Last week, a comprehensive study of modern families was unveiled in Washington. The “Culture of American Families” by the University of Virginia’s Institute for Advanced Studies in Culture covers lots of parenting ground, some of which I’ll touch on later this week.
One bite I found irresistible to start with was that after a year-long investigation and interviews with 3,000 parents, researchers concluded that the overwhelming majority of parents fall into one of four categories: The Faithful, The Engaged Progressives, The Detached, and The American Dreamers.
These “are not merely reflections of collective psychology. They are defined, as we noted, by more than mere parenting styles. As cultures, they are constituted by a complex configuration of moral beliefs, values, and dispositions and are largely independent of basic demographic factors, such as race, ethnicity, and social class,” authors wrote.
“Though largely invisible, these family cultures are powerful. They constitute the worlds that children are raised in and, therefore, are crucial elements for understanding the moral life of children and their families.”
According to this classification, the 20 percent of parents who are The Faithful are religious and adhere to traditional notions such as reserving sex until marriage.
“The Faithful are distressed by the moral conditions of the society in which they live, determined to defend the traditional social order, and confident that if they cannot accomplish this task, at least they can buffer themselves from progressive currents enough that their families will remain faithful to their traditions.”
This group also responds far more readily to the statement, “It is my responsibility to help others lead more moral lives.”
About 21 percent of other parents were deemed to be Engaged Progressives. “At the center of the Engaged Progressives’ moral universe stands the virtue of personal freedom; with freedom comes choice and, by implication, responsibility for the consequences of one’s choices. …
“[They are] parents who are fully committed to their children, who are less the authority figure and less punitive than parents among the Faithful, and who are generally more optimistic about both the culture that surrounds them and their children’s prospects in it.”
They are far less religious, but try to impart to their children a moral code that includes not harming others, being honest, open, empathetic and rational. They are also hesitant to punish children with grounding, withholding privileges, scolding or spanking.
One of this group’s most popular statements was, “We should be more tolerant of people who adopt alternative lifestyles.”
The next group is The Detached, about 19 percent. “Their parenting strategy is to let kids be kids and let the cards fall where they may.” It’s an outlook that has parents seeing themselves as less influential than peers and social factors. The demands of life, also, may have them too overwhelmed to focus intently on child-rearing strategies.
“Economically, they have fewer resources than either the Faithful or Engaged Progressives; educationally, they have lower aspirations and fewer options … Their families and children are as important to them as families are to other parents, but they view the paths to parental success as less pre-ordained than the Faithful and as more fickle than the Engaged Progressives.”
The Detached are the only group that accepts the statement “parents today are in a losing battle with all of the other influences out there.”
Then there are the American Dreamers, 27 percent of parents. “[I]nsofar as their children are concerned, they hope for much and invest even more, pouring themselves fully into their families’ futures.”
This group tends to have a looser definition of family structure, with single parenting and extended family participation higher than in the other groups. Of all the groups, too, the Dreamers are the only one with a majority representation of minorities.
In terms of discipline, this group has it’s own attitude: “a gap exists between the way American Dreamers classify ‘spanking’ and the way they classify the ‘threat of spanking.’ Spanking itself is strongly endorsed by only a quarter of American Dreamers, yet the threat of spanking is rated as very important by twice that many (50 percent). This gap suggests that when push comes to shove, many American Dreamers are ‘softies,’ wanting to remain on good terms with their children even as they seek to point them in the right direction.”
Do these groups sound familiar? Do you agree with the classifications and, if so, where might you fit?