A father and his daughter draw together with colored pencils. Photo via Pxhere.

Society has always put a lot of pressure on parents, but in the past, parenting standards have differed by social class. In the late twentieth century, middle- and upper-class families differed from poor and working-class families in terms of both their beliefs about good parenting and the actual parenting practices they used. But recent research suggests that, nowadays, people from all social classes have begun to share beliefs about “good” parenting. 

To understand how people’s beliefs differ by social class, Patrick Ishizuka surveyed American parents with children living at home. Because parenting pressures have historically targeted women, he also investigated how “good” mothering differs from “good” fathering. He asked people to rate examples of parenting behaviors on a scale from “poor” to “excellent.” The parenting behaviors described had previously been found to be popular among either working class or middle class families, and the examples varied in whether the parent described was a mother or a father.

Ishizuka found that participants from all social classes gave the best ratings to parenting behaviors which were previously associated with middle class families. Described in 2003 by Annette Lareau as part of a parenting model called “concerted cultivation,” these behaviors included signing kids up for structured, adult-led extracurricular activities; encouraging children to explain their thoughts and feelings, discussing misbehavior, and negotiating; and prompting children to speak up about their individual needs to adults in settings like school and the doctor’s office. Ishizuka’s participants rated these behaviors more positively regardless of whether a mother or a father was using them.

This study demonstrates that cultural norms of child-centered, time-intensive parenting are now widespread. But even when people believe certain parenting strategies are ideal, they don’t always act on those beliefs, often because they lack the necessary resources. While survey research cannot tell us how people are parenting in practice, Ishizuka’s findings are important because they reveal the high expectations people now hold for mothers and fathers of all social classes.