Times have sure changed a lot over the past 50 years, and the way we see and deal with our children is often a reflection of these changes.
The children are now granted a certain status and have a very different role in our lives. They have more importance nowadays and we’re more and more concerned with them and about them. The way we raise them, and our investment in doing so, is an interesting example of how being a parent is so different nowadays.
Parenting has become some sort of work of its own. This is, in itself, an action that will make us either good or bad parents depending on the kind of parenting we’ll assume and it’s according to Gopnik (psychology professor at the University of California, Berkeley), a really recent concept.
According to this concept we apply nowadays, there are right ways of being a parent, right actions to take, and “the right kind of parenting will produce the right kind of child, who in turn will become the right kind of adult” (Gopnik, 2016). So, parenting (what we now call good parenting) becomes a goal, defining us as adults and acts as a source of hard pressure for many of us.
The gardener and the carpenter
Gopnik (2016) choose an interesting metaphor to explain the differences between being a parent now and in the past, by using the image of a gardener (“creating a protected and nurturing space for plants to flourish”, Gopnik 2016) and a carpenter (shaping his material into what he wants it to become).
This has great influence in the way we see children and their development and, consequently, in our society and our future as a species.
The idea of parenting becomes a general perspective of perfection, wherein we need to be perfect in order to be good parents, or at least better than the most. Nowadays, parenting is another point for us to evaluate one another (and not often kindly). We look at a child and if we see any hint of bad behavior, we’ll automatically think of bad parenting as a correlation. However, years of studies and even common sense show us that this isn’t exactly correct. How many times do we see two siblings raised exactly the same way who end up turning out so different from one another, especially when it comes to behavior?
Parenting no longer stands for the actions you take in order to take care of your children, but rather a crazy impossible list of things and rules you must do and abide by, or forever be labeled a bad parent. Gopnik (2016) considers that this new perspective “made life worse for children and parents, not better”. According to the author, being a parent is a special relationship and shouldn’t be evaluated as you being a good parent only if you “build” the right kind of kid (and what is that kind of kid, mind you?) and she completes it by saying “love doesn’t have goals […] but a purpose. The purpose is not to change the people we love, but to give them what they need to thrive.”
Which of these parents will these children become?
We don’t have a way of knowing exactly how this new vision of children and parenting will really affect all of us in the future. We can try, we can imagine, observing the immediate results, but, this isn’t enough to guess the overall impact this will have on society, in the long run.
“Caring for children is a political subject as well as scientific and personal one” (Gopnik, 2016) It’s not just us the parents or relatives who take care of our children, but plenty more people such as daycare employees, and there is also plenty more information (for both good and bad) and so many different factors that have their own impact in the adults that our children will eventually become.
So, I’ll leave you with some questions:
Is there a fair way to judge someone’s parenting?
Can we evaluate the parents’ abilities by the kind of adult a child become?
Can we predict what’s going to happen for some child, by the way he or she is being taken care of by his or her parents?
Read more about this in the article “Parenting: a strange new tendency”.
GOPNIK, Alison (2016). The Gardener and the Carpenter. New York, NY: Farrar, Straus and Giroux.