Introduction to Parenting and Children

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Introduction to Parenting and Children

Parenting is an essential element of nuclear family life. Yet the title of parent is not strictly reserved for those with biological ties. Individuals become parents through adoption, marriage, or fosterage. Within this volume, "parenting" and "parents" are terms usually used to describe individuals who actively participate in childrearing. This chapter focuses on the experiences of both parents and children in various social and historical contexts.

Beginning in the early nineteenth century, it became fashionable for parents to take an increasingly personal and active role in childrearing. The concept of childhood as a distinct and treasured period of life blossomed. Over the latter half of the century emerged the Victorian ideal of hearth and home, including a sizable family with attentive parents and a structured, disciplined family structure. With the veneration of childhood and the family came a shift in ideas about motherhood and fatherhood. Parents and children were the targets of advertisements and the subjects of science journals. The social transformation of parenting continued in the twentieth and twenty-first centuries, becoming more inclusive of diverse family models from single parent households to same-sex parents.

Although gender roles within the family and the division of family labor are discussed in a later chapter, to talk about children and parenting without some discussion of motherhood and fatherhood is impossible.

While the majority of childrearing responsibilities has traditionally fallen on mothers, women's entry into the work force and feminism changed family dynamics to promote equity in family duties and responsibilities. Representations of both mothers and fathers in this chapter illustrate parenting trends as well as reflect changing notions of gender and family roles.

Featured articles on mothers and motherhood highlight both the timelessness of some motherly duties and the radical transformation of perceptions of motherhood over the past 150 years. "Mothers Giving Babies to Nurse at Foundling Home" contrasts the timelessness of nursing duties with antiquated social stigmas placed on unwed mothers. "No Creature In this World so Ignorantly Nurtured as the Average Baby," "Mothers Warned Against Neglect," and "The Education of Mothers" reflect the notion of the mother as the chief guardian of children's health and welfare as well as the emergence of "scientific parenting." Several sources celebrate—and even challenge—the current ideals of motherhood.

Just as motherhood evolved over the past decades, so too has fatherhood. The campy "Necessity is the Mother of Invention" makes light of a father's fitness to watch over a baby, while "Changin'in the Boys' Room" is an amusing representation of current social attitudes on the everyday duties of dads. "Envisioning Fatherhood" looks at the expectations and perceptions of fatherhood among single men.

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Introduction to Parenting and Children

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Introduction to Parenting and Children