2024 Homecoming Observation | Refined parenting and family life change

2024 Homecoming Observation | Refined parenting and family life change

2024 Homecoming Observation | Refined parenting and family life change

Qiu Ye | Associate Professor, School of Sociology, Wuhan University

In recent years, China's fertility rate has shown a significant downward trend. In 2023, the number of births in the country will be 9.02 million, a decrease of 540,000 from the previous year, and the birth rate will be 6.39 per thousand, and the number of deaths will be 11.1 million, and the death rate will be 7.87 per thousand. At the end of the year, the national population was 140967 million, a decrease of 2.08 million over the end of the previous year, and the natural population growth rate was -1.48 per thousand. This means that China has entered an era of negative population growth, and the Chinese conception of fertility has undergone earth-shaking changes in just a few decades. We once thought of having children and grandchildren as an important symbol of good fortune, but now we are increasingly afraid of having children. Not only do young people no longer regard childbearing as a life task, but many parents who have always adhered to the old values are also reluctant to have a second child, and they even persuade young people to have fewer children. I asked an aunt in her 60s, her grandson is 7 years old this year, and she was raised by this aunt for the first few years, and the aunt was very reluctant to have another son, she said, "My son is in good financial condition, and it is no problem to have another one." But I'm afraid of taking children, it's too troublesome to take children now, it's best if my son doesn't give birth, and I don't want to help them take it again." We can't help but wonder what influences people's conceptions about procreation. The change of fertility concept and fertility behavior is related to many factors, and only one significant change in family parenting in recent years is discussed. The refinement of parenting makes family members devote their energy and family resources to the field of parenting as never before, which constantly creates parenting anxiety between young people and the older generation, and affects the family's economic decision-making and intergenerational relationship.

1. How did refined parenting emerge

I had my own baby last March, and before that, I had never thought that parenting was such a complicated process. A little person of about six pounds has so many needs, and these needs can be benchmarked into all kinds of so-called professional terms. For example, in the case of milk powder alone, according to the standard parenting method, it is necessary to prepare a sterilized bottle nipple, and then follow the principle of adding water first and then adding milk, and then wash the milk powder with warm water at 45°C according to a certain ratio, and then shake the milk powder evenly by rubbing it back and forth with both hands to exhaust the bottle. The baby's digestion ability is not good, and after drinking milk, it is necessary to burp them with more professional techniques to reduce the reaction of flatulence. This is just the simplest one, bathing, touching, early education, sleeping, jaundice, inner ear vestibular training...... All of them have a refined "scientific method". It can be said that young parents have not yet fully experienced the joy of the birth of a new life, and have already stepped into a complex new world, full of unfamiliar vocabulary and language, and need to learn knowledge and methods. The elderly who have had the experience of childbirth are also at a loss, they suddenly become unable to take care of children, and some elderly people do not even dare to hold children without the guidance of nurses. What is even more stressful is that parents also have to face the "test" of the child health clinic (referred to as child care), one month after the baby is born, the child health care will check in detail whether the child's growth curve meets the standard, whether the gross and fine motor is at the average level, and whether there are cognitive problems...... The completeness of parents' knowledge and the refinement of children's care and training directly affect the results of child care every month. Many parents usually use the words "praised by the doctor" to express their happiness when they are affirmed by the child care doctor, while parents who do not meet the standards often use the words "criticized by the doctor" to express their anxiety. "Praise" and "criticism" are actually used in medical examinations, which is enough to reflect the importance that parents attach to child care. In order to improve the situation, most parents will search various forums and sharing platforms for various experiences in order to get closer to the ideal standard next time.

Refined parenting is no longer a special case of individual exquisite families, it has built a set of knowledge system and practical methods, which has become the consensus of the whole society on parenting, and has changed the traditional parenting practice. This set of parenting knowledge and practice is further linked to medical rules such as child health clinics, reinforcing its "scientific" character and evolving itself into a set of "strong rules" that everyone must follow.

If you enter this refined parenting knowledge system, it is obviously supported by modern medical knowledge, and it does increase the scientificity of parenting and optimize traditional parenting methods. However, this system is not exactly "objective science", it is very mixed internally, full of specious "scientific concepts", and there are many contributors to knowledge, many of which do not come from formal medical institutions. However, even if the obvious intellectual fallacy is stripped away, refined parenting still has the characteristics of "ideology", which is the product of subjective construction, and there are obvious theoretical presuppositions. Behind the myriad of knowledge, it is clear that there are two sets of languages that encode our parenting practices. It can be preliminarily summarized as follows:

The first is rational scientific management. Scientific managementism originally served factory management, which emphasized the ability to find certain rational techniques and methods to optimize the production process and production methods of the factory, so as to improve production efficiency. When this method is applied to parenting, it basically retains the core characteristics of scientific management. (1) Standardization and quantitative management. In order to strengthen measurability and operability, children's coherent growth is finely divided into different stages, and within a year of infancy, this division is more detailed, basically in months, each month has a unified problem to be solved, training focus, and corresponding health monitoring indicators that need to be met. These rules, standards and indicators are very detailed and cover almost every aspect of children's daily lives. For example, a five-month-old child, ideally, should drink between 180ml and 240ml of milk each time, feed every 4-5 hours, and reach a total milk volume of between 800 and 1000ml, and his total sleep time should reach 14 hours, and the nap time during the day and sleep at night is also better. He also needs to continue to undergo a variety of training to improve his cognitive and motor performance. (2) Trainability of children. In the field of parenting, children are also believed to be able to form specific behavior patterns through the cultivation and guidance of adults to adapt to better parenting patterns. At this level, infant sleep training is typical. Babies will not fall asleep on their own at the beginning, need adults to sleep, scientific sleep methods emphasize that you can continue to reduce the level of comfort, improve the ability of small babies to sleep, some behaviorist methods even provide a set of short-term let babies cry, adults do not intervene in the way, so that babies realize that the sleep time is not accompanied by sleep behavior, so as to gradually learn to fall asleep independently. In addition, adults should also strive to regularize children's schedules so that they can gradually adapt to the work and rest time, milk time, etc., which are closer to the scientific process. (3) Risk prevention. Children may encounter many risks as they grow up, and regular monitoring and scientific parenting processes can prevent most of these risks – whether these risks are high or low probability, risks should always be carefully avoided. For example, a six-month-old child may need to add complementary foods to supplement nutrients other than milk, and a small percentage of children may have allergic reactions to certain foods during the addition of complementary foods. It is likely that your own child is not in a small group, but obviously you can't take a risk for it, so all children should be sensitized to complementary foods. The consumption of egg yolk is particularly typical, at first only try one-eighth of the amount, and in the absence of special reactions, gradually increase to one-quarter, one-half, and finally the whole egg yolk. Risk prevention is also de-empiricism, which is often combined with quantitative and standardized management principles to make scientific risk assessments, and if children do not meet the corresponding indicators at a specific stage of development, further scientific examination is required to rule out specific risks.

The second is the psychological language with personality formation as the core content. The basic theoretical assumption of psychology is that each person will form a unique and stable personality, which is an organic combination of personality, characteristics, attitudes and habits, which affects people's behavior, decision-making, and even lifelong happiness and achievement. Personality is formed mainly in the early years of a person, and the adults in the family play a key role in this process. The traceability and formative characteristics of psychological discourse undoubtedly strengthen the importance of parenting in the early years of the family, and also invisibly increase the responsibility of the family. Among the many psychological languages used in personality building, there are a few words that parents pay the most attention to. (1) Personality and habits. In order for children to achieve and perform well in the future, they must develop specific personalities and habits from the beginning, and it is difficult to fundamentally change the personality after it must be formed. Among the various personality evaluation indicators, parents pay special attention to personality traits such as concentration and autonomy. In order to cultivate concentration, adults should not coax children at will, "excessive companionship" is easy to wear down the attention of infants and young children, and let them have the ability to play independently. In order to develop autonomy, infants and young children should be encouraged to eat independently, no matter how dirty they are, as long as they have the awareness to eat independently, and adults can clean up after that. (2) Sense of security and trauma. The sense of security in infancy and early childhood is believed to affect the happiness and joy of a person's life, and the psychological damage caused by the lack of security is even more difficult to repair. To quote a text from an Internet blogger who empathizes with the lonely state of the baby, "The fetus is in a completely safe state in the mother's body, and all his needs will be automatically met in a timely manner, but from the moment of birth, he comes to a completely different environment, without a warm package, without timely satisfaction, and his sense of security is completely shattered! This requires nurturing love and timely response to help babies regain their sense of security." Based on the requirement of a sense of security, parents' responsiveness to children's needs is placed in a high position, and insufficient and wrong responses to needs are likely to lead to a lack of security.

These two sets of languages are an important theoretical basis for the practice of parenting refinement, which provide new vocabulary and language for parenting, and constantly strengthen the rationality of parenting refinement. However, the standardized management, the trainability of children, and the risk prevention doctrine emphasized by scientific management theory cannot fully conform to the objective laws of children's development. The generalized use of these two languages by many communication subjects on the Internet has exacerbated their distance from "science". It can be said that the current widely recognized refined parenting contains a lot of subjective construction and "ideology" elements, but it has indeed changed our understanding and greatly changed contemporary parenting practices. It is so widespread that as long as you ask the parents of the younger generation, almost everyone knows all kinds of professional vocabulary and operation methods of this set of refined parenting.

2. Family changes brought about by refined parenting

Chinese people have always had generational value, and people generally regard raising children and providing them with conditions for development as a basic life task. Only when the task of life is completed can you fulfill your responsibilities, and you can live with peace of mind in this life. Under the influence of this generational value, many families have made raising children the axis of their lives. Therefore, the refinement and complexity of parenting is not only a change in parenting practice, but also has a very large impact on the family life of Chinese, which is likely to exceed our imagination.

First, the specialization of childcare and the rise of the childcare consumer market. Refined parenting has quickly shaped the barriers to parenting knowledge and practice, which not only confuses new parents, but also disintegrates the value of parents' traditional parenting experience. Parenting is gradually changing from an almost instinctive practice to a specialized activity that requires complete knowledge, which provides the conditions for market capital to enter the family deeply. Under the general anxiety of parenting, all kinds of medical experts, maternal and infant bloggers, and infant and toddler practitioners have begun to become the main group of knowledge output, creating new vocabulary and providing a variety of experience methods on major platforms. Professionals and professional institutions such as confinement sisters, childcare sisters, sleep trainers, confinement centers, early education centers, and nursery schools have emerged in an endless stream to become providers of professional services, sharing people's parenting anxiety and creating new anxieties. To solve the problem of parenting, in addition to professionals and institutions, but also need to facilitate professional tools, dazzling maternal and infant products appear in front of people, since the milk powder is so complicated, the purchase of sterilizers, thermostatic kettles, milk shakers, bottle warmers has become an inevitable choice for people. At the same time, there is also a mushroom in the field of evaluation institutions that assess children's health and development, which have medical attributes but are important members of the market tide, and some well-known commercial child care doctors are hard to find. It can be said that parenting knowledge is almost equated with parenting consumption. These consumer goods are expensive, but what can be done, after all, you can't let your children deviate from scientific parenting. For example, according to parenting knowledge, babies can not consume sugar and salt before the age of one, baby snacks need to be purchased separately, a can of 50 grams of puffed food in the adult snack area only a few yuan, the price in the baby area is basically more than 20 yuan. The price of labor services for people with professional skills, such as confinement sisters and childcare sisters-in-law, is far higher than that of ordinary family labor. A mother sighed that inviting her sister-in-law back is like inviting a bodhisattva, she doesn't do housework, only takes care of children, and you have to buy your own vegetables and cook.

Second, the induction of parenting anxiety and exhausting parenting. Refined parenting is a system that relies on the discourse of science and psychology to establish a close connection between parenting practices and children's physical and mental health and future well-being. Some of these associations are real, and there is a lot of plausible content, but all of them create intense parenting anxiety. Under the logic of profit, market players have also joined in the creation of anxiety, as many people realize, social anxiety hides the "wealth code", and they magnify the superiority of certain practices and the harmfulness of violating these practices. Many young parents have strong negative emotions because their children cannot meet the standardized requirements of scientific parenting at a specific stage, and they blame themselves for not taking good care of their children, worrying about whether their children have problems, or it will be difficult to achieve better performance in the future. For example, scientific parenting no longer advocates walking earlier, but encourages babies to crawl more. In the early education standard, the baby's crawling time should not be less than 500 hours, and crawling is not only considered to be beneficial to the baby's motor performance, but also directly affects the baby's brain development. Under this set of criteria, babies who crawl late, or who skip the crawling stage and go straight to walking, are mostly considered to have gross motor delay. Parents of these babies are very anxious and usually think of ways to strengthen the baby's crawling training.

Fundamentally speaking, this set of rational scientific managementism and personality-centered parenting concepts cannot be tightly integrated with reality. For example, some children learn to walk and talk later, but it does not affect their growth, but scientific parenting has developed standardized growth indicators and motor cognitive levels for children at almost every stage, which will inevitably create "problem children". Objectively speaking, these criteria may help screen out a very small number of children who are really problematic, but they involve the vast majority of normal children and normal families in parenting anxiety. For example, in order to make babies conform to scientific routines, it is usually emphasized that they need to be trained intensively and guide their behavior with adult rules, while the emphasis on security in psychology requires parents to respond to children's needs as much as possible and give them a sense of security. From this point of view, fine parenting itself creates all kinds of contradictions, but these contradictions can be converted into family anxiety. Due to the objective existence of the family division of labor, these parenting anxieties are more likely to appear in mothers, requiring mothers to devote more energy and time to parenting.

Third, the main content of intergenerational contradictions in the new era has also triggered new family conflicts. In China's family model, child-rearing cooperation between costs is widespread, and in order to make small families develop better and free up the labor force of the younger generation, parents are usually involved in the upbringing of grandchildren. The emergence of refined parenting has rapidly widened the gap between the two generations in parenting concepts and practices. Due to the different values and knowledge systems behind parenting, the difference in the cost of parenting is so significant that it pervades almost all parenting behaviors. For example, the older generation agrees with intimate physical contact with babies and kisses their babies on the face and hands without hesitation, while younger parents are concerned about the spread of germs and the risk of disease from such contact, while the older generation emphasizes the natural development of babies and often can't help but feel "sorry" for their children and prevent young parents from carrying out various trainings. The older generation wants their children to walk more, and the younger generation asks for more climbing, the older generation eats with children very early, and the young people ask their children to eat separate foods without salt and sugar, and the older generation likes to tease their children uncontrollably, but the younger generation knows that excessive teasing may cause children to miss sleep spots and then have difficulty sleeping. Refined parenting covers all aspects of parenting, and intergenerational conflicts in parenting are also evident in all aspects. Different from the close-knit family life in the traditional period, the contact between the two generations is limited in the early stage of the formation of the modern small family, and childbearing is the real beginning of the deep intergenerational interaction. In the female-dominated parenting model, intergenerational conflicts often turn into mother-in-law and daughter-in-law conflicts, which are further reinforced by the parenting anxiety that pervades young women who have just entered family life. Many young women have a strong sense of indignation when the delicate parenting practice is undermined, and they try to communicate with their parents-in-law, and some communication is successful, but the complete transformation seems to be difficult to achieve, and conflicts are inevitable. The conflict between mother-in-law and daughter-in-law around parenting is becoming the core conflict of many families, and this conflict is becoming more and more difficult to resolve. In addition, the establishment of perfect standards and the supply of market purchasing means have exacerbated the pressure on household spending and triggered new family conflicts. Families with strong economic ability can afford all kinds of high-quality market services and market goods, while many families with weak economic ability are in a dilemma. Some of them choose to take on greater financial pressure to provide "better" care for their children, while others give up the "better" option but have a stronger sense of resentment in their hearts, which is superficially expressed as guilt for their children, but often also includes dissatisfaction with family income.

We often regard the cost of childbirth as a material investment, but as parenting continues to be refined and complex, parenting not only requires families to increase economic investment, but also requires more time and energy, and conflicts and frictions within the family for childcare also become more, which consumes people's fertility expectations and reproductive happiness, and increases the sense of tension and helplessness in life. Many women don't want to fall into exhausting parenting anymore, many elderly people don't want to have such complicated parenting anymore, and more people are afraid of intergenerational cooperation in the field of childcare, trying to avoid the onerous parenting and family conflicts with fewer children. This kind of fertility cost may not be thought of by many people, but it is gradually infiltrating people's family life and has a subtle impact.

3. Social life and discourse system in change

We are in an era of life revolution, new social life practices are emerging one after another, and different discourses and groups are vying for the definition and interpretation of new life. In this sense, the life revolution is not only a change in the practice of life, but also an all-round change in the coding system for understanding life. The question is whether the new discourse will liberate life and serve a better life, or whether it will discipline life and place life into a new system of value exploitation. As a new generation of young people become parents, they crave more scientific knowledge to guide parenting, and new knowledge does bring progress, but in this field, the strong attention of Chinese families to children and the downward flow of resources to the intergenerational support model shape a huge space of interest, which inspires all kinds of subjects to continue to provide a discourse system that is conducive to market profits and creates social anxiety. It can be said that the current discourse field in the field of parenting is mixed, creating social anxiety and leading family parenting to the market constitute the main direction. Once the discourse that creates social anxiety dominates, the market approach becomes the dominant choice for people to solve the problem of parenting, which will inevitably weaken the happiness of parenting, dissipate more family resources, and bring more family conflicts. This is clearly not the happy life we want.

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