Motherlode

Found this on The New York Times:

It’s Not Your Mom and Dad’s Parenting

By Lisa Belkin

So much of how you parent is shaped by how you were parented. There are things you do in the same way, because you see them as correct, or wise, or because they’re the only way you know. And there are things that you deliberately do differently — because your own mom and dad messed those up, or times have changed, or your children have different needs. But either way, your own parents are the parents you know best and the departure point from which all your parenting journeys begin.

Two recent studies explore how and why parenting changes from one generation to the next. The first, from researchers at Ohio State University, looks at how often parents in the 1990s (when the data were first obtained) spanked, read to and showed affection to their children. Then those numbers were compared with how respondents were treated by their own mothers (questions were not asked about fathers) back when they were children.

The conclusions: parenting patterns are passed down from one generation to the next, but only to a point. For instance, three times as many “second generation” mothers in the study reported reading to their children daily, compared with their own mothers a generation earlier. And while only 40 percent of the previous generation of mothers said they openly “showed their child physical affection and praised them in the past week,” 60 percent of today’s fathers and 73 percent of today’s mothers said they had done so.

Mothers, the study found, are more likely to parent as their own mothers did, while fathers are less influenced by their mothers. Among today’s mothers, for instance, those who were spanked at least once a week are nearly half again as likely to spank their own children as mothers who weren’t spanked at all. The correlation is exactly the opposite for fathers, who were far less likely to spank their own children if they themselves had been spanked by their mothers. (Overall, only 28 percent of the second generation of fathers reported spanking their children, compared to 43 percent of mothers, meaning we are probably past the era of “wait until your father gets home.”)

The findings, which were presented at the annual meeting of the American Sociological Association on Aug. 9, was based on data from the National Longitudinal Survey of Youth, a nationally representative survey of people nationwide conducted by Ohio State’s Center for Human Resource Research. Male and female respondents who were between the ages of 14 to 22 when the study began in 1979, were interviewed annually from 1979 to 1994, and once every two years from 1996 forward. A second survey followed all the children born to mothers in this original survey, from birth through adulthood, as they became parents themselves. The final sample included 1,133 young adult parents of the mothers from the original survey.

A second study, with very different methodology, also attempts to capture the ways that parenting changes over time.

Markella Rutherford, an assistant professor of sociology at Wellesley College, reviewed 300 advice columns that were published in Parents magazine between 1929 and 2006.

Her findings? Today’s children have more freedom inside the house (the right to express their opinions and disagree with their parents) but less freedom outside the house (kept on a shorter leash, consistent with growing fears for children’s safety).

At the start of the last century, Rutherford writes, parenting advice columns stressed obedience by children to their parents. One 1929 article defined a parent’s job as “the reasonable regulation and supervision of the fundamental habits of a child throughout all stages of his development and a consistent plan for having him obey simple rules such as regular meal-times, regular bedtimes, training in elimination, eating what is placed before him, wearing the clothes that are provided, observing certain proprieties of conduct.”

That was still true in the 1950s, with an emphasis on a wide range of chores, the likes of which most children are not doing today (cleaning, shopping, meal preparation, furnace and auto maintenance, and nursing of sick family members.)

On the other hand, these same children were often allowed to leave the house for long stretches of time, without their parents knowing the details of where they were or what they were doing (which was usually playing pickup games in empty lots, exploring the outdoors, riding public transportation around town, and hitching rides on highways.)

Over the decades, though, advice on indoor obedience and outdoor freedom decreased, while advice on allowing children to express themselves at home while keeping them safe out in the world increased. Discussion of chores all but disappeared from the advice columns, too, replaced by talk of schoolwork.

In a 1996 issue of the magazine, for instance, a mother wrote, “If I told my daughter to go outside and shovel the driveway before school, she’d laugh in disbelief.”

And more recently, readers of the magazine have been advised to diffuse defiance with independence. A 2006 article suggested: “Provide choices. First, let your child know you understand why she’s angry … then, give her some control by letting her make a decision.”

Imagine telling that to a parent back in 1929.

How is your parenting style different from that of your parents? Your grandparents? Why do you think things have changed?

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