Intensive Parenting and the Expansion of Parenting



In her introduction to Parenting Out of Control the US sociologist Margaret Nelson describes how childrearing has changed in the last 40 years:

When I was raising my children in the 1970s, there were no baby monitors to help me hear them cry in the middle of the night, no cell phones to assist me in keeping track of their whereabouts at every moment, and no expectation that I would know any more about their educational success than they, or a quarterly report card, would tell me. Indeed, although I thought of myself as a relatively anxious parent, I trusted a girl in the third grade to accompany my five-year-old son to and from school, and when he was in first grade, I allowed him to walk that mile by himself — In retrospect, and from the vantage point of watching my younger friends and colleagues with their children today, my parenting style seems, if not neglectful, certainly a mite casual. (Nelson, 2010, p. 1)


Parenting Style British Medical Association Parenting Culture Intensive Parenting Cultural Script 
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Further reading

  1. Douglas, S. and Michaels, M. (2004) The Mommy Myth: The idealization of motherhood and how it has undermined all women (New York: Free Press).Google Scholar
  2. This is a useful book for those with an interest in popular and media representations of mothering. Douglas and Michaels examine the cult of the ‘new momism’, a trend in western culture (and particularly the US) that suggests that women can only achieve contentment through the perfection of mothering. They point out that the standards of this ideal remain out of reach, no matter how hard women try to ‘have it all’.Google Scholar
  3. Lareau, A. (2003) Unequal Childhoods: Class, race, and family life (Berkeley: University of California Press).Google Scholar
  4. Drawing on the in-depth observations of black and white middle class, working class, and poor families, this study explores the fact that class does make a difference in the lives and futures of American children and offers a picture of childhood in the twenty-first century. Lareau’s term ‘concerted cultivation’ has been widely picked up in the study of parenting culture to explain the work that parents put into ensuring optimal outcomes for their children.Google Scholar
  5. Nelson, M. (2010) Parenting Out of Control: Anxious parents in uncertain times (New York and London: New York University Press).Google Scholar
  6. This is a book based on Nelson’s research in the US, examining the realities of what she terms ‘parenting out of control’. Analyzing the goals and aspirations parents have for their children as well as the strategies they use to reach them, Nelson discovers fundamental differences among American parenting styles that expose class fault lines, both within the elite and between the elite and the middle and working classes.Google Scholar
  7. Zelizer, V. (1994) Pricing the Priceless Child: The changing social value of children (Princeton: Princeton University Press).Google Scholar
  8. This is a very important book for those with an interest in the history of childhood. In this book, Zelizer traces the emergence of the modern child, at once economically ‘useless’ and emotionally ‘priceless’, from the late 1800s to the 1930s. This provides an analytical foundation for the ‘expansion’ of parenting culture explored in this chapter.Google Scholar

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© Ellie Lee, Jennie Bristow, Charlotte Faircloth and Jan Macvarish 2014

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