Parents in a social context

A fundamental assumption of our research is that a person is not a parent because of his or her biological status or sexual preference, but by virtue of being committed to and engaging in the daily practice of parenting a child.

In doing so, parents draw upon “tools” to help them negotiate this complex world – including practices and ideas learned from their own parents, friends, and community members as well as those proposed by more formal sources such as pediatricians, blogs, pre-natal classes, and teachers. In short, all parents are surrounded by people and situations that provide suggestions about parenting, and that judge parents by explicit and implicit criteria.

To be sure, each parent builds his or her own way of being a parent, feeling in tune with some cultural models and social norms, while criticizing or keeping a distance from others. But in all of these cases parents enter into relationship with them because familial relationships — while surely intimate and private — are public and social phenomena as well. Parents not only need to see themselves in that role but also to be recognised in that role by the social world. In that sense, when public discourses about family life and parenting are based on conventional assumptions about gender and family type, “atypical” parents are left unrecognized and invisible, and may struggle to achieve an understanding of their identity as a parent.