Open Access Journal

ISSN: 2183-2803

Article | Open Access

“Empathetic Egoist” and “Obedient Individualist”: Clash Between Family Practices and Normative Images of Children

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The initial aim of this article is to analyze the clash between everyday family practices and parents’ normative images of perfect children. I identified five sets of features and behaviors of the actual child that mirror daily parents–children interactions (including parental socialization strategies) and three sets of features and behaviors that reflect parents’ perceptions of a perfect child. The analysis revealed two “dimensions of contradiction”: egoism vs. empathy and obedience vs. independence. Investigating how family practices combine with parents’ normative images results in insights into parents’ ambivalent attitudes toward children. The second aim is to identify the social sources of these clashes. The Polish case appears to be intriguing due to a particularly rapid systemic transformation, resulting in overlapping patterns of everyday practices, divergent social norms, variant meanings, and contradictory discourses. This article’s contribution is to illustrate the hypothesis that systemic transformation might have a more immediate effect on changing social norms, meanings, and discourses on parenthood and childhood (and thus change parents’ normative images of children), while family practices are transformed with parents’ resistance. The concept of family practices developed by David H. Morgan is employed as a theoretical framework and starting point for the study. The analysis draws on qualitative data and in‐depth interviews with 24 couples of parents and six single parents.

Keywords:  Eastern European families; family practices; parents’ normative images of children; Poland; qualitative research



© Małgorzata Sikorska. This is an open access article distributed under the terms of the Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 license (, which permits any use, distribution, and reproduction of the work without further permission provided the original author(s) and source are credited.