The Problem with Parenting
How Raising Children Is Changing Across America
by Nancy A. McDermott
August 2020, 189pp, 6 1/8x9 1/4
1 volume, Praeger

Hardcover: 978-1-4408-5318-0
$50, £38, 44€, A68
eBook Available: 978-1-4408-5319-7
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Parenting as we know it did not exist before 1970.

The Problem with Parenting serves as an essential guide to the recent origins and current excesses of American parenting for students, parents, and policy makers interested in the changing role of the family in childrearing.

Family scholarship focuses predominately on the evolution of family structure and function, with only passing references to parenting. Researchers who study parenting, however, invariably regard it as a sociological phenomenon with complex motivations rooted in such factors as class, economic instability, and new technologies.

This book examines the relationship between changes to the family and the emergence of parenting, defined here as a specific mode of childrearing. It shows how, beginning in the 1970s, the family was transformed from a social unit that functioned as the primary institution for raising children into a vehicle for the nurturing and fulfillment of the self. The book pays special attention to socialization and describes how the change in our understanding of parenthood—from a state of being into the distinct activity of “parenting”—is indicative of a disruption of our ability to transfer key cultural values and norms from one generation to the next.


  • Suggests that families are no longer able to reliably socialize children
  • Proposes that the reason the family has ceased to function as a socializing institution has less to do with changes in structure than with the replacement of a child-centered ideal with a therapeutic imperative
  • Suggests that parenting is a new mode of childrearing that arose in the absence of a reliable institution for childrearing
  • Argues that parenting culture itself is a response to the experience of the breakdown in socialization that occurred that began in the 1970s
  • Makes the case for a renewal of a societal commitment to children and the rising generation
Nancy A. McDermott is an independent writer and researcher and an affiliate of the Centre for Parenting Culture Studies at the University of Kent at Canterbury, UK. A former chair of the advisory committee of the Park Slope Parents online community, she has contributed essays to the following collections: "The Tyranny of 'Parenting Science'" (Standing Up to Supernanny, 2009), "The New Face of Early Childhood in the United States" (International Perspective on Education and Care, 2013), and "The 'New' Feminism and the Fear of Free Speech" (Unsafe Space: The Crisis of Free Speech on Campus, 2016).


"Nancy McDermott is my go-to thinker when I can't understand why parents—or kids, or entire civilizations—are acting so strange. She doesn't just have her finger on the pulse of society, she's there in the bloodstream, giving live reports. What a treasure!" —Lenore Skenazy, President of Let Grow, Founder of the Free-Range Kids movement and author of Free-Range Kids: How to Raise Safe, Self-Reliant Children (Without Going Nuts with Worry)

"This is a fascinating exploration of one of the principal problems of our time—the failure of adult society to socialize its young. McDermott offers an excellent case for the urgency of tackling this problem."—Frank Furedi, Emeritus Professor of Sociology, University of Kent, UK, and author of Paranoid Parenting: Why Ignoring the Experts May Be Best for Your Child

"Nancy McDermott has produced a book that breaks new ground in our understanding of the family and of parenting culture. Its account of adulthood and what it needs to mean is compelling, breaking away from both parent-blaming and the underestimation of the importance of what parents do, and need to do, as the adults in the room."—Professor Ellie Lee, Director, Centre for Parenting Culture Studies, University of Kent, UK, co-author of Parenting Culture Studies

"Nancy McDermott shows us how modern day parenting hinders children’s socialization by focusing too narrowly on children’s sense of themselves instead of their connections with and obligations to the wider world. She argues that to raise socially responsible adults we need to show our children that they are an integral part of the universe—just not at its center."—Susan Fox, PhD, founder of Brooklyn’s Park Slope Parents
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