Academic journal article Journal of Comparative Family Studies

The Beginning and End of Parental Responsibility - Finnish Parents' Views

Academic journal article Journal of Comparative Family Studies

The Beginning and End of Parental Responsibility - Finnish Parents' Views

Article excerpt


Parental responsibility is a topic much discussed in present-day society. In these discussions the concept of parental responsibility appears self-explanatory, and it is often seen as the common denominator in dealing with child behaviour and educational issues, particularly in problem-centred discussions. Generally, responsibility seems to be one of the key concepts in policy-making and public debate about the lives of children and parents (Such & Walker, 2004).

A theoretical model of present-day life that deals with parenting but also relates to parental responsibility is the theory of individualization (Giddens 1991, 1992). Individualization is a term used by Beck and Beck-Gernsheim (e.g., 2002) in their analysis focussing on contemporary ways of life (Zeitdiagnose). On the one hand, individualization means disintegration of previous social forms, such as family. On the other hand, it means that new forms of demands, controls and constraints are imposed. The individual is forced to make decisions concerning his or her life, and the way in which the individual's life will run is thought to result from the decisions the individual has made. Thus, the individual is held responsible for his or her success in life (e.g., Beck & Beck-Gernsheim, 2002).

The suggested disintegration of family has given rise to moral disapproval, and when family life and parenting are not the same as they used to be, the parents of today are blamed as being irresponsible, reckless and lacking parenting skills. The individualization thesis has therefore been inteipreted to suggest that parents have become increasingly selfish and have abandoned their parental responsibility (Smart & Shipman, 2004).

The consequences of the individualization for parental responsibility can be manifold (Ribbens, Edwards & Gillies, 2003). Individualization can lead to increased selfishness and abandonment of parental responsibilities. In addition, the individualistic, democratic family of today-in which parents and children consider themselves to be more or less equal-makes being responsible for children more difficult now than when parents were more in control and could tell their children how to lead their life (Willmott & Nelson, 2005). Nevertheless, parents can be made increasingly and endlessly responsible for the care and upbringing of their children and youth (see e.g., Kelly, 2001). If parents abandon or are otherwise freed from parental responsibility, children at an early age then become individuals who are responsible for life choices. In any case, according to Beck and Beck- Gemsheim, demands on parents have turned parenting into a very serious business with a great deal of responsibilities ( 1995, pp. 108-109).

In the new individualized family, the delegated roles have vanished. Rather, who should do what, when and how is negotiated among the family members more or less irrespective of gender or generation (Giddens, 1991, 1992). Moreover, family life in the individualized family should become more democratic (Ahlberg, Roman & Duncan, 2008). However, according to the study by Ahlberg et al., (2008), these ideas have not been fully realised in the everyday life of families even in Sweden, which is often considered to be the forerunner in gender equality, individualization and the démocratisation of family life.

In their study, Such and Walker (2004) approach responsibility from the point of view of children and suggest that responsibility is a key concept in debates over the lives of children and families. The purpose of this study is to focus on adult views on parental responsibility as described by the Finnish informants. More specifically we look at the answers given by the interviewed Finnish parents when they were asked when parental responsibility begins and when it ends. In addition, focussing on the beginning and end of parental responsibility offers a view to how parental responsibility is understood by parents and explores the boundaries of parental responsibility overtime. …

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