I have been doing a great deal of thinking and writing about the subject of parent-blame recently. This is an important aspect of my PhD thesis. In tracing the emergence of the contemporary discourse of ‘discipline in crisis’ in relation to schools, I have inevitably come across various iterations of the idea that parents are unable to control their children – that they cannot teach children to be morally upright or good citizens – that professional intervention is necessary if children are to grow up well.
I am in the very final stages of polishing a paper for the Demeter Press edited collection Motherhood and Social Exclusion. In that paper I present something of the history of mother-blame in my home state of Queensland. I examine the changing discursive construction of blameable and failed mothers, showing that this discourse is neither new nor without context. In doing so, I aim to problematise contemporary notions of mothers as failures whether their children misbehave. The assumption that mothers today are somehow less able than the mothers of the past to control their children ignores the repetition of this concept through history.
I am also finalising my paper for the conference Crossroads 2016. There I will be speaking solely to the contemporary side of parent blame – the way in which government-created documents and discourses in the news media position parents – both mothers and fathers – as blameable where children fail to conform to desired standards of behaviour.
In writing both of these papers I have engaged more deeply than before with the evidence pointing to a prevailing culture of parent-blame. What I have found is that constructions of parents as inherently blameable are rarely explicit. Opinion pieces in the Courier Mail or in The Australian may, on occasion, point to a failure of parents to live up to the disciplinary regimes of their forebears. More often, however, blame comes in the form of helpful advice – of discussions about changing communities and increased pressures facing families.
I am not sure what the solution is. Much of this blame appears to be related to a culture of experts – experts in psychology, education, and other fields – who truly wish to assist young people in having a better future. The culture of parent-blame which eventuates, however, further marginalises parents who are already at the edges of the educational society.