Abstract – New families or new sights?

Caring for bounds in a pedagogical perspective

Abstract dell’articolo di Laura Formenti “Nuove famiglie e nuovi sguardi?” apparso su LEGAMI IN CAMBIAMENTO E NUOVE FAMIGLIE – Pedagogika.it anno 2013 n. 1.

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Family life is changing. The paper proposes a pedagogical view, shifting from the prevailing idea of “structurally new” families, to focus the necessity for new sights about family life and its transformations. Disorder has become the norm: the concept of a standard life course is challenged. Changes, nonetheless, are uneven: they depend on economic, social, cultural factors. What has changed most are family relations between genders and generations, and lifestyles. This brought new challenges for education, in relation to choices, learning, communication, and negotiation. The “disordered family” (Roudinesco 2002), based on freedom and feelings, requires a surplus of communication, self-awareness and
reflexivity. An idealized view, however, is ruling: it depicts the family as a mythological scene for authenticity and agency; it is expected to offer protection and healing. Paradoxically, the desire for family “normal” relationships has grown.

Uncertainty colors human existence; instability brings a fragmented and fragile sense of life, even for families that have resources. The complexity of these processes demands a multidisciplinary view. In fact, we are faced with multiple and contradictory trends; for instance, the constant action of external control on families, by all sorts of agencies. The State fixes criteria for “healthy family life”. The adults in the family are dis-empowered by the intrusion of public agents. The rhetoric of parental incompetence was scientifically built throughout the XX century, sustained by social scientists, who took the role to assess the quality of private life. The State authority replaced the Father in the family; the word parenthood became of common use; developmental psychology put the child at the center of family life, childcare became a full-time job for mothers, who must comply with all kinds of prescriptions if they want to be patented as “good mothers”. In these conditions, parents feel anxious and vulnerable, not really agentic.

An adult can be “dismissed” as a parent, in case of misbehavior; an achievement for children rights, but at detriment of family bounds. Poor and minority families run higher risks of intrusion, of course. Professionals go beyond educational support, to exert pressure to enforce the dominant model of family life. Many of them seem unaware of these issues and the connected risks. They enforce paradoxical communication with parents: “be autonomous in the way I prescribe to you”. Families are not passive however: they organize, they develop meaning, they enact their own bounds in their own way. Families can be strong in resisting to external pressure. Social and educational interventions may produce damages; we need to develop a better understanding of family learning.

All families learn: they develop coordinated strategies enabling their members to deal with change without losing their identity as a family. Each family has its own ways to cope with crises, to find solutions to problems and to grant passage of knowledge and memory to new generations. These educational processes happen in informal and unconscious ways. As a microculture, a family teaches basic skills simply by living, by “doing together”.

Learning is at the center of family life: it affects the whole, the components and their relations. All the members of the a family learn constantly and mutually; they have to learn what it is to be a part of that family, what does it mean to be a couple, a father, a mother, a grandparent… This occurs in interactions and conversations; we should find ways to understand this connectedness.

We need to learn how to work with families in such a way to sustain educational and learning processes of everyday life. Stories offer a multiple perspective on the family. Different stories may be told, by the same actors in different moments, in different conversations. Professionals have the responsibility to create a context where richer stories can be told.

Pedagogy should celebrate complex and dynamic sights, instead of reducing family life to a single impoverished version. Educational action should develop new sights: more reflexive and richer, curious, respectful. In such a way that “everybody would be a little happier”.