The Multiple Meanings of Family Life
Parenting styles and meaning associated with having children are as diverse as parents themselves. Often, there are multiple and complex meanings associated with having a child. Although it would be wonderful if every child were wanted, it would be even more wonderful if every child were wanted for the right reasons. While wanting to experience the joys of parenthood and nurture a child is natural for those who have experienced nurturing themselves as children. It seems a natural continuation of the cycle of life. Even so, the individual meanings of having children are as different as people are.
However, many children do not experience nurturing childhoods. In the past, the patriarchal structure of society was such that motherhood was one of the very few career options available to women. While women from wealthy families who could afford to provide them with higher education often became professionals, in most working class families, the cost of higher education was reserved for male children. It was assumed that female children would be provided for by their future husbands. Rather than a genuine desire to have a family, the meaning of having children was often tied to the need to be supported and protected.
Modern birth control methods were not available, consequently, many women became mothers for reasons other than a desire to care for and nurture a child. Birth control and increased economic opportunities have succeeded in reducing some of the negative reasons for having children by giving women more control over both when and why they become mothers. Yet even today, with birth control available and more career options open to women, many still feel social pressure to have children.
In the past, parenting styles and meaning of family life was influenced by economic considerations. For example, in agricultural societies, the level of economic prosperity often depended upon the number of children able to assist parents in planting and harvesting crops. The necessity for the assistance of children during the harvest is the reason that public schools in the U.S. were closed during the summer months.
In other societies, parenting styles and meaning in family life often reflected the desire of parents to have someone to care for them in their old age. Respect for one’s elders in such societies was one of the most important values instilled in children from a very early age. However, in modern times, urbanization, the high cost of raising a child, and social programs for the elderly have nearly eliminated those reasons for having children in most industrialized societies.
Factors That Negatively Affect Parenting Styles and Meaning of Family Life Today
Some women experience pressure to have children caused by their own biological clocks. The increasing cost of raising a child has resulted in many women postponing beginning a family until they are in their late thirties, an age after which it becomes increasingly difficult to conceive. Consequently, some women have children before they are completely ready for fear that if they don’t, they may never be able to have a family.
Other scenarios are also less than ideal. For example, some couples experiencing difficulties in their relationships, rather than having a desire to create their own parenting styles and meaning, believe that having a child together will help ensure that the relationships lasts. Current global divorce rates provide ample evidence that this is not the case. The divorce rate in the U.S. is at 53%, Spain and Portugal at 60% and in Belgium, 70% of marriages end in divorce.
There are a number of societal factors that can adversely affect parenting styles and meaning in family life. Some people, disappointed by life not affording them the opportunity to realize their own dreams, attempt to achieve those dreams vicariously through their children. For example, a mother who dreamed of being a concert pianist, but whose parents couldn’t afford piano lessons, may insist that her child take piano lessons even though the child has no interest in learning to play the piano.
The increasing level of social isolation caused by modern technology has also affected modern parenting styles and meaning. No matter how technologically advanced humans become, it is highly unlikely that we will evolve past the need for human physical touch and positive social interaction. Many people believe that having a child will alleviate feelings of loneliness and isolation.
Studies have demonstrated a link between depression and modernization. One aspect of modernization has been an increase in income inequality and the number of people living in poverty. Poverty has also been linked to depression, as well as addiction and a sense of not having control over one’s life. For many people, having a child is a way to gain a sense of control over at least one aspect of their lives.
Whatever the time, the best reason to have a child is, and will always be, to celebrate life and the happy condition of having sufficient resources and an abundance of love to share. When social policies reflect that reality, children too will celebrate.