talking with me about whether I wanted to go to the funeral. I did go and I'm glad I did.
Religion was important in our family. I was brought up with a clear sense of right and wrong that has stayed with me.
The point about each of these statements is that it could be an example of good or bad parenting depending on the perceptions of the person expressing it. Having strict parents, indulgent parents, or parents with strong religious convictions, or feeling different, or whatever, are for some people beneficial experiences while for others they can be detrimental.