Parenting is political: Partisan parenting advice and everyday practice in contemporary America
In my dissertation I set out to answer two basic questions: do Democratic and Republican parents engage in different child-rearing practices? And to what extent do the everyday practices of partisan parents map on to the larger politically-oriented advice about raising kids?
To listen to the politically-oriented parenting advice, as presented on Fox News and MSNBC, there is a deep division between Republican and Democratic parents. However, as I demonstrate, the content of the networks is not a good representation of the needs of partisan parents, nor is it presented as a public service to help parents raise good citizens. Instead it is a curated message that extends beyond the needs of parents and attempts to define what it means to be Republican or Democratic in contemporary America. Fox News and MSNBC are part of the culture war—the conflict among political elites—that drives the perception of difference between partisan parents.
Parents exhibit some partisan divide in child-rearing, but only in specific areas. Regardless of political orientation, parents share a sense that contemporary parenting is harder than it was for previous generations. When it comes to discipline, parents’ cultural orientation to discipline— including their level of strictness and types of practices they use to shape children’s behavior— are more salient for parents than political orientation. However, as children age into teens, parents’ cultural orientation to discipline interacts with their partisan affiliation to create partisan division on issues of independence and protection, as demonstrated by the ways parents deal with technological independence. Finally, partisan parents also feel isolated when they talk about their attempts to raise hard working children who resist the lures of entitlement. The common language of the American work ethic hides four contradictory interpretations held by parents on the meaning of hard work. However overall, parents are best described as being united by at least as much as divides them.