For most parents, raising children is one of the most rewarding aspects of their lives. Watching them grow and develop gives parents a lot of pleasure – events like first words, first steps and school achievements are long remembered.
Challenges of parenting
New parents have to cope with sleep deprivation and constant developmental changes. They have less time to themselves and to spend with other people, including their partners. Some find their identities revolve around their children.
Parents in paid work have to take time off to care for sick children. The parents of teenagers often have to deal with the challenging behaviour that is a hallmark of adolescence. There is considerable societal pressure on parents to make sure their children turn out well. Some parents do not have the skills to parent well, and neglect or abuse their children.
In the 21st century the phrase ‘helicopter parenting’ was sometimes used to refer to parents who constantly hovered around children, making sure all possible needs and wants were met. Critics said this approach to parenting produced children who found it hard to think or act independently.
Parenting styles are diverse, and are influenced by things like family background, socio-economic status and ethnicity. Advice from others is an important influence.
Some parents take a traditional authoritarian approach and try to have complete control over their children’s behaviour. Others control some behaviour while supporting children to make their own decisions. Permissive parents guide children but avoid restraining them, while disengaged parents show little or no interest in controlling or supporting their children. Many parents have a combination of styles – learning and changing over time.
A 2008 study into relationships between parents and adolescent children in recently settled African, Middle Eastern and Asian migrant families found that typical arenas of conflict at this stage in life – clothes, money, TV and the internet – were intertwined with the acculturation or settling-in process. Disputes about things like clothing and access to alcohol often arose because adolescents wanted to be like their Kiwi peers, whereas their parents wanted them to retain the values of their homeland. This could result in a more authoritarian approach to parenting than that taken by most New Zealand parents.
Outcomes for children
Studies carried out in the early 21st century showed that although parental income positively affected child outcomes (including health and schooling), parental age, gender, marital status and sexuality did not determine how people parented, or how children turned out as adults. Gay and lesbian parents were as competent and effective as heterosexual parents, and there were no notable differences in child outcomes for heterosexual, gay or lesbian parents. Sole mothers and fathers were equally as effective.
Teaching children to behave well is a major parental responsibility. Physical punishment was common until the late 20th century. ‘Positive parenting’, which involved praise and acknowledgement of good behaviour, and strategies like ‘time out’ (time away from the source of conflict) and family discussions or ‘conferences’ became more popular. A 2007 law change meant that a defence of using reasonable force to discipline their children could no longer be used by parents in court for child abuse.
Growing Up in New Zealand is a longitudinal study of 7,000 children born in the Auckland region between April 2009 and March 2010 and their families. Findings from this study provide research evidence about parental practices. A report released when the children in the study were four suggests that two thirds of the mothers interviewed never used physical punishment, but 10% of parents did use smacking to discipline their child. Most of the children in this study were in households with two parents, but 17% lived in an extended family. Eight percent of these children were living with a single parent, overwhelmingly their mother.
Boomerangs and sandwiches
In the early 21st century it was much more common for people in their 20s and even 30s to be still living with their parents than in previous decades. Children who left for a while and then came back were described as ‘boomerang children’. Another trend was parents caring for children and their own ageing parents at the same time, because people had their children later and were living longer. The parents in the middle were called the ‘sandwich generation’.
Parents in schools
Parenting changes as children age – from the hands-on care of babies to supporting older children’s educational, sporting and cultural development. The New Zealand Parent Teacher Association started in the 1950s and brought parents into schools in a voluntary capacity. In the 1960s and 1970s mother helpers were common in New Zealand primary schools. This later decreased as more mothers went into paid work. From the 1990s parents were expected to assist with school management through elected boards of trustees.
Parents often support children in out-of-school activities, for example as coaches and administrators for sports. Walking buses led by parents became a popular way of getting children to school in the 21st century.