parenting style

Struggling Integrity: Media and Middle-class Moms

The Influence of Mass Media on Parenting Style

Media and Middle Class Moms: Images and Realities of Work and Family by Lara J. Descartes and Conrad Kottak raises questions about the extent to which parents, as well as their parenting style, are affected by the media. Peer pressure is often as powerful a force in the adult world as it is in the world of children and adolescents. In a world in which mass media is sponsored by multi-billion dollar corporations millions of those dollars are spent on creating commercials which portray lives in which everyone is able to afford to buy their products.

The degree to which social behavior is influenced by those commercials is beginning to alarm many people. In areas such as fashion and home improvement, the influence that mass media exerts may be relatively harmless other than perhaps increasing family debt. Parents have long struggled with varying degrees of success with having to say no to the often daily requests from children besieged by commercials for toys and fast food. Further, studies have shown that children under eight years of age are unable to understand the difference between advertising and regular programming. That’s one reason the influence of mass media can significantly interfere with a chosen parenting style.

According to the Kaiser Family Foundation, the average teen spends seven and a half hours each day utilizing some form of mass media. Of those connected to the internet, 81 percent reported being active on social networking sites. In the past, the home was often a place where teens could escape peer pressure for a time, but the ubiquitous nature of mass media has vastly reduced opportunities for respite. If a child is being bullied at school, that bullying is now able to reach inside the home through the internet. Many parents whose parenting style would otherwise be far more relaxed have had to become hyper-vigilant about their children’s online activities.

Today, mass media such as television is only one form of media with the power to influence parenting style. Social media in the form of Facebook, Twitter, podcasts and personal blogs are becoming increasingly influential as well. One example of how social media can affect parenting style and decision making is presented in an article describing the power of social media to influence parents’ decisions to vaccinate their children against disease.

A study was conducted in an area with a vaccination rate lower than the national average that was experiencing a pertussis epidemic. 196 parents of children younger than 18 months were surveyed in the study. The survey revealed that one group of 126 of the parents followed the recommended vaccination schedule from the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. The other group consisted of 28 of the parents who delayed vaccines, 37 who refused some of the vaccines, and 5 parents who didn’t vaccinate at all. 95% of parents in both groups indicated that they had consulted their “people network” for insight into making vaccination decisions. The people networks of 72% of those who did not conform to the guidelines had advised them against it.

Another example comes from an article in the Independent. Research from a study of 1,500 teens in Los Angeles showed that teens who saw more pictures of friends engaged in social activities involving alcohol on social media such as Facebook were more likely to participate in drinking themselves.

The Increasing Sphere of Corporate Sponsored Media Influence

In an article in the Guardian in response to the commercialization of the Australian Melbourne Cup, the author describes the horse racing event as “an endless parade of careful, deliberate sponsor messages punctuated by several minutes of horse racing”. It also points out that the line between advertising and real public space is becoming blurred.

The power of corporations and advertising has become such that in 2012 at the London Olympics, corporate sponsors insisted upon “brand exclusion zones“. People were to be forbidden even from wearing clothing depicting the name of a competing brand within the zone. Increasingly, corporations are beginning to resemble oppressive governments in their attempts to control what we see, wear, and do. They are also achieving an alarming measure of success in doing so, partially because of their ability to influence parenting style.

Television can be a valuable educational tool and some children’s programming provides worthwhile lessons in desirable behaviors such as kindness and cooperation as well as focusing on literacy. Others can allow economically disadvantaged children to experience a vicarious trip to a museum or a zoo. However, in addition to the often negative influences of corporate sponsors, excessive television viewing can also prevent the development of other important skills, such as reading and physical activities. Just as parents have had to learn to say no to the many requests from their children to purchase items viewed on mass media, there’s an increasing likelihood that large numbers of parents may begin saying no to mass media itself.

parenting style

maternal penalty

Motherhood as a Status Characteristic and the Maternal Economic Penalty

The motherhood penalty is a phrase coined by sociologists to describe the economic costs for women who become mothers. Research shows that the economic maternal penalty amounts to a 5% decrease in wages per child. Professional women who are mothers make an average of $11,000 per year less than women who do not have children. Men’s wages, in contrast either remain the same or increase when they become fathers. Despite the fact that an increasing number of women are the sole financial support of their children, society has not yet adapted to this reality, and men are still considered to be the primary family wage earners.

In addition to lower wages, women also face the maternal penalty of being viewed as less dependable despite the fact that the very survival of their children is dependent upon their dependability. Equally ironic, they are also viewed as less committed to their jobs because of their commitment to their children. Finally, although motherhood entails setting limits for children as well as disciplining them, mothers are also viewed as less authoritative than women without children. One article points to several studies that demonstrated that mothers were more likely to be discriminated against in the workplace.

Studies have also shown that women face this type of maternal penalty in a number of industrialized nations which include the U.S., the U.K., Australia, Poland and Japan. Sociologists have studied a number of strategies that could be used to address wage inequality and have determined that the best strategy is one in which women aren’t expected to choose between motherhood and a well-paying career.

Reasons for the Maternal Penalty

There are several theories that attempt to explain the reasons for these gender disparities. One of them is the theory that mothers may be less productive at work because they have more responsibilities at home. Another theory is that performance evaluations are biased in favor of high-status groups. According to this theory, motherhood is a “status characteristic”. Experiments confirm that status characteristics, which often include race, educational level, gender and physical appearance are systematically used to determine levels of competence and influence.

The maternal penalty is a form of discrimination that results from stereotyping, or cultural beliefs about the differences between men and women and their proper social roles. Women who break the stereotype are less well liked. For example, if the culture believes that good mothers stay at home with their children, and good workers place their companies first in their priorities, logic dictates that working mothers must be less than ideal both as mothers and as workers. In social experiments, evaluators rated highly successful women who were mothers as less likable and warm and more hostile.

Another theory is that mothers value time with their children more than higher wages, and therefore often accept part-time positions with low pay and more flexibility. In a survey, 50% of mothers working full-time indicated that they’re rather work part-time and 80% of mothers working part-time preferred part-time work. However, the negative impact of low wages in full-time work is not offset by flexible work hours, paid sick leave, or maternity leave.
Many don’t view the economic consequences of motherhood as an unfair penalty because motherhood is a choice. Because a woman can choose not to become a mother, they view mothers as responsible for their own poverty. In one experiment, participants exposed to dialogue about choice before answering questions regarding working mothers tended to discriminate against working mothers more strongly in matters of hiring and salary.

Strategies for Ending the Maternal Penalty

One recommended strategy is the development and implementation of parental leave policies, rather than maternity leave policies. Many feel that offering only maternity leave encourages the continued belief that raising children is primarily women’s responsibility. Breast-feeding is only one of many parental responsibilities and many working mothers utilize breast pumps to provide their babies with its benefits.

Family leave policies can benefit companies in a number of ways. One of those ways is saving money on training new employees. New parents returning to work after time spent bonding with their infants do so with much less emotional conflict, which results in higher productivity as well as increased job satisfaction. While sociologists focus on economic penalties, for women, the consequences of child-bearing are not just economic, but social, mental and physical as well.

As long as a person’s value being determined by their worth as human capital rather than their meaningful contribution to humanity continues, the devaluation of child care is apt to continue as well. Ironically, there is no group of people better situated to change societal stereotypes and end the maternal penalty than mothers themselves. As every working mother expected to excel in multiple arenas can attest, women are adept at multi-tasking. When united in advocating for a better quality of life for their children, they have proven to be unstoppable.

maternal penalty
Woman working in a Factory 1940s by Howard R. Hollem – US Library of Congress’s, under the digital ID fsac.1a34951
social change for women

How Information Can Accelerate the Elimination of Gender Inequality

“Women’s status in society has become the standard by which humanity’s progress toward civility and peace can be measured”.

–Mahnaz Afkhami

Positive Social Change for Women in the 21st Century

The social and political enlightenment of the last century has resulted in many great strides towards equal rights and positive social change for women. It’s sometimes difficult to believe that just 100 years ago, in most countries women weren’t permitted to vote, or own land. However, despite the progress that has been made towards gender equality in developed nations, there are still many countries which that progress has not yet reached. Even in developed countries, inequality still exists in many forms, such as women not receiving equal pay for equal work. One of the most important factors for driving positive social change in any country is an informed citizenry.

The Importance of Information

An organization formed by Hillary Clinton in 2012 in cooperation with the United Nations called Data2X is devoted to gathering accurate data that reflects the status of women’s rights around the world. Based on the proposition that necessary change cannot be accomplished unless society is informed about the current reality, the organization works tirelessly to provide the information that will enable social and political activists to better prioritize and focus their efforts where they are most urgently needed.

With the advent of the internet and “big data”, access to massive amounts of information is now possible. The goal of Data2X is to harness the power of information by collaborating with experts and advisors around the globe to collect relevant data that can assist them in developing policies that address issues of gender inequality and move societies towards positive social change for women.

The Current Lack of Data Necessary for Continued Social Change for Women

One of the first steps in gathering crucial data is determining what necessary data is currently not being collected and taking steps towards developing and implementing data collection methods.

Another necessary step is implementing those collection methods worldwide. Social and political unrest and war are some of the biggest obstacles facing social change for women, as stable governmental entities as well as populations are required to collect relevant data and make it available.

Civil registration, which records vital data such as births, deaths, marriages and employment statistics is essential for gathering accurate data. Some important areas in which relevant data is still not available in many countries include financial earnings, voter registration, and gender-based violence. It is also estimated that the births of 35 percent of children under five, or some 230 million children, have not been registered. Further, only one third of countries record deaths and causes of death.

Another premise of the organization is that there should be global standardized measurement to help determine current levels of gender inequality. Some important categories, such as educational outcomes for girls, access to child care, and conditions for migrant workers still lack such minimum international standards.

Examples of Current Gender Inequality

One article lists ten areas in which women still suffer from gender inequality. One of the most insidious forms is that of forced child marriage, which still occurs in many countries. This is one of the areas in which accurate data collection of birth and marriage records would be extremely helpful in determining the extent of the practice. Public awareness is crucial for harnessing the power of social activism. With the advent of social media such as Facebook and Twitter, social activists have begun to exert a greater influence over public policy than ever before.

Another area in which gender inequality adversely affects women is that of marriage divorce and child custody rights. In some countries men can divorce women merely by oral declaration, while women often have no legal recourse. There are other inequalities regarding marriage as well, including sexual inequality. As late as 2014, a judge in India ruled that forced sex between a legally married husband and wife is not a crime. Marital rape wasn’t recognized by every state in the U.S. until 1993, although feminists had been working towards that goal since the 1970’s.

One of the gender inequalities that most adversely affects children is that of income inequality. According to a recent report that measures the global gender gap in the areas of health and survival, education, political empowerment, and economic opportunity, the least progress has been made in the area of income equality. In ranking countries in terms of closing the gender gap, most of the top ten, which included Ireland, Rwanda, and the Phillipines, were Northern European countries. While the graph shows an increase in the number of women in technical and professional employment positions, there was very little change in the rate of income inequality.

Happily, the report showed an increase in political empowerment, which is an important step in achieving more positive social change for women. Improved information collecting capabilities and increased social activism have the potential to accelerate positive social change for women, and make gender inequality just a memory of an unenlightened past.

social change for women
Secretary Clinton Uses VOIP To Exchange Greetings With 1000 Women, CC2.0

The Plight of Nannies and Maids from Poor Countries

Women pursue careers today out of personal preference or perhaps out of necessity to pay bills. According to a 2010 article in The New York Times by Catherine Rampell, the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development stated in a report that

“Across the industrialized world, about 15.9 percent of children live in single-parent households.”

Between 1960 and 2011, the percentage of mothers who were the sole or primary source of income for their families rose from 11 to 40 percent, according to a Pew Research Center study.
Couple these statistics with information from the same Pew study that 74 percent of families said that it was harder to raise children with the rise in women working outside the home, while 67 percent felt that it made it easier for families to earn enough money to live comfortably, and you see a difficult and delicate situation parents face. The pull in two different directions means that something has got to give. For many families, that means hiring domestic help to manage the household, kids, and care for elderly family members.

Migration of Nannies and Maids

The migration of women from poor countries, typically in the southern part of the world, to the North, is the topic of a 2004 book edited by Barbara Ehrenreich and Arlie Russell Hochschild entitled Global Woman: Nannies, Maids, and Sex Workers in the New Economy. The contributors to the book delve into the emotional and financial world of mothers who leave their homelands in search of a better economic life in richer countries. I wrote another article here, on one of the authors, namely Arlie Russell Hochschild.

Caring for Others

One topic that is explored in depth in the book is the idea that mothers from poorer countries who work as nannies in other countries take their love away or redirect it from their own children and give it to the children in their care in the rich country. Some feel that there is a cultural care breakdown in First World countries, and parents in these countries seek out caregivers, like nannies, who still hold to “traditional” maternal ways of caring for children that busy, anxious parents cannot provide. This often means hiring caregivers from poorer countries.

This transference of love from biological children to children they are paid to care for often results in problems in the biological children. They may have problems in school, be resentful, or otherwise have difficulties in life. The mothers move to countries where they earn much higher salaries and pay for their children to have nannies themselves while they live with relatives as well as receive a good education. Still, the maternal bond with the children is often damaged, and this causes a lot of emotional pain for both parents and children.


Maids fill in the gap that is created when women start to work outside the home. Men have not contributed much to household work as women started working outside, as far as the number of hours goes each gender spends cleaning and cooking.

“With the decrease in cleaning hours spent by the woman of the house, men were still found to spend only 1.7 hours per week by 1995 in scrubbing, vacuuming, and sweeping, whereas women still spent 6.7 hours per week performing these particular chores,”

reports Paula Smith-Vanderslice, B.S.

Problems with Working Overseas

Maids who work in other countries also face leaving their children in the care of others. Nannies and maids may even have to leave their children in orphanages, sending home remittances to the orphanage or perhaps to relatives to pay for their care and education.

These domestic workers work long hours, and they are often isolated from the larger communities in which they live. They may suffer emotional distress, culture shock, isolation, and other difficulties. They live on very little in many cases, with their money being sent back home. Some of them may even be forced to work as sex workers to their employers, but they live in isolation and cannot get help.

Perhaps an important take-away from this book is that if a mother in a First World country hires a domestic worker to help her manage her home while she works to provide for her family, it is important to remember that that worker probably has a family at home and faces financial and emotional difficulties in caring for her family.

Some understanding and encouragement to make friends and acquaintances with and outside the family, as well as the opportunity to take time for themselves and to travel home regularly to see their children could make their lives just a bit easier. Paying attention to their needs, and making an honest effort to assist them can make an important and positive difference for them.

Ia Orana Maria (Hail Mary), Paul Gauguin, Atuona, Hiva Oa, Marquesas Islands, 1891, Credit Line Bequest of Sam A. Lewisohn, 1951. Metropolitan Museum of Art
child- and baby care

Sociology beliefs shaped child- and baby care history

“Our whole social environment seems to us to be filled with forces which really exist only in our own minds”

Emile Durkheim, father of Sociology, wrote at the end of the 19th century. Durkheim succeeded in having Sociology accepted as a legitimate science at the time. Sociology was for him the science of institutions,

“beliefs and modes of behavior instituted by the collectivity”

as he explained in The Rules of Sociological Method (trans. W.D. Halls, The Free Press, 1982, p.45)

Right after Durkheim and the evolutionary theory and social Darwinism, sociologists came with no less than four deterministic theories: the economic, geographic, psychological and cultural theory. The last one, the cultural theory of the 1930s emphasized human ability to innovate and diffuse culture. It was then that sociologists concluded that culture was the main factor in accounting for its own evolution and that of society. By 1940 social explanations of societal change were accepted, and other factors like economic or psychological factors played secondary roles.

Motherhood seen by Sociology

So, in sharp contrast to the Biologically based theories and the Psychology based theories, the Sociology based theories will argue that child- and baby care is fundamentally shaped by culture and society. Sociology or Social anthropology assume that man can have power over its biological impulses and rise above his biological compulsions through mechanisms and devises.

(The field of social anthropology has always been very close to sociology. Until the 1920’s the two subjects were most of the time combined in one department, and anthropology’s emphasis would be on the study of preliterate or primitive peoples.)

The Social Institutions, what are essentially all the systems of behavioral and relationship patterns, can, in their view, help secure or guarantee the continuation of the human race in spite of life threatening dangers. The desire and capacity  to look after children , or child- and baby care, is largely defined by society, according to these disciplines. This means motherhood is largely defined by society as well.

A mother will learn through an infinite string of events throughout her life what she is supposed to do as a mother, what the meaning is of a mother and how she needs to feel about it. Being a mother will be just another role in society that one can play.

This belief orbits around three connected assumptions

  1. First of all, the way she feels about motherhood will be largely determined how society evaluates the role.
  2. Secondly, her own personality and experiences will be important and co-determine the way she will play out the role.
  3. And thirdly, the role itself will be defined by society. The role is then perceived or seen like a convention or norm.

There is also the relationship of one institution (motherhood) versus another institution (e.g. marriage and employment) or a third (child- and baby care). Since it is agreed upon that motherhood, and child- and baby care is defined by society, these roles will then off course also be determined by the place and time.

Sociology studies themselves, were a product of their place and time

Why does this matter? Well just like other sciences, Sociology is partly responsible for our understanding of Motherhood and child- and baby care today. This very new and young science Sociology has also contributed widely to the definition of child- and baby care. And their studies show us now how Societies viewpoints on child- and baby care evolves, especially in studies of the 50’s and the 70’s.

Child- and baby care history

The studies on child- and baby care and marriage in the 1950’s almost consistently and unfailingly state that child- and baby care has a negative impact on marriage: three studies would prove that the birth of a child was signify a small hiccup in marriage (Hobbs 1965, 1968; Meyerowitz and Feldman 1966) and two studies would clarify that it most often meant a severe crisis (LeMasters 1957; Dyer 1963).

Five studies in the 1970’s would demonstrate that the dissatisfaction with marriage is proven greatest during childbirth and toddlers years compared to any other period in marriage (Hurley and Palonen 1967; Renne 1970; Burr 1970, Rollins and Feldman 1970; Feldman 1971).

However child- and baby care remained indisputably rewarding and gratifying despite its proven effects on marriage. This too can be explained by the time the study took place.

The intent and interpretation of the studies on female employment were equally biased. The intent was always to find out if there were negative consequences to female employment and more precisely on the family life and her children, her former duties. It was assumed that the only reason she could possibly go to work was for financial reasons and for no other. Work was undertaken to help the family and children but in a different way. Sometimes it was assumed that a mother worked because domestic life was boring or because of lack of adults in her life. It was never to slip away or break out, or to continue to grow or develop herself.

These studies seemed to never make a different assumption around other roles besides the mother role. Sociology itself was a product of its time.

State of Sociology as a Science today

Sociology did not achieve the same status of the older and more supported sciences. The slower development of sociological research has many causes: excess use of jargon, imitation of natural science methodology, over dependence on informal observations or interviews. Contemporary sociology has made progress toward improved methodology.

Sociologists today believe that human betterment is achievable if the application of social science knowledge on enduring problems, like widespread poverty of women or breakdowns in the family  are included.

child- and baby care