Parenting in Australian families

A comparative study of Anglo, Torres Strait Islander, and Vietnamese communities
Research Report No. 5 – January 2000

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In recent years there has been a growing interest among researchers in parents' own ideas about the tasks of parenting, about how they are going about the business of rearing children, about the sources they draw upon for their understanding of the nature of childhood, and about the resources they are able to access to support them in their roles as parents.

This project was established by the late Dr Harry McGurk who had a special interest and expertise in parenting issues. Harry was Director of the Australian Institute of Family Studies from 1994 to 1998. He considered that it was fundamental to a full understanding of the processes and outcomes of rearing children in contemporary society that the social context not be overlooked in the conceptualisation of parenting. Consideration, therefore, needed to be given to the ways in which individual parents go about the tasks of providing for, caring for, and interacting with their children, and to the economic, social and political conditions within which those tasks are framed in contemporary society.

Parenting-21 (the title refers to this Century) was a major cross-national research project under the Institute's Children and Parenting program. The Institute was as a member of an international collaboration known as the International Study of Parents, Children and Schools (ISPCS), involving researchers from Italy, the Netherlands, Poland, Spain, Sweden, and the United States. These research endeavours highlighted the significance of exploring parenting beliefs and practices in a variety of contexts, at a national and international level. It also underlined the importance of focusing on parents' understanding of parenting.

Violet Kolar, one of the authors of this publication, worked on the project from the outset, and took over the responsibility for it after Dr McGurk's death in April 1998. Her co-author, Grace Soriano, was the Research Officer for the Parenting-21 Extension Study which examined Torres Strait Islander parenting and in 1999 became part of the ISPCS group working on the Australian component of the study.

Their report is based on the perspective of parents themselves about how they approached the task of child rearing; how they perceived their competence as parents; the aspects of their family and community environments that helped them to achieve what they were trying to do for their children; and the supports, whether available to them or not, that would have facilitated their doing a better job.

Parenting in Australian families has a high level of policy relevance and will be a valuable resource for policy planners, service providers, researchers, and parents in general.

David I. Stanton
Australian Institute of Family Studies