Contemporary Russia is experiencing a transformation of values related to parenthood and child-rearing. Family relations, which over the last decade have experienced the least pressure among social institutions, are undergoing a significant renewal. Despite a number of major problems, such as insufficient supervision for children, physical violence within the family, and the lack of protection for children’s rights, positive changes are nevertheless occurring, linked in important ways to global processes.
The contributors to this issue of the Pro et Contra journal write of the growing spread of family planning, the increase in the number of families based on non-imperative relations, the gradual changes in the psychological patterns of fatherhood and in the attitude towards “other people’s” children, including those with disabilities, and the rise of parental activism in solving social problems connected with children. “The transformation of parenthood,” writes editor-in-chief Maria Lipman in her introduction, “is an inevitable process, and one of its important characteristics is the emergence of parental associations, in which parents turn for help and support to others like themselves, bypassing the state.” The fact that the development of new parental practices undermines, from below, state paternalism is especially important against the background of other, more visible tendencies in Russia today, including paternalistic aspirations associated with “order” and the “firm hand” of the state.
Nevertheless, in recent years the penetration of private life by the state has increased in Russia, beginning with the lives of children; the activity of state custodial agencies has increased, as has the interference of the state in schooling and the coverage of issues related to childhood in the mass media. This issue of Pro et Contra is devoted to an analysis of these opposing tendencies and the transformation of family values.
The contributors to this issue investigate the evolution of approaches to child-rearing in the post-Soviet period and evaluate contemporary tendencies in the development of relations within the family.
- In their article, “The New Parenthood and Its Political Aspects,” Maria Mayofis and Ilya Kukulin affirm that there is a growing number of families in which relations with children are governed by dialogue and trust, and raising children is understood as a shared creative process. This transformation of values extends beyond the immediate task of child-rearing and “is one of the factors forming civic consciousness.” The authors see the future of this trend in the development of social autonomy, securing the possibility of open discussion, and maintaining a dialogue not only with the state, but also with other social institutions. “The transmission of the positive results achieved by the movement of families based on non-imperative relations will become possible only if the families that have assimilated this practice acknowledge themselves as an autonomous social alternative and do not see in the state either an age-old opponent or an obligatory collaborator,” the authors write.
- In a piece titled “Going Beyond Justice: Defending the Defenseless,” Stanislav Lvovskiy argues that, given that the majority of instances of violence against children take place within families and at schools, pilot projects in the field of justice for children are aimed in the first place at monitoring what occurs within families. The recent strengthening of state control is, however, a medicine that generates more illness than healing. The author argues that the proposal to introduce courts for crimes against children should be adopted, but that the state’s rights, as exercised by social welfare agencies, to remove children from their families should be seriously curtailed, above all through the introduction of the institute of social patronage.
- In their article, “The Organizations of Non-Civil Society,” Svetlana Koroleva and Alexey Levinson write that, if in the recent past the isolation of children with psychological illnesses was considered beneficial for the children themselves, as well as for society, today the weight of opinion is increasing behind the idea that the psychological deprivation characteristic even of the best homes for mentally disabled children retards and distorts their development. Russian society is in a transitional phase in its relations with the disabled, and there is increased support for the idea that mentally handicapped children should be raised in families, their own or foster families, with multifaceted material, medical, psychological and routine daily support provided by the state and society. Existing homes for mentally ill children must be transformed, in the authors’ opinion, into places of temporary accommodation. A review of relations with sick children is part of the country’s ‘modernization’ agenda, and organizations for parents of handicapped children are appearing, helping to obtain medicine and information and to overcome bureaucratic obstacles.
- Olga Sveshnikova, author of “Russian Parents: New Behaviors and Worldviews,” has conducted research on the outlook of parents of preschool-age children and elementary school children on the basis of Internet publications and concludes that, over the past 20 years, families have modernized. Parents demonstrate initiative and have recourse to mutual assistance in resolving problems that, in their opinion, the government should solve, but doesn’t.
- In her piece, “New Values in Child-Parent Relationships,” Ekaterina Asonova writes that the process that began in the 1990s of decreasing autonomy for children, together with the increasing over-emphasis on intellectualizing childhood and the development of a consumer society, with its advertisements for children’s goods, have led to the substitution of goods created and bought by adults for the self-contained world of childhood, with these commodities becoming the source of the child’s creative understanding of the world. The understanding of parents’ role has changed and is now seen not as creating everyday burdens, but as presenting adults with greater social and ethical responsibilities, seeking harmonious relations with children and bringing joy and satisfaction. Informal parental associations are being formed on the Internet, and books on the harmonization of family relations are becoming widespread, as are new institutions: family consultations, family clubs, special groups in which parents can participate in activities with their children.
- In the final article, “Parents’ Associations in the Realm of Culture,” Galina Karpova offers her observations of parental associations in the sphere of supplementary education. As a result of the growing spread of parental associations, parents’ responsibility for the socialization of children is being strengthened, and these parental associations are attaining a wider circle of authority than that enjoyed by the parental committees of the Soviet era.
On other themes, the following materials are published in this issue:
- “START-2: To Be Continued?” David Hoffman evaluates the new START Treaty and recalls particular episodes in the Soviet-American talks on nuclear arms reduction.
- “Masters of the Market” Anton Oleynik reflects on the ruler-centered nature of Russian society and its consequences for the country.
- “Monuments of Contemporary Russia” Alexey Makarkin offers an overview of new monuments erected on Russian territory, now that “the state’s domination of questions of ‘monumental propaganda’ has become a thing of the past.”