Cultural Shifts in England/The responsibilities of parenting

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Chapter IV: The responsibilities of parenting[edit]

Past civilizations believed that men had every right to be head of the household or family: chief of the clan, tribal leader, king of state, and High King of the civilization or race. The law of hereditary – property, and land rights, were written in his name as a legal right. This is not always the case in some societies. Gradually this has changed. Muscular strength, leadership in battle, maker of laws and the divine rights of kings was changed by Acts of Law and Equal Rights. The power of Education has complemented these changes in Law. Men have had their power stripped from them mainly by: the change in property rights, the laws of divorce and Women's changed status. Inheritance Tax has played a part too. As his powers have withered away – been taken, and given up, men’s control - power, and position, have grown weaker. In many respects, the power of the sexes is equal, although concerning young children; women still maintain public regard for the ‘mothering role’, something that may change - even though being‘the carrier’ and ‘life giver!’ The modern woman has to some degree passed over some mothering roles to her husband, and various outside carers.

Previously men had greater social responsibility as the wage earner. He appended his signature to legal documents, could own property, was better educated and voted at elections. The eldest carried the name forward became ‘head of the family’. His name appeared on the property title. What the father did and said was accepted as ‘the way’. There were neither female apprentices nor trainees. Commerce and industry only employed men in positions of responsibility. When women were employed for menial tasks - as servants, maids, some labouring jobs, lesser office work and factory employment, their wage-rate was half that of men in similar positions. Fathers dictated moral standards and declared the family’s social position… they were the backbone of that society’s hierarchy, and tribal power.

Men’s superior social position started to change with the industrial revolution – about the middle of the nineteenth century. A little later, the education of the masses ensured girls would receive some sort of education that would eventually prepare them for jobs that are more responsible. The Crimea War and the two Boar Wars exposed the population’s poor health. Various considerations were made to correct this – better education and school meals. By the time these educational and welfare changes had raised the populations expectations and The First World War over [a period of ten years] women had shown they were capable of many jobs one time reserved for men. Although the mass unemployment of the twenties set back the advance of women, they quickly resumed their onetime position twenty years later – especially during the time of ‘total war’. By the 1950s, it was expected that girls were to become employed. When starting a family they stopped full-time employment, many for good. A further twenty years it was expected that mothers resumed their work when their child reached the age of five - starting full-time education. This change in social structure only took fifty years – a generation, to alter what had been an accepted state of affairs since recorded time.

The role of men in the twenty-first century is now the weakest it has ever been. Paternal rights, familial ties, and the kingdom’s hierarchy, once supreme, was now questioned, reduced, and stripped away. Much of this power was to do with wealth – the control of money, to support the many by the few. Largely men have given up their powers by society’s call for reasonableness, fairness, equality, and just rights. You might think that the power between men and women is now equal but that would not be so. Nevertheless, it is far closer than it has ever been and depends, on the circumstance. In business, it is still natural to address official documents to the male of the household. When a decision is required concerning children then the mother’s opinion is paramount, especially concerning custody and maintaining the child’s home. This too is changing as women give up some of their mothering role. As women become more powful, through equal pay many fathers will either be: house-fathers, work from home, taking on some of the mothering role, or share time outside the home with their wife.

Fathers play an important part in child development. It is little wonder that the good relationship of the father to the mother contributes to the pre-birth attachment of the child to its parents. This positive caring attitude, continues after birth by the father bathing, feeding and cradling, all of which contributes to ‘close attachment’, a period necessary to a good father-child association. Father’s should communicate through story telling, nursery play and conversation, to demonstrate care, understanding, and tolerance. It is about showing interest – that the child counts - is important to those around him. It is necessary to let the child know that it is wanted and needed. This generates, in the child, respect for the father, and stimulates the wish to please, which in turn reinforces stability and security. The father should never compare one child against the next. All these factors give lifelong support and contribute towards ‘good growth’- giving disciplined, direction, and instruction. It is an interesting discussion point: ‘In the event the father devotes unlimited child caring time from birth, would the child’s natural insticts towards the mother be subverted?’

British society during the early nineteenth century considered girls to be future mothers. Mrs Beeton, 1837-1865, wrote books on household management, sanitary, medical and legal matters, to do with the home – was an authority on the role of women. The Forster Act of 1870, dealt with Education in Britain, which was the start to Britain’s Educational needs. Girls well into the twentieth century were considered fitting only for a limited education to pass on information and learning to their children. It was thought by society that the habits and routines of the home – motherhood, was a natural, god given, evolutionary event, making expensive education, and training unnecessary, even, wasteful. What was needed was for the mother, close female relatives, midwives, and wet nurses, to pass on how to run a home and cater for children. For the better educated, there was Mrs Beeton. Society, even in these liberated times, consider girls as future mothers, who else indeed! This suggests that women have as their chief interest the home, and all those things that go on in it. If this cannot be a statement for all a women’s life then it certainly should be for that period before, during, and after the birth - for the first three to four years.

It was consider unnecessary - a waste of money, to educate girls who would not be able to use that extra knowledge. Either daughters were expected to marry or to stay at home and look after the elderly parents… it was not considered sensible or rational to pass on the property title or the bulk of the estate out of the family. The eldest son was expected to look after unmarried women and the married daughters were the property of their husbands relieving the estate of that drain upon its wealth. This state of affairs continued until the mid nineteenth century and even then hardly changes until well into the twentieth.

Women, particularly young mothers, were considered ‘the gentle sex’. The act of pregnancy, carrying the child, breast feeding and nurturing thought natural, unselfish, pure; blessed by church and state. Society, under the old system, welcomed this state of affairs as unthreatening, subservient, and convenient. Therefore, they protected the image, defending the future generation. Many habits, routines, rules of law and social etiquette attached itself to this image of women. In many ways, it suited women to perpetuate this, when making a living required hard manual work. However, as soon as more jobs became available that did not require strength but dexterity and orderliness women could see here was a chance to extend their horizons. This they have been doing ever since and it could be argued that society has benefited. It must be pointed out that there are many jobs which not only require high training/learning, dexterity and orderliness but strength and athleticism too.

Women were considered homebuilders, bearers of the coming generation, and child rearers. If babies and young children required looking after it was natural for the state to look to women to do it. Custody of the young followed divorce laws and settlements, handing over the job to the separated mothers - who naturally needed paying. The state has now elevated women to the role of child protectors – particularly of babies, pre-school children, and children in the ‘close period’ – under five, or birth to three. This custody can extend to children going to secondary schools – under fifteen. State education does not separate girls from boys but declares all children must be educated to the same level throughout school life – till eighteen, and beyond, if felt fitting.

All childcare authorities consider the women’s role indispensable in nurturing which requires patience, time, and dedication. Nurturing is mainly accomplish through breast feeding, comforting, rocking and gently talking or singing achieved without fuss and bother with time and shared comfort. This mothering role is natural, considerate, and compassionate. It is an emotional and basic requirement of child development and helps shape future responses and wellbeing. This ‘close period’ lasts until the child starts school which is a loose period between the years three to five, depending on the individual. The point maybe decided by the local school authority, the number of school places available and, to a degree, parental choice – the ability to pay the school fee. It is recommended that the child in an introductory class should have a shorter school day, with frequent breaks and a middle rest period… for the first year, at least.

It is perfectly clear that women in the workplace are essential. Society required it during moments of national crisis, since that time women have created for themselves a position of power. It was ever clear that this would cause distress not only soaking up the number of work places that men and boys had previously filled but their absence from the home would disrupt the even tenor of life there. There seems to be little point explaining why this is so or the effects this has on society. It is, as they say, ‘a done deal’. Society cannot have it both ways. Women have forever compared their life with those of their husband’s and children. They have seen the immediate rewards working for a living have given – the leisure activities, the personal possessions, and the freedom. They are not going to give them up. They would rather have their children later, not have so many, and pass their children’s care onto somebody else - even when it is demonstrated that this is detrimental. The power that women have will change society yet again, governments will pander to their needs by forcing businesses to provide better kindergarten facilities, days off for sick child-leave, flexi-working hours, paid for home help, home place working, workplace facilities to look after their sick children, job sharing, and their days off work paid in full. If this continues, they will force businesses to limit the number of work positions available for women.

Equal opportunities works on the shop floor and in offices. Sex is no longer the limiting factor it once was. All vacancies must be open to all if the education and previous training fits the job description. Mothers are given the opportunity to return to work within a certain period – the job is kept open and payment made during time off. The close period for the child – considered by psychologists to be that time before full-time education, is now farmed out to childcare agencies and kindergarten. This reduces the child/mother bonding period, home socialization, and the first stages of language, intimacy, and closeness.

The part parents play in this century is one of sharing, so that each can focus on their own work and interests. Young children are organized to fit in. There is a general feeling that this variety and flexibility is helpful to the child, giving a more rounded view of life. Common sense tells use that this is not so. Children need security, a sense of belonging and routine… and the longer this can be offered the better. Learning experiences are improved/internalized by self-discovery… repetition/rote thereafter cements the event or occasion.

In the past, it was thought that because women had a strong attachment to children - through maternal instincts, boys who had too much female involvement/contact would develop homosexual instincts. This is not so, a person’s sexuality is driven by desire – ‘a mental process’, and, where the person develops that desire – ‘their environment’. As it is unclear exactly what makes one person male and the other female. Genitalia are the simplest form of identification; however, it is hormone levels, and gene regulation, which are the true factors… Environment allows opportunity, encouragement, and acceptance. Parents are conditioned when we are told before, or just after birth, the gender of our child. They then clothe, refer, educate and socialize, the child, to that belief… never once giving a moment’s thought that this might not be true… The child, youth, or adult, goes along with that idea not knowing any different. At some stage the individual will question that assumption, some imagining, or liking to think they are being ‘with it’… then becoming depressed and oppressed by developing thoughts until accepting the tendency. It is up to the individual to do what they are most happy with doing as long as they are not hurting anyone else or endangering their own mental or physical wellbeing. Gradually, by personal acceptance of their libido, the person becomes more comfortable. Whether straight or gay we all have to do that.

Do not expect others to take over your job and put right your deficiencies. Thankfully, we have the means to find out about most things easily and simply. Never compare your child detrimentally to another. Never say they are not wanted, and certainly, not ever wanted. Do not be violent, shout, or deny them food… but give them space, a kindly word, and the company of others. If you are firm, right from birth - maintaining simple social rules and correct behaviour patterns, it will set the correct tone for a sound and happier later life. The first set of rules are laid down as early as possible in the baby’s life - in the close period; they are to do with times for: waking, feeding, burping, cuddling, nappy changing, bathing, settling down, being in the fresh air, enjoying the motion of the pram, sleeping etc.… these quite structured rules - to do with everyday habits, will transfer – to more social rules involving: singing, reciting, playing music, reading, language, play-sharing, etc., these social skills follow on through the rest of the child’s life – to adulthood – to form a regimen for life… to ensure: correct: bodily function, social behaviour, and mental exercise.

It’s a lot easier maintaining your rules from the start rather than effect change later on. Try to make your home a haven of calm; you do not have to shout to be heard. The most important action you can show your child is that you care about everything they do. By this positive action, the child will have a regard for you and show you respect. Try to be a paragon of virtue and your child will love you for it. Make your language and facial expressions positive – praising, congratulating, smiling, clapping, and raising a cheer. If your child misbehaves, it is generally because they have seen someone else do it, distract the child from errors, and seek to extract from the child the correct behaviour, at every occasion, by outlining preferred options and why.

Schools for babies and toddlers are a feature of today’s society… sometimes used as a ‘baby minder’ for the working mother. Parents believe that such institutions provide socialization and learning – teach the child how to relate with its peers; give a head start in learning the 3Rs, and provide an arena for simple inculcating everyday skills. There is absolutely no doubt that such places can advance scholastic and instructional skills. Children are competitive; they can be aggressive and frequently unkind. However closely guarded, superintended, and controlled, these human characteristics are exhibited daily… and do affect others. It is not always evident that these characteristics are exhibited or have adverse effects. That they do is well known… and not obvious to the parent until much later… usually when it is too late. It is essential for the parents to take a lively interest in how the school is being run and what happens in times of stress.

A mother’s maternal function in pregnancy is an important director of early fetal brain development. This is an important period of brain development of the offspring. The adage ‘you are what you eat’ is a significant factor in healthy living; it might be added, 'you are how you were mothered/nurtured.' This is even more important when pregnant. A good healthy mixed diet is essential if a fetus is to have the best start in life. There are a number of studies that have shown that a mother’s thyroid function during early gestation is connected to impaired fetal brain development. Make sure your baby gets the best treatment from you.

A child’s growth pattern[edit]

  1. What a caring parent wants is a child born physically and mentally well – appearing and functioning normally at birth, according to prescribed norms – this includes suckling, movement and crying.
  2. Within days, parents look carefully for movement in all limbs, and soon after, sensory responses. Once again the search is for natural responses something all mothers are attuned with.
  3. Crying - turns to other sounds, attempts at recognisable sounds, language… attention seeking.
  4. From birth, socialization is carried forward by the mother – responding, talking, touching, recognition, smell and sound.
  5. Sitting up, crawling, bottom-shuffling… drinking from a beaker, self-feeding… assisted standing… then unassisted… finally climbing and walking. Scribbling, recognizing colours, filling in shapes, building structures.
  6. Recognisable sounds turn into copying the mother - repetition of familiar single syllable words – singing nursery tunes/lullabies, numbers… repeating the alphabet as a song… handing and fetching, pointing, identifying nominated/named items. Gradually words are joined and talking begins. Playing games that require counting, sharing out items, allotting familiar toys.
  7. Starting to wash and dress. Repeating common sentences about eating, the weather, going for a walk, the countryside, going to bed. Asking questions, eliciting answers. Engaging in conversation.
  8. First attempts at reading – pointing… following the formed words, breaking down words into sounds, shaping the mouth – making the sound.
  9. Unassisted reading and copy-writing.
  10. Adding, subtraction, dividing and multiplication.

Women now work full-time, except for brief periods – final weeks of child bearing, giving birth, weaning, and the close period – up to kindergarten or Introductory Class, until retirement. The additional wealth has altered their position in society, changed the pattern of home life, and altered social class structures and realigned women’s role and status in society.

If a couple, or single person, decides to have a baby and cannot afford to look after it they are being irresponsible. Welfare payments should not be offered to any person who declares they want, desire, need or deserve a child. Society should only allot facilities to those parents who have demonstrated they are settled, are mature, have, or will have, the necessary finances to maintain a child...Any person who gives birth to a child who cannot be maintained should have their parents fined, or a charge placed on their property - sufficient to pay for maintenance.

The passing of the Legal Aid Act in 1949 allowed the possibility of divorce. By the middle fifties there were about 25,000 divorces a year. Of those divorced three quarters remarried. Of the women married over seven hundred in every thousand went up the aisle. The average number of children per family was 2.3. The extended family group which persisted longest was mainly in the country, not the industrial towns. It was the professional family which split to form the nuclear family unit. The consumer society was born even though women remained in the home. Women were having fewer babies and some went out to work. Sharing the household chores began to take hold, particularly on the new nuclear families.

At the time of the Festival of Great Britain there were nearly eleven hundred thousand single men and women in the UK. Ten years later that figure hardly changed. The following ten years saw figures showing far more men – twelve hundred thousand to just over eleven for women. The statistics show that between the ages of twenty to twenty-four there were over twice as many women of that age group getting married. It was an age of early marriages. Further statistics show that divorce reached a peak a couple of years after I was first married. Looking back I was not aware of the figures or change in the law and practice. Even though these figures were available conversations at work did not follow the advent of legal aid in 1949, to make comment.

However, it is true that Americanism was rife. What was happening there - seen through the news-reel camera, and drama on the cinema screen, was copied here. In both countries divorce was rampant… fifty per cent of all marriages were ending in divorce, and single parenthood was increasing. A Royal Commission was set up, the same year as The Festival of Great Britain. It was charged with the task of suggesting a change in the law, from that, contained in the Matrimonial Act nearly a quarter of a century before, which permitted divorce only on the grounds of fault – evidence of adultery, cruelty, and desertion, of three or more years. It was thought that perhaps divorce should be possible when a marriage was irretrievably broken, after a period of time?

The Royal Commission identified some changes in society – that people’s lives were changing relative to the structure, proclaiming that it wasn’t popular disbelief or disseverance of moral codes. In the end the commission was thought of as weak and ineffectual. Later, newspapers asserted that family life was doomed. It was put down to: better education, higher standards of living and women’s liberation… All these three were bound up in the emancipation of women and seen as a social problem and indeed a modern crisis. The general view was that the marriage vows were not being taken seriously – that there was no social slur attached to the act of divorce. It was summed up, describing it as an age that ‘lacked stability’. Presumably, the newspapers were as much looking at the industrial scene as the social one. Once convention had been undermined it was not likely to be propped up. In the 1960s Judges and Registrars were allowing liberal interpretations.

The Divorce Reform Act 1969 allowed ‘irretrievable breakdown’ as grounds for divorce but it was still evidenced to one of the three causes – adultery, desertion and cruelty - known as the ‘behaviour ground’. It was in fact a lessoning of control – agreeing to permissive legislation, to allow a more satisfactory state of family affairs by replacing an unsuccessful union. In this 1980s view of marriage, and subsequent divorce, the children were declared by Social Workers and Family Liaison Officers as ‘of chief concern’. This was not wholly true; they were in fact, ‘bit’ players. The Legal Administrators saw the parent’s happiness as ‘of paramount importance’, and this was mainly to do with the parent’s financial wellbeing.

The mother almost always claimed and received the children’s custody… this happened whether they were fitting or not… the woman received Society’s blessing, because she ‘carried the child and nurtured it’ - was better able - and more suited by nature, to look after her own children. Men were advised not to bother to seek custody because they were thought, ‘highly unlikely to receive it’ – even though they might well be more able. In most cases of divorce the guilty or injured male had to leave the family home to bring about some sort of stability and good will. It was rare for the wife to agree to sell the family home to share the proceeds so that both could start again. In many cases after the sale there might be very little left… the value depended on how long the marriage had lasted - for time to build up the collateral.

This had long term detrimental effects on the husband’s financial state. The house, his main source of collateral - likely to form financial stability in old age and provide a pension, was given away for a percentage [usually twenty-per cent]. This never compensated for all the intervening years of struggle nor did it take into account the furniture, furnishings white goods and fittings. It was highly unlikely that his financial stability would ever be recouped… even over time…

Young children of separating couples were asked if they understood what was happening. Any child over sixteen was considered an adult – could leave the family home if they so desired. The eldest child under sixteen was the main arbiter… asked, ‘who do you wish to stay with your father or mother?’ In the event the child refused to answer, for whatever reason, the mother was given preference. Unless there was a positive unambiguous preference towards the father - by the majority of the younger children, the mother kept custody. At no time was the family drawn into a discussion to arrive at a sensible and fair conclusion giving all the family a chance to make their opinions known. For the nation to support first wives, who had no work, became very costly. Women with children not only did not remarry but if they did divorce soon followed.

When deciding on custody Social Workers were generally biased in favour of the mother. Mothers used: unpleasant rows, unreasonable and threatening behaviour, or impending assault, as reasons why they should be given protection, custody, and a safe home. Any form of mediation was looked on with hostility because the sample of opinion was too small. The Social Workers did not consult wide enough to form a true opinion and started off biased by the then accepted rules. This was as much a fault of lack of resource as experience. Family neighbours, friends, relations and work colleagues needed to be consulted to form a complete picture. But above all the social worker had to have an open mind and be receptive and flexible, of opinion as well as decision… this was lacking; searching for and issuing fault frowned on, considered an anathema.