‘Modern’ parenting and the uses of childcare advice in post-war England

14 Feb 2018

In the post-war English media, ‘modern’ parenting referred to psychologically-inspired styles of parenting drawn from professionals. Drawing on archived social-science interviews with over 600 families, this article considers what ‘modern’ parenting meant in the vernacular. It explores the emergence of a group of working-class parents who felt ‘modern’ because they had adopted whichever style of parenting they felt ‘right’ for their child, whatever its source. These parents personalised ‘modern’ ideas found in the mass media, using them to justify choices which they had already made. They came to identify as flexible, adaptive, parents, rather than as people who unquestioningly implemented someone else’s ideas. Using reflexive models of selfhood, they produced a syncretic amalgamation of ideas about parenting, which were drawn, simultaneously, from childcare professionals, members of their communities, and their own intuitions. This allowed them to fashion unique styles of parenting, tailored to their children. Rethinking what was ‘modern’ and ‘traditional’ let them reconceive parenting as a personal matter, not as something which professionals or kin should dictate. The post-war fixation on the self was therefore consonant with the ‘reworking’ of class, rather than with its declining salience in English society.