Parenting in a Changing World

Parents speak out about the challenges and joys of parenting in an unpredictable and complex time.

2 boys

In early 2010, Talaris kicked off a nearly year-long project called Parenting Young Children Today. The purpose of the project was to get answers to the question “What does it mean to be a parent in 2010?”

Statistics alone don’t tell the whole story. Knowing how many families have made changes in child care arrangements due to the economic downturn, for example, is not nearly as useful (or interesting) as knowing what changes families made – what they chose to sacrifice, the effect on parents’ careers, and how parents and children alike adjusted to changing situations.

In order to hear directly from parents in the context of their daily lives, Talaris recruited 70 parents from around the country and asked them to complete “video blogs.” Over the course of several days, participants told us what they thought.

Parenting is among the most important things any of us is called to do.

It occurs in the context of all of life’s joys and struggles, alongside our values, aspirations, skills and shortcomings. Through a comprehensive Literature and Trend Review, Talaris identified three dominant areas affecting today’s families: Technology, Family Life, and Family Structure. In each of these areas, we found evidence of change and intensity – these are indeed the “hot topics” facing parents today. So we asked them to talk about each one.

Technology: There is more information out there, about everything, than ever before…and increasingly, information finds people as much as people find information.

Fast Facts

  • 85% of American adults own a cell phone; 59% own a desktop computer. (Pew Research Center’s Internet and American Life Project)
  • The average child in the US, age 2–11, spends 3.5 hours per day watching TV (New York Times, 11/16/09)
  • In 2010, the average American household owned 2.93 televisions – and was home to 2.5 people. (AC Nielsen Co.)
  • Two thirds of the adults in the US have broadband internet access in their homes. (Pew)

Parents Speak

“I have turned to the Internet a lot for questions or concerns which, on the one hand, I’m so grateful for the Internet because you do have so much information, right here in the comfort of your home. I can type in a question on Google, and “Oh, there’s my answer.” On the other hand, it’s so scary because the answer a lot of the times is the worst-case scenario that you can possibly get. A lot of times I do look online. “Oh, if the kid has the sniffles, and his head hurts, oh my gosh, what could that be?” It could be meningitis. It’s probably not, but that’s like the first answer that comes up.”

“My mother-in-law is a big source of information in help and guidance. I think, above and beyond that, when we don’t have the answer, when we’re not sure, when maybe things have changed since Tyler and I were young, we definitely turn to the internet. We definitely use searching, but we’re not a one-source shopper. We tend to kinda check out a bunch of different resources. I think we’re of the mind that, our sniff test tends to be that commenters on the web tend to be, in my opinion, either one extreme or the other. So you tend to kind of… when you see an article on the web, you kind of have to take it with a grain of salt and see a couple different articles and really kind of aggregate what you’re hearing overall and kind of take a measured approach in that.”

Family Life: Today’s children are born into a complex, changing world; their early years are largely shaped by decisions their parents make about work and childcare.

Fast Facts

  • From 1965 to 1995, paid hours worked by mothers nearly tripled.
  • In 2000, 61% of women with children under age 3 were in the work force – compared with 34% in 1975. (US Dept of Labor, Bureau of Labor Statistics)
  • Women are working longer into pregnancy and returning to work sooner after childbirth than they did 40 years ago (New York Times, 2/26/08)

Parents Speak

“I actually was lucky enough to stay home with my son for just about the first year of his life. I went back to work three weeks ago, full-time. I think it makes me a better parent actually to have those responsibilities of working during the day because what it forces me to do is to budget my time to really focus on quality time with my kids and with my husband when I’m not out doing… when I’m not in my office for that day. I think it’s been helpful, and I want my kids to know that I have a career and that as much as I focus on them 100% of the time, I’m more than just their mom. I’m more than just a parent, and I contribute a lot to society.”

“I’ve always been made to be a mom, and so this was something my husband and I discussed before we were married, and we knew from the beginning that if we had kids… when we had kids… that I would be a stay-at-home parent and my husband would be a full-time employee. That decision was never very difficult for our family. We just knew that would be what was right for us. I never, ever have wanted my children to be in a daycare facility. That would break my heart, so hopefully that will never happen. That’s kind of how we arrived at that decision. Part of it is based on our value system and our faith system; we believe that children who have a stay-at-home parent, and who are raised in their home by their parent, have a lot of advantages over children who have to go to daycare every day. So, that was never really a difficult decision for us.”

Family Structure: The very definition of “family” is changing, due in large part to the increasing number and acceptance of families once labeled “alternative” or “non-traditional.”

Fast Facts

  • Today, just 25 percent of American households consist of a married man and woman and their children. (Alternatives to Marriage Project, 2007)
  • 25 percent of married parents divorce within 5 years of their first child’s birth. (Cowan, 1992)
  • 41% of US children are now born to unmarried women
  • Nearly 20 million children under the age of 18 live with one parent – about 27% of the total.
  • Nearly 3 million children are being raised by their grandparents. (US Census Bureau)

Parents Speak

“I would definitely describe us as being a non-traditional family. Both Lisa and I grew up in very Catholic households with heterosexual parents, living very traditional lives, and with the advent of us being lesbians, and having guardianship as well as two children through sperm donors, we are definitely a non-traditional family. We spend our days, I guess, the way every family would. It’s about finding time to spend with each other, and also time for work and time for social activities. Both Lisa and I work full-time jobs in the medical field, whereas Mary is a 17-year-old, so she’s a senior in high school. Haley is about to enter second grade, and Alex is still young enough where he can enjoy daycare and the relative easiness that is dropping him off in the morning and picking him up in the afternoon. Most of our time is spent coordinating schedules.”

“It’s a very painful thing to have to talk about with people. No one really wants to admit that they were in a failed relationship or that possibly they had a child with someone who didn’t want to have children, but that’s where I’m at. As far as family, it’s a burden on them too, I mean, they love their granddaughter, but I’m sure it hurts them to see that their own child chose a partner who really didn’t want to play a process in child-rearing. So I’m sure it causes a bit of pain in their lives to see me have to do this all on my own.”