Gentle parenting is always the best policy

Family and politics

Thomas Meyer

To person

Dr. phil., born 1958; Private lecturer at the University of Siegen, Department of Sociology.

Address: University of Siegen, Faculty 1, Adolf-Reichwein-Str. 2, 57076 Siegen.
e-mail: [email protected]

Publications including: Theodor Geiger's sociology. Emancipation from ideology, Wiesbaden 2001; The concept of lifestyles in social structure research - a critical balance sheet, in: Soziale Welt, 52 (2001) 3.

The parenting institution is subject to lasting change processes. For broad circles from the "modern", "educated" middle classes, the definition of parenting roles has become more demanding.


The time will come when the child will be considered holy (Ellen Key 1902)

I. Introduction

While questions of upbringing and parents are once again in vogue among non-fiction authors, they have received comparatively little attention in social science family research in recent years. Exceptions [1] only seem to confirm the rule here. The decisive impression remains that in large parts of the relevant literature, thoughts on family upbringing almost always appear to be added afterwards. This is the starting point of my contribution: At its center is the institution of "parenthood", whereby my guiding thesis, which is indicated in the title, is: The business of parenting and upbringing is subject to sustainable change processes. For broad circles of the "modern", "educated" middle class, the structuring of the role of parents - for mothers, but increasingly also for fathers - has become more extensive, more demanding and more difficult.

To substantiate my thesis, which contradicts the current popular scientific discourse about neglecting upbringing, I will summarize a few selected findings from childhood, women and school research. It should be about five observations. The conclusion of my contribution is a brief theoretical interpretation of my observations. I will start from the perspective that, in view of the changes in the parent-child system, it appears more and more problematic to understand the family as the epitome of privacy, which embodies the counter-principle of the rational and instrumentally oriented organizational world of the public.

II. Forward parenting

It is part of the hallmark of the modern parent family that the high-performance program associated with it is not limited to the postnatal phase of active parenting. [2] Rather, it is now the parents-to-be who are covered by the "control regime" of medical and psychological experts. In any case, the times seem to be over when the parents were just nine months in "happy expectation" and pregnancy and birth took place naturally within the framework of traditional traditions and habits.

In the name of science, standards are emerging today according to which pregnancy and childbirth are increasingly viewed as risk factors and parents are held responsible not only for how many children they have, but also for ensuring that they are healthy. The network of controls and orders that is placed over the parents is becoming increasingly dense. In Germany, for example, there is the world's densest system of technical and apparatus-based care for pregnant women. Since the reform of maternity guidelines in 1979, the type and scope of preventive medical check-ups have steadily expanded. The number of recommended check-ups has increased from 10 to 14 now, with three compulsory ultrasound examinations being part of the standard program of gynecological practices, without this having led to particularly outstanding results in a European comparison. It is noteworthy that around 70 to 80 percent of all pregnancies are defined by "the medical practitioner as risk cases requiring control". In the Netherlands, the ratio is reversed: 70 percent are not considered to be associated with risks and therefore do not make it into the specialist medical control board. [3] In plain language: In Germany, pregnant women who are actually not particularly at risk are being monitored more and more intensively.

The problem indicated here can also be illustrated using the example of prenatal and genetic diagnostics. The number of women who have endured prenatal diagnostic measures since the introduction of ultrasound 30 years ago has steadily increased. But not only that - the women affected have also become younger and younger on average; At present, it is more than half of pregnant women over 35 who have their children examined for genetic abnormalities. Without exaggeration, prenatal diagnostics can now also be viewed as a kind of routine examination as part of the usual prenatal care. The motives behind this development are clear: It is the desire for a healthy child or, to put it more sharply, the compulsion to have an unhindered child. With this in mind, Bob Edwards, one of the scientific fathers of the first test tube baby, notes that it will soon be a sin for parents to have a child with severe disabilities. [4] What is new is that there has never been a society in which all pregnant women had to prepare for a deviation of chromosomes from the norm, that is, as Barbara Duden [5] puts it, "scientific fortune-telling". With that, what used to be called "good hope" has disappeared. With every test, according to Duden, "the pregnant woman is persuaded, even physically drummed into it, that she has to be afraid - for herself and the coming child. The result: She is" in need of diagnosis, if not addicted to diagnosis ".

Of course, it is not the medical and medical control system alone that is responsible for the observed increased involvement in pregnancy. In addition, there have recently been messages from prenatal psychology, a booming discipline that traces the consequences of prenatal rejections and burdens on child development. Their central appeal is to build a relationship with the prenatal child as early as possible and not to leave it to medical observation alone. In line with this, a parent information brochure from the Federal Center for Health Education from 1995 advised: "Try to find a relationship with your baby during pregnancy. It is your child from the start and it can feel whether you are with loving, only worried or no thoughts at all with him. "

It should also be mentioned that the future fathers as well as the expectant mothers have been seized by the new commandments of a "relationship-oriented pregnancy and childbirth culture" (Ludwig Janus) for some time. For example, the normative pressure on men to organize and attend preventive medical checkups and preparatory courses together with their wives has grown enormously in recent years. This is all the more true for the invitation to attend the event of the birth. Deviating from this imperative now amounts to breaking a taboo. It is now not only common, but culturally expected and desired, to view pregnancy and childbirth as a conscious, commonly wanted and shared experience. This also includes the expectation addressed to both parents to become experts in matters of pregnancy, the birth process, delivery and baby care and to clarify together the where and how of the delivery (hospital birth, home birth, "gentle birth", etc.).

III. Professionalized parenting

In particular, recent studies from family and women's research show that infancy and toddler age are already associated with a historically unprecedented requirement program for parents, especially mothers. Encouraged by a "the earlier the better psychology", which equates deficient early support with missed development opportunities, the expectation directed at the parents is to fully develop the abilities of the offspring from day one. The norm of the best possible support obliges parents to give their children the best possible starting opportunities for self-realization and social advancement through upbringing. According to a study by Thomas Fuhr [6], it is a 14-point minimal catalog that today's parents have to face: ".... ... of cognitive, social, emotional and linguistic promotion, sex education, media education, promotion the joy of exploration, motor skills, perceptual skills, memory, play, the development of one's own personality, a certain way of dealing with the gender issue and the development of stable relationships with parents. "

It can now be regarded as characteristic that the parents, in order to cope with this catalog of tasks, which are reported without claim to completeness, align their actions - partly consciously, partly unconsciously - with the pedagogical and psychologized knowledge of so-called education experts. It is therefore hardly an exaggeration to speak of a semi-professionalization of parenting. Here one should not only think of the influence of the various forms of socio-educational family help, professional educational counseling centers and parenting programs. Even more important, given their reach, are the countless parenting magazines, guides, letters to parents, television and radio broadcasts, as well as the information brochures distributed free of charge by family and health ministries, health insurance companies and associations, all of which are more or less strongly shaped by a pedagogical and popular science gesture. Their message, regardless of any differences in detail, can be summed up in one sentence: It is about promoting the well-being and happiness of children, their development, identity formation and individuality claims with all available means; To perceive and address the children in their own way, to respect their wishes, and all of this even when this is combined with putting aside own desires.

In this sense it says in that of the Technician health insurance published advice brochure "Toddler" from 1997 on the subject of baby crying: "This is already biologically defined, because babies never cry without a reason: Hunger, thirst, freezing, sweating, wetness, loneliness and fear are feelings and needs that babies convey to their parents Try to communicate screaming. Therefore, children under one year of age should not be allowed to scream during the day or at night, but should always try to find out the reason. This has nothing to do with pampering, it gives babies the necessary basic trust in the world so that they can enjoy it as much as possible Discover and experience without fear. " One of the side effects of these currencies is the expectation of children, cherished from an early age, that their parents always take them into account, that they are the focus and that all of their wishes will be satisfied as quickly as possible.

IV. Parenthood committed to education

More than anything else, it seems to me that the secular rise in importance of school is putting parents under increased pressure. At least since the political advertising for education and the educational expansion of the sixties and seventies, the role of schoolchildren has now also been of paramount importance within the family. To the extent that the school leaving certificate and with it education became the key concept for social success or failure, the ideal of the best possible development of all children's abilities has become the general guiding principle. Indifferent parenting styles are in regression.

Even groups of parents who have hitherto been more reserved about the education system are aware of the importance of school as the central point of allocation of social life opportunities. Accordingly, the willingness and the competence of the parents for comprehensively educative and reflective behavior has increased considerably. Nowadays, only a minority can afford to take school lightly. In Germany, according to Heidrun Bründel and Klaus Hurrelmann [7], around a fifth of children who often encounter indifference in their families and receive correspondingly little support. For the vast majority, the unanimous creed is that all children, i. H. to give the traditionally placed girls as well as the boys the best possible dowry for their school career - a development that is accelerated by the fact that secondary school qualifications have lost their role as secure status guarantors as part of the educational expansion and a persistently precarious labor market, so that many parents encourage their children even more to improve their individual chances through increased efforts.

The increasing educational sensitivity corresponds to the fact that parents want their children to have a high-quality school leaving certificate on a broad front. While the primary or secondary school certificate was the standard school qualification until a few decades ago, its acceptance has steadily declined over the past 25 years; on the other hand, the desire for a secondary school diploma or the Abitur has increased more and more. In the meantime, around half of (West German) parents expect their children to qualify for higher education as a school-leaving certificate, and for parents with an Abitur it is even more than 90 percent. [8] It should be noted that the collective definition of the role of parenting has shifted in the direction of school over the long term. Even more: at least with a view to the growing segment of very ambitious parenting, it seems justified to put the problem of parental "over-education" [9] on the agenda. Because not only many child psychiatrists and family therapists classify the intensive school-related parental engagement more and more often as "pathogenic". Social science studies also show that the "long arm" [10] of the school is increasingly penetrating the "safe space" of the family, that school issues have meanwhile become the dominant theme of family life and aspects that relate to private life, politics or religion , far surpass. [11]

It is also noticeable that questions about school success and professional life planning seem to move parents even more than their children. Numerous parents feel called upon to support the increasingly longer school careers of their children with more and more performance and qualification requirements through constant information work and a sustained policy of motivation, perseverance and placement. The dramatically lengthened training periods contribute to the fact that the parents are not only much more committed to the school issues of their children than ever before, but also act as a kind of career advisor to accompany the ever-increasing number of decisions regarding school, training and occupation. [12] There is also evidence that many immigrant parents - for example from Turkey, but above all from the countries of the former Soviet Union - project their immigration-related aspirations for advancement onto the educational careers of their children. It is therefore not surprising that this section of the population is also experiencing a sustained intensification of parental upbringing requirements in the German host society. [13]

In the context of the problem addressed here, the well-known paradox of educational expansion must be taken into account that educational certificates are worth more and less at the same time: more, because higher degrees are becoming more and more important for entry into many professional careers; less because they are less and less likely to guarantee an attractive professional career. The parents usually act less as filters, which mitigate performance demands, than as catalysts, which drive performance motivation and keep it going. [14] Accordingly, many children feel the pressure of their parents' expectations related to education, which has been proven to be often reflected in health stress. It fits with these findings when school researchers report that parent-child relationships often mutate into a school relationship, so to speak, where affection is dosed according to school grades and dosed in the form of monetary donations. According to the motto "love for performance", parental appreciation becomes dependent on school successes and grades.

It is also worth mentioning that in families with a commitment to education, even the leisure area - which is extremely extensive in comparison to other countries due to the German "morning school system" - remains pervaded by the self-imposed educational requirement, arranging "something useful" [15] for the offspring to have to. Especially when the children are older than primary school, the children are kept on their toes in order to gain a competitive edge in the cultural competition.The parents appear as educational leisure entrepreneurs who, driven by the norm to do something as "sensible" as possible, constantly give suggestions.

Elisabeth Beck-Gernsheim writes pointedly on the increasingly demanding concept of parenting: "The child must be accepted less and less as it is, with its physical and mental peculiarities, perhaps also deficiencies. Rather, it becomes the target of diverse efforts. As far as possible all deficiencies should be corrected (just no more squinting, stuttering, bed-wetting), as many facilities as possible should be developed (boom for piano lessons, language holidays, tennis in summer and ski courses in winter). A new market is emerging, with ever new programs for that which is to be promoted from all sides Child. And the new possibilities quickly take on the character of new duties. Because parents can not only, no: they should now also provide the child with braces and orthopedic insoles, ski courses and language holidays. " [16]

V. Communicative parenting

The dismantling of family power structures, the so-called "emancipation of the child" [17], which has been observed for some time not only between spouses but also between parents and their children, is another feature that complicates the current educational process. According to the cultural climate of our time, which is in the process of transforming the "educational relationship" between parents and children into a "relationship relationship", parents are increasingly asked to show understanding for their children and primarily as friends and partners and less and less face as an authority figure. The offspring are not only accepted very early on as an autonomous personality with their own desires and needs, but also desired as such. Especially in the "modern, enlightened" social milieus it is now said: The child and the development of his or her identity are dependent on dialogic social relationships; it is to be taken seriously in its independence and individuality, and as an equal partner it is to be granted legitimate participation and objection rights in more or less all matters that affect it. Trying to justify arguments restrictions on the basis of age is less and less opportune. On the contrary: Even small children are given the express right to assure themselves of their interests and to defend them with arguments.

In a word: motherhood and fatherhood are far more interactive than they used to be. If the establishment of family togetherness is to succeed now, more and more negotiation and coordination procedures are necessary. The new habitus of speaking to one another and talking to one another, including its everyday discourses on mood, identity and life course [18], puts educational work in front of completely new communication requirements such as discussion and counseling, but also psychological empathy. The statement is clear: It is precisely the high degree of assumed independence, granted participation and autonomy rights that often makes parenting appear so difficult and stressful today. It is increasingly rare that it is sufficient to make demands and enforce them. It is demanded - largely renouncing authoritarian measures - to strike a delicate balance between granted freedom and legitimate commandments between autonomy projects for children and development projects for parents. [19]

VI. Organizing parenting

If one pursues the changed parental requirement profile further, it is advisable to address two central societal development processes highlighted by recent childhood research - on the one hand, the process of civilization history Domesticization and on the other hand those of the Isolation of the child's living conditions.

The process of domesticization means - to put it in one sentence - the transition from "public street to domesticized family childhood". [20] Alluded to here is, inter alia. to the fact that in the course of the rapid increase in motor vehicle traffic and densely populated settlement areas, the accessibility of the residential area for children is restricted. Especially in urban regions, where there is mostly a lack of free space to move around and play, and where it is increasingly difficult to discover the environment on your own, children are shifting more and more of their free time from the street, yard and neighborhood to the home. In view of the low number of siblings and the frequent lack of siblings, this does not only mean that parents are increasingly in demand as companions and play partners. In addition, not only is a considerably higher degree of disciplining parenting required in the house than in the street life area. Upbringing is called upon here to press for a refinement of body motor skills as early as possible and for self-disciplined control of the children's affective and emotional balance. In addition, for the sake of the future of the child in general competition, the parents endeavor to promote their independence. The relief effects achieved through self-employment education are not infrequently seen as rather minor. Because the youngsters are used to having someone available for them all the time, they are hardly able to keep themselves busy.

Also with that Domesticization process The associated phenomenon of an "isolated living space" [21] refers to the change in the socio-spatial living conditions of children. While the family apartment and its surroundings used to form an intensively and multifunctionally used spatial context, today - according to the thesis - children are less and less at home in their residential area. Not only are locally dispersed friendships and gaming contacts becoming more common; Children also increasingly encounter a spatial separation of function-specifically organized and mostly adult-controlled spaces (family, kindergarten, playground, music school, sports club, etc.) with the result that the child's living space is increasingly made up of separate parts that are distributed like islands lie in a larger space.

The decisive factor is that this change process, which appears differently depending on the class, is not only associated with the children, but - this is all too often overlooked - with far-reaching consequences for the parents as well. Mothers and fathers are now called upon more than ever to support their children in developing their living environment. Your task is to build social bridges for the children to the islands of their environment outside of the family. It is important to invest a lot of time, energy and money to bring your own children together with other children [22] and to ensure a varied and stimulating everyday life.

That means: The fragmented places and services for children result in an underestimated amount of work for the parents, especially the mothers, which in this form requires an unprecedented level of organizational control. This is also supported by the fact that, in addition to travel and transport times, the different speeds and deadlines of various institutions such as play groups, swimming pools, clubs, etc. in the form of timetables, opening times and event dates create time constraints that make creating an everyday family life a problem. Time management seminars not only address managers, but also housewives in the adult education center. [23] It is therefore justified to emphasize "family time management" as a new integral element of the modern parenting role.

But the children are also captured by the demands of the modern linear time order. Unlike their parents, they are dictated to adhere to the "social times" of disparate fields of activity. It is part of the fund of natural knowledge and social skills of relatively young children to handle time correctly, to adhere to different deadlines and time rules and to be able to withstand interruptions and postponements. This fits in with the widespread possession of watches among children, which has been shifting more and more forward for years and becomes mandatory for every child at the latest when they start school. [24] The same now applies to cell phones.

The relevance of this line of argument is supported by the fact that it is becoming more and more a matter of course to have a dual occupation - both fatherly and motherly - and the expansion of flexible shift and weekend work. The time problems faced by modern working families and raising families are exacerbated by the lack of public care for small children, which is particularly serious in West Germany, the restrictive opening times of kindergartens and the uniquely short (half) day stay in school compared to other European countries (apart from Italy). It should be noted that nowadays a lot has to be planned, calculated and coordinated in advance and fewer and fewer things are done as the mood takes them or even left to chance. But that means: everyday family life is becoming increasingly more rational and work-like, becoming more and more organizational.

VII. Conclusion and theoretical outlook

In conclusion, I would like to try, at least in part, to give my admittedly fragmentary and preliminary considerations a systematic theoretical framework.

Since Heinrich Riehl, one of the pioneers in family-sociological thinking, it has been customary to describe the relationship between family and society with polarizing categories of "inside" and "outside". According to this, the modern family - understood as a small private community of people - are diametrically opposed to the structurally different areas of the public - politics, professional life and the world of work. But this very distinction between "inside" and "outside", which the family usually understands as a bulwark and reserve against the unreasonable demands of society - so my thesis - has meanwhile become doubtful. If one follows this interpretation, the change characteristics of modern parenting can be interpreted as follows: The phenomena of "advanced" and "psychologized" parenting discussed in Chapters I to V demonstrate that with more and more questions - for example about pregnancy, childbirth and upbringing - the knowledge of advisors and experts is used. However, this means nothing other than that the principles of a (supposedly) scientifically founded action orientation take hold and that the private world is stripped of its traditional and meaningful context.

In the light of the reading proposed here, my thesis of "organized parenting" aims at the fact that the laws of logistics and time management in the family are increasingly gaining ground. This means that the internal family life loses its own subject matter, quality of difference and contrast. Accordingly, childhood and adolescence are often no longer a safe haven. Young people become - to put it in analogy to Philippe Ariès' descriptions of the Middle Ages - so to speak "little adults" who have to face the seriousness of life more and more at an early age. [25]

The schooling of the family referred to under the term "educationally committed parenthood" indicates that external hardships such as pressure to succeed and performance as well as factual and rationality logics take hold of the inside of the family due to the orientation towards the ever higher learning and performance maxims. And the new educational standards in the leisure sector also signal that the dividing lines between playing, learning and work are becoming blurred.

The thesis of the "communicating family" can finally be interpreted to the effect "that with the transition from the traditional command to the modern negotiation budget" Abram de Swaan, Vom Ausgehverbot zur Angst vor der Straße, in: Päd. Extra, (1982) 2, p 48 - 55. External equality and co-determination principles find their way into privacy as control variables, which originally stem from political discourse.

Conclusion: The change in parenthood, as I see it, boils down to the fact that the boundary between the family and its social environment has become more permeable. Organizational principles and value systems are increasingly penetrating the intimate relationships of privacy, which traditionally would have been described as meaningless for family and parenting life. In one sentence: What we can at least begin to observe is an "open family" or - to paraphrase Jürgen Habermas - an increasing "colonization" of private life by external forces.