Parenting attitudes have undergone a sea change during the past century and especially during the last 4 decades. These changes have weakened the ability of parents to exert their will over children's decisions and, among other things, have made parents more anxious to be loved — not just feared — by their kids. Below are some of the most important shifts that have occured:
1) A move from a more authoritarian household to a more democratic household. We now value children's opinions in a way that previous generations didn't.While this creates a potential for more mutual affection, it creates a greater opportunity for the child to reject or evaluate the parent's worth.
2) Increased prevalence of divorce has meant that many parents, fathers in particular, spend less far less time with their children, though some spend more time after divorce. Divorce also creates opportunities for children to evaluate their parent's effectiveness as spouses and parents with the other parent often serving as collaborator in constructing this reality.
3) At the same time that our cultural expectations of parental involvement have escalated, the demands of work make ideal parenting more difficult. This is especially true for single parents and divorced parents.
4) Parental self-doubt and anguish are fundamentally confusing to children of any age and may help children believe that they have a better case against their parents than they sometimes do.
5) The increased power of the peer group has weakened parental influence at the same time that politicians, therapists, and talk show hosts blame parents for child outcomes.
6) Pop psychology is a powerful determinant of how people judge themselves as parents and children. The creation of therapists and parenting experts has created many more ways for parents to judge themselves and for children to judge their parents.
7) As marriage has grown more fragile, parents invest more in their children. This creates higher expectations of themselves as parents and of their children.
8) Prior generations of parents viewed competition and stress as character building to children. Today's parents view them as potentially damaging and injurious. Thus, our view of children has changed from seeing them as robust to seeing them as fragile.
Dr. Joshua Coleman is an international expert on parenting, marriage, and relationships. He is a Senior Fellow with the Council on Contemporary Families and is a frequent guest on the Today Show. He has also appeared on ABC 20/20, Good Morning America, NPR, The BBC, and many other news and radio programs. His advice has appeared in the New York Times, The Times of London, The Guardian (UK), Psychology Today, The Chicago Tribune, and many other publications. Dr. Coleman is a psychologist in private practice in Oakland and San Francisco, and the father of twin boys and a girl. His new book WHEN PARENTS HURT: Compassionate Strategies When You and Your Grown Child Don't Get Along (HarperCollins) will be released in July, 2007. Sign up for his FREE, twice monthly ezine THE COLEMAN REPORT at www.drjoshuacoleman.com