The ‘problem of the family’ has been a pet subject of social commentators for over a century. But in the past the family was seen as a key social institution providing a stable bedrock for society and inculcating children with traditional values, and social critics worried about the threats posed by single parenthood, homosexuality and permissiveness. Today, in contrast, the family itself is under fire: the big policy concern is not rising divorce rates, changing family structure and permissive parenting attitudes, so much as the suspicion that families are too private, too self-contained, and too confident in their ability to raise the next generation without the guidance of the state. With the rise of therapy culture and the mainstreaming of the view that your parents ‘f*** you up’, the policy focus has shifted from a concern about a few ‘problem families’ to the assumption that all families are essentially problematic. What can we expect for the future of the family, when its very existence gives policymakers sleepless nights?
senior lecturer in sociology, Canterbury Christ Church University; author, The Sociology of Generations: New directions and challenges and Baby Boomers and Generational Conflict; co-author, Parenting Culture Studies
chief leader writer, the Observer
executive producer, documentaries, BBC Radio; created and produced Bringing Up Britain (presented by Mariella Frostrup); series 1 was broadcast March 2008; series 2 begins New Year 2009.
founder, BritMums blogging network and BritMums Live! conference
co-founder, IoI Parents Forum
Motherhood has all but gone from the lexicon of family policy, denying women vital support.Yvonne Roberts, The Guardian, 2 July 2008
It is the loving atmosphere of a stable environment that makes for good families. The aim is to support families in all their variety.Prime Minister's Strategy Unit, May 2007
Christopher Lasch's The Culture of Narcissism revisitedChristine Rosen, Policy Review, October 2005