Section 3: Parenting today
21st century Scotland has brought with it significant changes in the way we live. Amongst them, the trend for couples to live together rather than marry, the increasing occurrence of one-parent families and the shift towards having fewer children – and having them later in life.
The role of parents continues to evolve. Indeed, the way in which the traditional roles of mum and dad have changed, both in terms of the nature of care giving and the number of parents in employment, represents one of the greatest social shifts of the last 50 years.
More mothers than ever before are returning to employment having had children, with many finding it hard to balance work and family life – particularly as the majority of women feel they still shoulder the bulk of the domestic and childcare responsibilities. Fathers meanwhile, have greater expectations on them to play an active role in parenting and family life in general.
The very term 'parenting' now applies to a much broader range of primary caregivers. Grandparents, step-parents, kinship carers, foster and adoptive parents, 'corporate parents' of children looked after by the state, extended families, networks and communities – each has an important role to play in the care and upbringing of children and young people. The contribution of wider family and of grandparents in particular to the day-to-day care of children and in providing practical, emotional and often financial support to their own children is hugely significant, as highlighted in the Growing Up in Scotland study  .
At the same time, Scotland's family portrait is growing more culturally diverse, with greater numbers of families from black and minority ethnic backgrounds who may have different cultural norms around parenting.
The power of positive parenting
Without doubt, different family structures bring different challenges to bear. For example, 46 per cent of all children living in one-parent families are defined as poor compared to 24 per cent of children in couple families  . That said it's important to avoid making sweeping generalisations or discriminating assumptions about family make-up or material wealth and the quality of a child's upbringing. What matters most, research shows, is not a set family structure  . Rather, it's responsible, committed and stable parenting by people who genuinely care about the child  .
Related to this, research also shows that whilst family disadvantage, be it in terms of income, education and area deprivation, can impact on a child's health and development  , positive parenting such as good communication and family mealtimes can act as a protective factor, counteracting some of the negative outcomes associated with a disadvantaged background  .
Individual circumstances aside, today's parents share a number of common fears. Amongst them, alcohol and drug abuse, street and knife crime, mistrust of strangers, the increased use of internet and mobile phones by children and the constant exposure to sexualised images in music, advertisements and magazines.
Parents are increasingly uncertain as to how to keep children safe from harm whilst still promoting and encouraging their growing independence. Too protective and they could hamper their child's resilience later in life. Not protective enough and they could expose their child to danger.
The challenge for Scotland, if we are to succeed in our aim of improving outcomes for children and young people, is to adapt and respond to this changing cultural and social landscape – starting with a clear understanding of what it's like to be a parent or carer today.
What parents and practitioners told us
We canvassed the opinions of parents and carers throughout Scotland, from the mainland to the islands, the cities to the more rural areas. The result was over 1,500 responses from a wide range of people with a parenting role – many of whose voices are not normally heard and upon whose views the National Parenting Strategy is built.
We heard from lone parents and parents who live together; new and more experienced parents; working parents and non-working; affluent parents and those in poverty; resident parents and non resident; parents in service and parents in travelling communities; and black and minority ethnic parents.
We heard from parents of children who were disabled or had additional support needs. We also heard from parents with additional support needs of their own, be they learning difficulties, drug and alcohol dependency, mental health, disability or imprisonment.
All shared their views on the best things about being a parent, the things they need help with, what stops them asking for help, their experiences when they have asked for help and what they think of the information available.
At the same time, we asked the many practitioners, agencies and services that work hard to support Scotland's parents and families for their views on what works and where there's room for improvement.
We have since published our magazine-style report Bringing Up Children: Your Views highlighting some of the many parent views and experiences that have added to our understanding of the issues facing parents today. The National Parenting Strategy sets out what steps we will take in response to this feedback.
What came through loud and clear is the natural instinct amongst parents, no matter how difficult their own personal circumstances or how challenging the economic climate, to do the best that they can for their children. To help them achieve it, we are intent on improving the information, advice and support on offer to families, across a wide range of areas that we know to be of key importance.