“Over and over again, cross-cultural research on infancy teaches the exact same lesson: infants can tolerate—and thrive under—care that most any Western parent would assume would end very badly.”
Biology and the Appearance of Natural Instinct
There are many biological realities associated with pregnancy, birth, and parenting that can pose as the appearance of natural instinct. For example, one of those biological mechanisms is the manufacture and release of estrogen and progesterone to prepare the uterus for pregnancy and fetal development. The hormone prolactin stimulates milk production and oxytocin helps initiate labor. Dopamine activates neural pathways that contribute to mutual bonding between parent and child.
Before scientists understood the role of biology and chemistry, these natural changes were often viewed as the appearance of natural instinct. However, despite the important role of biology, parenting behavior may play an even more important role in the development of a child’s brain. Studies have shown that cultural differences in parenting have an effect not only on brain development, but on social development as well.
Ethnopediatrics: Cultural Differences and the Appearance of Natural Instinct
In October 1994, Carol M. Worthman conducted a workshop at Emory University introducing the new science of ethnopediatrics. Ethnopediatrics is a branch of research devoted to understanding child-rearing practices within different cultures and historical contexts. It utilizes a number of disciplines including anthropology, psychology, child development research, and pediatrics. One of the premises of this new science is the continuum concept, which Jean Liedloff wrote about in her 1986 book, The Continuum Concept: In Search Of Happiness Lost . According to this theory, all humans have a set of expectations regarding how evolution enables them to achieve maximum mental, physical and emotional development and adaptability.
Meredith F pop over to this website. Small‘s 1999 book, Our Babies, Ourselves: How Biology and Culture Shape the Way We Parent provides several case studies that illustrate the differences in parenting within a variety of cultures. She reaches several conclusions, one of which is that Western culture tends to focus more on individualism and independence rather than community and inter-dependence. The cultural value of independence is manifested in the practice of encouraging babies to sleep alone, while children sleeping with parents is viewed with suspicion as potentially pathological. Parents in many other cultures view infants sleeping alone as a form of child neglect.
The La Leche League, a long-time advocate of over-riding cultural pressures in favor of biological imperatives, gave the book a positive review. Another of her books pointed out the extent to which social institutions have agendas that affect the socialization process. As a result, parents often struggle between obeying cultural imperatives and respecting the appearance of natural instinct, thereby achieving a balance between the needs of children and those of the larger society.
Child-Centered Versus Adult-Centered Cultures
Many cultures are more child-centered than those of Western culture. One study compared the amount of crying of babies in Western cultures as compared to other cultures. It was found that in Western cultures, babies cried more and longer, and parents allowed more time to elapse before responding to their cries. The Western focus on individuality and independence has also resulted in fewer community and family-centered practices than some other cultures exhibit. For example, in Japan, pre-schools do not engage in competitive learning, but focus on cooperation as a cultural goal.
One article illustrates the extent to which parenting is shaped by the surrounding culture, and points out that even definitions of important concepts, such as “stimulation” differ from culture to culture. In Western culture, stimulation usually means intellectual, while in other cultures, the word has a more social meaning. Similarly, the definition of “intelligence” differs in that it includes social behavior as well as the degree of self-control displayed by the child.
Parental Ethnotheories and the Appearance of Natural Instinct
According to Sarah Harkness, a professor of human development at the University of Conneticut, there are many cultural differences in parenting. She refers to each society’s beliefs about the right way to raise children as its parental ethnotheories. The one shared characteristics of all these differing beliefs is the universal parental desire to want the best for their children. In her opinion, beliefs about child-rearing become evident from the way parents talk about their children and the words they use to describe them.
In one study, it was found that American parents referred to their children as intelligent. Italian parents, on the other hand, spoke of their children using positive terms that reflected their cultural tendency to value being pleasant and even-tempered over intelligence. The view on children asking questions was positive for both groups, but for different reasons. American parents viewed it as a sign of intelligence, while Italian parents viewed it as a sign of social skills. Dutch parents valued their children’s long attention spans and ability to adapt to regular routines. However, in Dutch culture, children asking questions is viewed negatively as a sign of excessive dependence.
It seems that the definition of good parenting is changing to include questioning cultural imperatives that conflict with the appearance of natural instinct.