family life values

On Nostalgia, Myth and The Way We Never Were

“The past is a foreign country: they do things differently there.”

–L.P. Hartley

The Changing Face of Family Life Values

Older people can often be heard lamenting the demise of “the good old days” when children respected their elders, adults behaved civilly towards one another, and good manners were a sign of superior child rearing. However, many believe that the good old days were largely a myth, and were only “good” for a small percentage of the population that consisted primarily of white males.

In her book The Way We Never Were: American Families and the Nostalgia Trap, Author Stephanie Coontz attempts to separate the myths surrounding reminiscence of the good old days from the often harsh realities that women and children faced in the past. She points out how phrases such as “a man’s house is his castle” illustrated and perpetuated some of those realities.

In an interview on the topic of marriage and gender equality, Ms. Coontz was asked to elaborate on her statement that while marriage has changed more in the last 30 years than in the past 3,000, some aspects are now less stable. In her opinion, part of the reason that marriage was such a powerful institution was due to its rigidity. The lack of economic alternatives for women coupled with social stigma and discrimination against unmarried women are examples of that rigidity. A strict division of gender roles encouraged mutual dependence based on economic necessity.

Something Old, Something New

Today, economic changes have reduced that necessity, and with it, the stability of family life and values associated with the institution of marriage. Women have higher expectations of equality and are more willing to leave marriages in which they feel mistreated. She also makes the point that despite progress towards equality, in choosing a mate, many women’s attractions are still based on the social conditioning of the past. That conditioning included choosing a mate using criteria such as economic and emotional stability, rather than sexual attraction.

Sexual attraction was often reserved for “bad boys” with an air of mystery, unpredictability, or even danger, qualities that are unlikely to be useful in sustaining family life and values, or even a long-term relationship. Ms. Coontz believes that one of the challenges of reducing the instability of marriage in an age in which women often marry based on attraction is that of making equality sexy.

While marriage is becoming more equal, one of the reasons that it has become more difficult to sustain family life and values is that both men and women still have difficulty giving themselves permission to let go of old social conditioning. Women have been given the message that although they can now have careers, they must also still maintain their attractive femininity and do the majority of household work. Men have been given the message that they are expected to give up economic control and participate more in household chores, but are also still expected to play the role of protector and provider.

The result is an increase in unreasonable expectations surrounding family life and values and more pressure on both genders in relationships. One reviewer of Ms. Coontz’s timely book points out that continuing to believe in a mythical past reality can make us less able to deal with present reality. Nostalgia about mythical good old days can also keep us from both enjoying the very real progress towards equality that has been made, and furthering it.

Furthering Positive Change

In another interview in the Atlantic she cautions against alienating potential allies in the struggle for equality in family life and values by using terms such as “sexist” and “patriarchal” to describe those who knowingly or unknowingly perpetuate inequality. While she acknowledges progress towards equality in terms of men taking on a bigger role in child care and household duties, she believes that structural changes are needed for lasting positive change. Social policies that support family life and values, such as subsidized child care and parental leave, must begin to reflect the reality that most people now want equality in relationships between genders.

Although women in the U.S. have many more career opportunities than women in many other countries, the gap between wage earners is much wider. Due to the lack of a sufficient child care infrastructure, including family leave policies that reflect family life and values, many mothers are forced to leave the work force for several years. The result is that their wages upon returning to the workforce are significantly lower than those of women without children. For a future in which marriage is more mutually satisfying and children are free of the pressure caused by gender stereotypes of the past, the long slow struggle towards equality is well worth our collective continued effort.

family life values
Nostalgia, 1941

October 21,2016  |

mother and child portraits

On Mother and Child Portraits: A Future Foretold

Importance Of Mother And Child Portraits

Author and historian Juliet Heslewood studied the history of art at London University and earned an MA in English Literature at Toulouse. She led study tours of art and architecture in France for over 30 years. Her book entitled The History of Western Painting: A Young Person’s Guide was translated into 12 languages. For modern parents and posterity, she has assembled a collection of mother and child portraits in her book titled Child: Portraits by 40 Great Artists, which received several positive reviews.

A review in the Telegraph offers several examples of some of the most emotionally moving mother and child portraits featured in the book. Through these exquisite paintings, she helps illustrate the social changes in the view of childhood throughout modern history. Among the examples highlighted are those of Victorian painter George Dunlop Leslie, whose mother and child portraits can be compared to those of Lucian Freud, who painted a hundred years later.

Leslie’s frequent paintings of children successfully portray the attitudes and realities of English girlhood during that historical period. Viewers may learn as much about the social mores of the time as about how Victorian parents wished their children to be viewed. Painter John Everett Millais, a founder of the pre-Raphaelite movement, deviated from the Victorian style in what many considered a subversive manner. In his painting of his wife Effie, she is depicted asleep, with her hat off.

The advent of photography reveals another of the customs of the time. In one photograph of what appears to be two girls with their long hair in braids facing one another, it is revealed that one is actually a boy. In that era, boys didn’t have their hair cut until the age of ten, unlike modern times, in which a boys and girls are differentiated by the length of their hair at at a very young age.

One artist’s portrait of himself and his young daughter illustrates the difference in relationships between children and their fathers and those of their mothers. In much of mother and child portrait art, mothers are depicted educating and caring for their children, while in Carl Larsson’s Brita and Me, he is depicted playing joyfully with his daughter, even while working. This is in keeping with the division of labor in modern parenting in which women are the primary caretakers and the father’s role was viewed primarily as financially supporting and playing with the children. This view has since been challenged.

A modern exhibition of mother and child portrait art brought together the works of esteemed photographer Diane Arbus and painter Alice Neel whose contrasting styles reflect their views on the nature of childhood. The popular exhibit featured Arbus’s work from the 1960s and several of Neel’s paintings done from the late 1940s through the early 1980s.

Viewers were able to compare the differences between the conventions of mother and child portrait art in photography to those of painting. The power of personality, both of the subjects and the artists is illustrated in the works of these artists who are renowned for their skill in depicting children. Similarly, both artists, rather than simplifying children, portrayed them in their full complexity as unique individuals and future adults. Although both are considered expressionists, each has a distinctly original style. Another similarity between them was that both included twins in their collection of mother and child portraits.

Despite the similarities, Neel’s work was more optimistic and her subjects portrayed as colorful and self-aware. Many of her mother and child portraits are painted indoors, and their lives colored by their warm domestic surroundings. Arbus’s depictions of mother and child portrait art tend to be more bleak, perhaps made more so by the lack of color in black and white photography. Further, much of her mother and child portrait art was photographed outdoors suggesting both a greater vulnerability and a lack of protection.

Although the two artists have different outlooks, their portrayals of children in mother and child portrait art reveal the extent to which children are affected by the world of adults. Despite the concept of childhood, and the attempts of parents to create a separate and protected world for them, the works of these artists reveal the perhaps unrealistic desire to shield children from the realities of adulthood.

There have been mother and child portraits in art since artistic expression was confined to the walls of caves. Whatever technological advances are made, the sacred relationship between mother and child will likely continue to be portrayed in mother and child portraits throughout future history. However, we may hope that, like Carl Larsson’s portrait of himself with his young daughter, that artistic tradition may one day expand to include the equally important role of father and child. The children of the world deserve no less than both parents being equally involved, and therefore honored by art, for their roles in creating the future for us all.

mother and child portraits
Alice in Wonderland by George Dunlop Leslie, Public domain, via Wikimedia Commons

October 14,2016  |

Multiple and Complex Meanings Associated With Having a Child

Multiple and Complex Meanings Associated With Having a Child

The Multiple Meanings of Family Life

Parenting styles and meaning associated with having children are as diverse as parents themselves. Often, there are multiple and complex meanings associated with having a child. Although it would be wonderful if every child were wanted, it would be even more wonderful if every child were wanted for the right reasons. While wanting to experience the joys of parenthood and nurture a child is natural for those who have experienced nurturing themselves as children. It seems a natural continuation of the cycle of life. Even so, the individual meanings of having children are as different as people are.

However, many children do not experience nurturing childhoods. In the past, the patriarchal structure of society was such that motherhood was one of the very few career options available to women. While women from wealthy families who could afford to provide them with higher education often became professionals, in most working class families, the cost of higher education was reserved for male children. It was assumed that female children would be provided for by their future husbands. Rather than a genuine desire to have a family, the meaning of having children was often tied to the need to be supported and protected.

Modern birth control methods were not available, consequently, many women became mothers for reasons other than a desire to care for and nurture a child. Birth control and increased economic opportunities have succeeded in reducing some of the negative reasons for having children by giving women more control over both when and why they become mothers. Yet even today, with birth control available and more career options open to women, many still feel social pressure to have children.

In the past, parenting styles and meaning of family life was influenced by economic considerations. For example, in agricultural societies, the level of economic prosperity often depended upon the number of children able to assist parents in planting and harvesting crops. The necessity for the assistance of children during the harvest is the reason that public schools in the U.S. were closed during the summer months.
In other societies, parenting styles and meaning in family life often reflected the desire of parents to have someone to care for them in their old age. Respect for one’s elders in such societies was one of the most important values instilled in children from a very early age. However, in modern times, urbanization, the high cost of raising a child, and social programs for the elderly have nearly eliminated those reasons for having children in most industrialized societies.

Factors That Negatively Affect Parenting Styles and Meaning of Family Life Today

Some women experience pressure to have children caused by their own biological clocks. The increasing cost of raising a child has resulted in many women postponing beginning a family until they are in their late thirties, an age after which it becomes increasingly difficult to conceive. Consequently, some women have children before they are completely ready for fear that if they don’t, they may never be able to have a family.

Other scenarios are also less than ideal. For example, some couples experiencing difficulties in their relationships, rather than having a desire to create their own parenting styles and meaning, believe that having a child together will help ensure that the relationships lasts. Current global divorce rates provide ample evidence that this is not the case. The divorce rate in the U.S. is at 53%, Spain and Portugal at 60% and in Belgium, 70% of marriages end in divorce.
There are a number of societal factors that can adversely affect parenting styles and meaning in family life. Some people, disappointed by life not affording them the opportunity to realize their own dreams, attempt to achieve those dreams vicariously through their children. For example, a mother who dreamed of being a concert pianist, but whose parents couldn’t afford piano lessons, may insist that her child take piano lessons even though the child has no interest in learning to play the piano.

The increasing level of social isolation caused by modern technology has also affected modern parenting styles and meaning. No matter how technologically advanced humans become, it is highly unlikely that we will evolve past the need for human physical touch and positive social interaction. Many people believe that having a child will alleviate feelings of loneliness and isolation.

Studies have demonstrated a link between depression and modernization. One aspect of modernization has been an increase in income inequality and the number of people living in poverty. Poverty has also been linked to depression, as well as addiction and a sense of not having control over one’s life. For many people, having a child is a way to gain a sense of control over at least one aspect of their lives.

Whatever the time, the best reason to have a child is, and will always be, to celebrate life and the happy condition of having sufficient resources and an abundance of love to share. When social policies reflect that reality, children too will celebrate.

parenting styles and meaning
A New Family by Ray Dumas, Fickr CC2.0

October 7,2016  |

Family Values and the Value of Families in the Mescalero Tribe

Family Values and the Value of Families in the Mescalero Tribe

I was no chief and never had been, but because I had been more deeply wronged than others, this honor was conferred upon me, and I resolved to prove worthy of the trust.

–Geronimo

Family Life in the Mescalero Tribe

The Mescaleros are one of several indigenous American peoples who make up the larger Apache Tribe. A nomadic people, the Mescaleros once populated areas in what is now the southwest of the U.S. and Northern Mexico. Today, the Mescalero Tribe, which consists of Mescalero, Lipan, and Chiricahua people, live on a 463,000 acre reservation in the state of New Mexico. What is quite astonishing is that while no longer nomadic, many of the traditions of family life in the Mescalero tribe are still observed today.

Like many other indigenous American societies, Apache society was matrilineal, and both property and lineage were passed on through the mother. In family life in the Mescalero tribe, men who married became members of their wives’ family household. If a husband’s behavior was unacceptable, a woman could divorce him by simply removing his belongings from the house. It was common for several extended families to both travel together and live in close proximity to one another, sharing resources and cooperating when defence became necessary.

Even while traveling throughout family life in the mescalero tribe, married couples maintained their own residences, called wikiups. Women were often responsible for constructing the homes, as well as decorating them. Their homes were constructed of natural materials, including the tanned hides of the animals they hunted for food. In addition to construction work, women also collected agave, nuts, and other vegetables. Many were also hunters of smaller game such as rabbits and antelope, as well as warriors during battles.

While most tasks were carried out by both men and women, men usually designed and made hunting tools and defensive weapons, while women typically designed and made clothing. Great pride was taken in clothing in family life in the Mescadero Tribe, which was often intricately beaded and played an important role in social ceremonies.

Special Ceremonies Celebrating Family life in the Mescadero Tribe

Two special ceremonies were observed for all Apache children. When a baby was old enough to no longer need to be carried on the traditional cradleboard, they were given their first, and often only, haircut by the shaman to bring good luck. At two years of age, in the moccasin ceremony, children were given new shoes and clothes before walking eastward. The purpose of the ceremony was to help the child begin a favorable journey through life.
Grandparents had the important role of teaching young people both practical skills, such as tanning hides, and acceptable cultural behavior. Cooperation was highly valued and children were discouraged from rivalry. The contributions of grandparents was important in family life in the mescalero tribe and grandparents were honored during another important ceremony which marked the passage of young girls into womanhood.

For eight days, the young women wore ceremonial buckskins and refrained from contact with water. The men built a ceremonial tipi while a feast was prepared for a celebration of her success in learning her tribal language and mastering social values such as kindness, good manners, and fortitude. Both a medicine man and a medicine woman participated in saying prayers and advising her concerning the many aspects of her future family life in the Muscadero Tribe. This ceremony is still practiced today.

Religion and Politics in Family Life in the Mescadero Tribe

The center of the religion of the Apache people was a Creator that was neither male or female, but a presence manifested by natural phenomenon such as the sun, wind, and rain. There were also important legendary cultural figures, both male and female, in the form of The Twin War Gods and White Painted Woman.

Politically, the leader of the group was typically male. His leadership was based on his ability to persuade others. However, individuals and families were ultimately free to decide for themselves whether to follow his suggestions. Families or groups that disagreed were also free to leave the group. Today, there is a tribal government separate from that of the U.S. government.

The gender equality of family life in the Muscalero tribe is reflected by the fact that the tribe has already had two female Presidents, while the U.S. has not yet had one female president. In 1959, Virginia Klinekole was elected as the tribe’s first woman president. After her term as president, she was elected to the Tribal Council, where she served until 1986. After the death of popular leader Wendell Chino, who served as president for 43 years, another woman, Sara Misquez was elected.

Parents all over the world continue to teach their children the importance of many aspects of family life in the Muscalero tribe, such as kindness, cooperation and respect for the knowledge and experience of community elders. These values contribute to mutual understanding between all members of the family of man.

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family life in in the Mescalero Tribe
Ta-ayz-slath, wife of Geronimo, and one child, wikipedia commons

September 30,2016  |

On Good Intentions & Bad Outcomes of the Anxieties of Modern Parents

On Good Intentions & Bad Outcomes of the Anxieties of Modern Parents

“The components of anxiety, stress, fear, and anger do not exist independently of you in the world. They simply do not exist in the physical world, even though we talk about them as if they do.”

–Wayne Dyer

New Reasons for Anxiety in the Modern Period of Baby Care History

The 2004 book “Anxious Parents: A History of Modern Child-Rearing in America” by author, professor and historian Peter N. Stearns looks at the baby care history of the 20th century. He points to several factors that increased parental anxiety, including mobility, urbanization and smaller nuclear families. Many parents no longer have the advice and support of extended family that they did in the past. Another factor was the shifting societal view of children as being fragile and vulnerable, rather than resilient, as they had been considered to be in earlier generations.

A review of the book talks about the five main topics of the book, which are the degree of vulnerability of children, discipline, education, work outside the home, and entertainment. Parenting manuals from from earlier periods in baby care history were apt to focus on the importance of obedience and parents’ setting a good example, as well as information about health and gender roles. Rather than being written by experts in child psychology, they were often written by members of the clergy.

Today, parenting manuals cover nearly as many topics as there are diagnoses of mental and emotional illnesses in the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM) Many emotional states that were once considered normal within the human continuum of experience are now considered to be mental disorders. Each edition of the DSM has increased the number of disorders, and today lists more than at any other period in baby care history. In 1952, it listed only 106, increasing to 265 by 1980 to 297 in the most current issue. Due to complaints about the ever-increasing number of “disorders”, has led to a new practice of creating subtypes of disorders.

According to an article in Slate magazine, a study compared societal levels of neuroticism, associated with anxiety, from 1963 to those of 1993 and found that Americans showed higher anxiety levels in 1993. Ironically, some of the increased anxiety parents experience is related to their fear that making parenting mistakes will result in a future diagnosis of a mental or emotional disorder. Other modern causes for anxiety include the discovery that germs cause disease and that the majority of fatal accidents occur in the home.

Reasons for Educational Anxiety in Today’s Chapter in Baby Care History

One impact of increased parental anxiety was an increase in parental involvement in education, leading to the development of the term “helicopter parents“, coined in 1969. While parental involvement in children’s educations can be positive, Stearn believes that excessive hovering, especially with adolescents, may increase their need to differentiate themselves from their parents and interfere with the natural process of emotional separation.

The U.S. has the largest percentage of home-schooled children in the developed world. Many attribute their reasons for home-schooling to their desire to have greater control over their children’s influences. For many parents, teaching children to do chores at home is more important for both future life skills and character development than completing hours of academic homework.

Others are concerned about what they view as declining educational standards in public schools. For example, in 1968, less than half of high school grades were A’s and B’s. However, since the focus shifted from academic achievement to self-esteem, the number of A’s and B’s rose steadily, and by 1994, 32% of high school students received A’s. Grades have continued to rise despite the fact that by 2002, 25% of all children in one Virginia public school system were designated as having special needs. Additionally, children in U.S. schools use 90% of Ritalin prescribed world-wide.

The Role of Entertainment in Today’s Chapter in Baby Care History

For the first time in baby care history, one of parents’ worries is that their children are bored. Boredom may in fact be a symptom of childhood depression linked to the constant availability of mass media entertainment. This entertainment is sponsored by advertisers that deliberately create feelings of dissatisfaction in order to sell more products.

A review in Salon magazine sums up many of Stearn’s most salient points regarding the reasons for an increase in parental anxiety during this period in baby care history. It also points out that modern mass media, dependent upon sensationalism to capture ratings, often exaggerates the dangers of modern life. Stearn’s book provides parents with the valuable service of presenting actual statistics regarding actual incidences of things that the media sensationalizes, such as child abductions, school violence, and abusive nannies. The review also gives him credit for superior research, as well as including a list of the most widely read child rearing manuals throughout baby care history beginning in the 1920s.

It seems that this book may give some parents some much-needed perspective and perhaps some relief from the anxieties of parenting in the modern world.

baby care history

September 23,2016  |

parental genetics

The DIY Genetic Testing and The Brave New World that Comes With It

With every new form of genetic testing comes a new controversy. One of the most recent controversies concerned the 23andMe saliva DNA test. The test was designed to give individual consumers information about their ancestry and any potential genetic health risks. Potentially, prospective parents could use the test to determine their parental genetics and identify health risks to a child they may have together. The U.K.’s the health regulatory agency recently approved its use despite the fact that the FDA had banned the company from marketing the test in the U.S.

The CEO of the company is Anne Wojcicki, former wife of Sergey Brin, one of the founders of Google and reportedly one of the 18th richest people in the world. In the U.S., which does not have universal health care, one of the concerns was that the data from the test could be obtained by insurance companies, who would then raise their premiums or deny health care coverage based on the information. Another concern was whether customer data obtained by the company would be sold to other companies. Finally, most diseases are the result of a complex combination of genes and social and environmental interactions, which limits the potential of the test to accurately determine risk factors.

Another article discusses the controversy surrounding PDG, or preimplantation genetic diagnosis. This is a form of parental genetics testing available to women during the process of in vitro fertilization. Supporters of the test argue that detecting genetic abnormalities in the embryo before implantation reduces the risk of a child being born with a potentially deadly or crippling disease. The moral argument is that reducing human suffering is the right thing to do.

Opponents of parental genetics testing of embryos argue that physical limitations often contribute to making a person stronger in other ways, and that the world might be losing a valuable contribution. Another argument surrounding the use of the test concerns the concept of eugenics which refers to the improvement of the human race through parental genetics or “good breeding”. The word itself was coined by an ancient Greek slave society, a fact which illustrates the concerns of many people about the high potential for misuse of parental genetics testing technology for political purposes.

Another controversy surrounding parental genetics testing is the moral objection by many to the destruction of less than perfect embryos, as well as their use in conducting medical research. Many within the medical community argue that with the consent of the parents, it is not only moral to conduct research on unwanted embryos, but that such research provides potentially life-saving information which benefits all of humanity. For example, it may one day be possible to induce stem cells to form tissues and organs for those currently suffering and in need of a transplant.

Some have suggested in vitro fertilization using only one embryo rather than cultivating several, then implanting only the healthiest one based on parental genetics test results and freezing and storing the rest. There are several reasons for cultivating multiple embryos for the IVF process. Up to 80 percent of embryos transferred into the uterus fail to implant, often due to chromosomal abnormalities. Further, only about one third of IVF procedures result in a successful live birth. In countries with universal health care, the single embryo method could be used for several attempts. However, in the U.S. most insurance companies do not cover the process, which has an average cost of about $10,000 dollars.

One of the moral questions that form the basis of many arguments against the practice of medical research on human embryos is the question of when life begins. Medical research has determined that embryos don’t begin to form nervous systems until two weeks after conception. They are unable to experience pleasure or pain before sixteen weeks of gestation and don’t develop consciousness until twenty-four weeks. More than 50 percent of embryos die within eight weeks of conception through the natural occurrence of spontaneous abortion.

If embryos are persons, then 220 million people die each year as a result of spontaneous abortion, making it the leading cause of death in the world. Researchers argue that if this is the case, it would be their moral duty to conduct research that would reduce the number of such deaths. While the controversy is similar to that surrounding abortion, one article describes a very personal account of the differences between how society and the law view the two.

In some countries, including the U.K., the law requires that surplus embryos produced through the IVF process be destroyed d after a period of time. These laws indicate that embryos are not regarded as living persons by society, and there have been few protests against this issue compared to the issue of abortion. Ironically, frozen embryos are considered potential persons by their donors, some of whom oppose these laws because they want to ensure their ability to have the biological child of a beloved partner even in the event of their death. That ability is one of the miracles that parental genetic testing has made possible.

parental genetics
Unreachable Futures by David Goehring. Flickr CC2.0

September 16,2016  |

On Gender Equality in Parenting, Fatherhood and Human Paternal Behavior

On Gender Equality in Parenting, Fatherhood and Human Paternal Behavior

“In the nineteenth century, the central moral challenge was slavery. In the twentieth century, it was the battle against totalitarianism. We believe that in this century the paramount moral challenge will be the struggle for gender equality around the world.”

―Nicholas D. Kristof

In comparison to the amount of research, the number of studies, and the number of books written about motherhood, relatively little has been written about fatherhood. To help remedy that disparity, have made some social observations of their own and present their findings in their 2012 book “Fatherhood: Evolution and Human Paternal Behavior“.

Gray, who earned his PhD in Biological Anthropology at Harvard, is currently a faculty member of the University of Nevada. Mr. Anderson, with a Ph.D. from the University of New Mexico is an associate professor of anthropology at the University of Oklahoma. He is also a contributor to The Evolving Father, a popular blog associated with Psychology Today online magazine. Perhaps equally important, both are fathers themselves.

Cultural Influences

In addition to their personal experiences as fathers, their research included studying fatherhood in hunter-gatherer societies as well in several different modern industrialized societies. In the U.S. they conducted studies of fathers in Boston and Albuquerque. These findings were compared to studies conducted in Capetown, South Africa and Jamaica. The results were interpreted using a combination of tools from various social sciences including biology, neural physiology, anthropology and psychology.

One of the most unique aspects of the book is that it studies fatherhood in all of its many forms. The perspectives of fathers who parent long distance, gay fathers, stepfathers, unmarried and married fathers are all represented. A review of the book says that its authors make a sound scientific case that males, rather than merely being providers, have also been shaped by evolution to care for their offspring. The book presents evidence from a number of sources that unlike other species, the human male possesses the emotional and physiological capability to effectively nurture and parent their young.

Biology

Several chapters are devoted to the topics of paternity certainty and the behavioral and motivational differences between biological fathers and stepfathers. One chapter is devoted to male fertility, about which little is known compared to the amount of information widely available about female fertility. Another chapter discusses the long-term effects of marriage and parenthood on male health.

Biology reveals that fatherhood affects male hormones in much the same way that motherhood affects female hormones. Those hormonal changes result in changes in the neural pathways in the parts of the brain that control sexuality, reducing desires that may interfere with child care. One of those changes is the production of prolactin. Evidence shows that fathers have higher levels of this hormone, which is known to stimulate nurturing behaviors.

These biological facts support the authors’ assertion that these evolutionary developments suggest that fatherhood is more important to human survival as a species than is reflected by the current social structures of many societies. Many existing social structures minimize the importance of the role of fathers in children’s lives. Through the use of cross-cultural studies, the authors are able to successfully illustrate the extent to which cultural institutions influence both the biology and behaviors of fathers and shape social ideals of fatherhood.

The Future of Parenting And Fatherhood

In an interview, Mr. Gray points out that the lower testosterone levels are an example of a measurable way in which male biology is changed by fatherhood. He asserts that the reason for the biological change is that child care requires less aggressive behavior than competing with other males during the courtship process. Regarding the division of labor in which men went to work and women stayed home and raised the children, he said that such a social model

“does not apply well to an evolutionary backdrop. Among hunter-gatherers, women and men are both working but in ways compatible with having young kids.”

Women have long struggled with the difficulties of becoming all they can be while bearing the majority of responsibility for child care. This book points out that in a very real sense, the artificial construct of the division of labor has also kept men from being all that they can be. Both men and women would benefit from a more equal role in raising children, but according to all the latest scientific data, it is children who would benefit most.

fatherhood
Editorial cartoon depicting Charles Darwin as an ape (1871)

September 9,2016  |

On Gender Equality in Parenting, Fatherhood and Human Paternal Behavior

Scientific Truths and Questions of Morality on Genetic Testing

Human well-being is not a random phenomenon. It depends on many factors – ranging from genetics and neurobiology to sociology and economics. But, clearly, there are scientific truths to be known about how we can flourish in this world. Wherever we can have an impact on the well-being of others, questions of morality apply.”

–Sam Harris

Modern Mother and Child Genetics Testing Methods

Mother and child genetics has become increasingly relevant in today’s society for many reasons. Genetic testing is becoming widely available for a variety of purposes. For a variety of reasons, many prospective parents are availing themselves of modern technology to give their children a head start in life. For example, prospective parents with a history of certain types of hereditary diseases and conditions are beginning to seek genetic testing and counseling before having children.

There is now a wide range of diseases that can be detected with modern genetic testing, including some forms of cancer, cystic fibrosis, Down’s syndrome, fragile-x syndrome, hemophilia, Huntington’s Disease, Lou Gehrig’s Disease, neurofribromatosis, muscular dystrophy, phenylketonuria, sickle cell anemia, and Tay-Sachs disease.

Counselors are able to evaluate genetic tests and advise people of the risk of conceiving a child with recessive genes that may manifest in these diseases. Genetic tests can now be performed on fetuses by taking cell samples from the womb. The two techniques now widely available are called amniocentesis and chorionic villi sampling. Most newborns are given a blood test for phenylketonuria, which is a a genetic disease that can cause mental retardation if it goes undiagnosed, after birth.

Amazingly enough, there are now biochips, also called DNA arrays or microarrays, that promise to make a variety of genetic tests faster and easier than ever before. With the use of biochips, each glass slide or “chip” contains multiple rows of DNA probes, which test for the presence of a specific DNA sequence. If a specific sequence that signifies a mutation is present, a specific spot on the biochip will glow under a special light. This method allows for testing for thousands of mutations at once.

The use of biochips could very well result in the use of genetic ID cards that carry all of an individual’s genetic information. While such a card may be helpful for doctors, who could use it to determine the right dosage of the right drugs, many are apprehensive about potential abuses of this technology. For example, many potential mothers have expressed a desire to use it to determine the sex of the fetus, which depending upon the culture, may result in aborting a fetus.

Another new form of testing mother and child genetics is called tandem mass spectometry. The mass spectrometer is a device that separates and quantifies ions. For example, organic acid derivatives are subjected to gas chromatography before entering the mass spectrometer, where they are ionized and fragmented to determine their abundance. The tandem mass spectrometer is made up of two quadrupole mass spectrometers that are separated by a reaction chamber. The genetic testing process takes only a few seconds. The data can be analyzed either by using a parent ion to obtain an array of all parent ions capable of producing a daughter ion when fragmented, or in a neutral loss mode to obtain an array of all parent ions that lose a common neutral fragment.

Ethical Considerations of Mother and Child Genetics Testing

There are a number of ethical considerations surrounding the testing of mother and child genetics, some of which does not provide enough information for parents to make difficult decisions. Additionally, there are some tests that may provide false negatives or positives. Modern mother and child genetics testing is able to identify approximately 80% of neural tube defects in pregnancies and approximately 60% of pregnancies in which Down syndrome is present. False negative or positive tests often result in further testing and increased anxiety about having to decide whether it is in the best interests of the child to terminate the pregnancy.

It is also believed that some mother and child genetics testing for some conditions for which there are no treatments can cause potential psychological harm. Other ethical issues include stigmatization and potential discrimination. In countries in which health care insurance determines whether a person can receive treatment, such as the U.S., there is a concern that test information might be used to limit people’s access to employment or health insurance.

Maintaining confidentiality of medical information is essential, but there is still a risk of discrimination against people who have a positive result on a genetic test. Patenting of genes is another ethical consideration. The ability to isolate genes has raised the issue of the right to patent them. In Australia there have been three preliminary cases of gene patenting. In the U.S, the Federal Government issued a response in 2011 confirming that the government does not prohibit gene patenting, but will attempt to ensure that gene patents do not lead to people being denied “reasonable access to healthcare”.

Guidelines for genetic testing must reflect the value of each and every potential child, capable of being valued and loved beyond measure.

mother and child genetics
Genetic Testing. Pic by Neil Palmer (CIAT). Plant samples in the gene bank at CIAT’s Genetic Resources Unit, at the institution’s headquarters in Colombia

September 2,2016  |

parental investment

How Evolutionary Biologists Define Care in Terms of the Parental Investment Theory

Parental Investment Theory

Parental investment was defined by evolutionary biologists as a form of sexual selection in which parents expend resources such as time and energy in their offspring at a cost to themselves. English biologist Ronald Fisher introduced parental investment theory for the first time in 1930. According to the theory, parents are naturally selected to maximise the difference between the benefits and the costs, and parental care will tend to exist when the benefits are substantially greater than the costs. The theory was expounded upon by Robert L.Trivers in 1972, and further by evolutionary biologist David Barash in his 1981 book Whisperings Within .

One example of the theory in action in the animal world can be found in the results of a study of King penguins which showed that the number of breeding experiences affected the length of time a male penguin was able to remain with an egg. He asserted that experienced parents are better at replenishing their own reserves. Male penguins have been known to sacrifice their own potential survival to ensure the survival of their young.

Parental Investment in the Human World

Biologically speaking, in the human world, reproductive costs are higher for women than for men. Women produce very few eggs in comparison to the number of sperm males are able to produce. Also, while females can only give birth once for each nine-month pregnancy, men can inseminate many women who may be pregnant simultaneously. Females are also biologically equipped to feed newborn infants after they are born. Globally, the number of women who are the sole caretakers of their children throughout their lifetimes is steadily increasing. It is estimated that between one fourth and one third of all families in the world are headed by single mothers.

Humans are an altricial, rather than a precocial, species, which means that human offspring require parental assistance for a longer period of time. The higher parental investment of humans evolved as the result of the development of the larger human brain. In other artricial species, males spend more time caring for offspring than those of precocial species, which mature more quickly. Rather than pregnancy, gestation, childbirth and breastfeeding, male paternal investment has historically been demonstrated in the form of financial support, teaching, and protection.

However, the increasing financial costs associated with parenthood, coupled with a lack of social support that reflect that reality, is one of the major reasons for the decrease in male parental investment. Another reason lies in the legal systems in place in many countries that continue to devalue fatherhood by preventing divorced fathers from participating fully in their children’s lives. Current research indicates that the lack of parental investment by fathers has a number of negative effects on children’s healthy development.

The Rising Cost of Parenthood

The amount of financial parental investment has grown steadily over the years as the cost of living has increased. In 2014, it was estimated that the cost of raising a child in the U.S. had risen to $245,000. Factors such as housing, food, transportation, clothing, health care, elementary through high school education, child care and various other expenses are included in this estimate. However, it doesn’t include the cost of college, an expense which continues to rise in many countries.

In the U.K., the cost of raising a child for 21 years is estimated at £229,251, which is a 63% increase since 2003. Childcare and education costs represent the majority of the expense. In Australia, as of 2015, the cost of raising a single child is a little over $400,000, an increase of 50% since 2007. While the costs of raising children have risen 50%, household incomes have risen only 25% within the same period of time. In China, the cost was estimated at 499,200 yuan, which is the equivalent of 76,028.61 U.S. dollars, 52,359.50 British Pounds or 69,613.72 Euros. However, the cost of housing in China has increased by 20% during the last four years.

Partially due to the increased cost of raising a child, in some countries such as Russia, Estonia, Hungary and the Ukraine, population growth rates are now negative. In developed European countries and North America as well as Japan, Australia and New Zealand, population growth is at less than 1%. Population growth in less developed countries in Africa, Asia, and Latin America remain higher in comparison.

Despite the rising costs of raising children, people all over the world continue to be willing to make whatever personal sacrifices are necessary to be able to experience the joys of parenthood and family life.

parental investment

August 26,2016  |

maternal sensitivity

Maternal Sensitivity and The Healing Power of Empathy

Tests To Measure Maternal Sensitivity

Maternal sensitivity is defined as a mother’s ability to perceive, successfully translate, and appropriately respond to her infant’s behavioral cues. Psychologists believe that children of mothers with a high level of maternal sensitivity tend to be healthier and display higher levels of social and cognitive ability than children of mothers with low levels of maternal sensitivity. Psychologists have developed a number of tests to determine maternal sensitivity levels.

One of those tests, the Ainsworth Maternal Sesitivity Scale the was developed by developmental psychologist Mary D. Salter Ainsworth., a developmental psychologist and contemporary of John Bowlby. In Ainsworth’s view, the ability to correctly interpret an infants non-verbal communication depends upon three factors: 1. Awareness 2.Freedom from distortion and 3.Empathy.

Awareness in terms of maternal sensitivity includes a level of physical and emotional accessibility that enables the mother to respond promptly to the baby’s signals. Distortions can be caused by defense mechanisms such as projection or denial, as in the case of a mother who puts her child down for a nap because she herself is tired. Empathy allows the mother to imagine herself in the infant’s helpless position and quickly alleviate fear and discomfort when necessary. This scale rates a mother’s maternity sensitivity level on a scale of 1 through 9, with 9 being the highest level, and 1 being the lowest.

The Maternal Behaviour Q-Sort to measure maternal sensitivity was developed by David Pederson, Greg Moran and Sandi Bento to measure the quality of interactions between mothers and children. The standard test includes a 90 item card set that helps define the mother’s interactions relative to a sensitivity prototype for each type of interaction, prototypes which the test itself was instrumental in developing. The Pederson and Moran Sensitivity Q-Sort also uses a set of descriptive cards that observers use to isolate and accurately describe specific maternal behaviors, or lack of behaviors, exhibited during an observation period. These behaviors can be as minute as a fleeting smile, and for that reason, observations of these recorded sessions are called “micro-analyzation”.

The use of these tests that associate maternal responsiveness with maternal sensitivity has resulted in gaining many insights into parenting practices. For example, it was discovered that in Western cultures, mothers responded to only 30–50% of their infants’ babbling and 50–75% of their expressions of distress. This raises the question of what amount of parental responsiveness is optimal. Research has shown that evidence of maternal unresponsiveness at ages 3 and 9 months is a predictor of insecure attachment by 12 months, aggressive behavior displayed by age 3 and acting out or externalization of internal difficulties by age 10.

A potential consequence of over-responsiveness is interference with the development of self-sufficiency. Another important factor is consistency in response. Whatever the type of consistent response, the child may be adversely affected by frequent unpredictable deviations from it. However, a study judged mothers who were either more or less contingent than average to be less sensitive. The reason for that was that all human interactions are imperfect, and no one is capable of responding consistently in the same manner to the same stimulus in every situation.

Part of a child’s healthy development is learning to adapt to slight changes. In fact, researchers hypothesize that the infant’s ability to detect such imperfect differences establishes the basis for distinguishing itself as a separate identity. Rather than mothers remaining in a fixed state of sensitivity, their communication with infants is a series of interactive “matches” and “mismatches” and the relationship in an almost constant state of small ruptures and repairs. It is the inability to repair these small ruptures over time that results in negative effects rather than a sense of mastery and self-autonomy. These tests have provided valuable information that have helped psychologists develop effective intervention strategies for parents and children at risk.

The effectiveness of these intervention strategies was demonstrated by a study in the Netherlands in which 100 6-month-old infants who displayed high levels of irritability shortly after birth were deemed to be at risk of developing insecure attachment. Fifty of the mothers participated in 3 separate 2- hour intervention sessions in which they were encouraged to further develop their maternal sensitivity by imitating infant behaviors and responsively soothing infant crying. Mother-infant interaction, and levels of both infant exploration and attachment security were re-assessed at three months. Those mothers were found to be more responsive and their infants more sociable. Another follow-up three months later determined that 62% of the infants whose mothers had received the intervention were more securely attached, compared to only 28% of the control group that had not received intervention.

Perhaps one day it will be possible to administer similar maternal sensitivity, and paternal sensitivity, tests to prospective parents and provide similar interventions before the birth of their child. However, it might be necessary to first administer a dose of oxytocin to simulate the chemical assistance that the human body provides for new parents about to embark on the often difficult but always rewarding journey of learning that is parenthood.

maternal sensitivity
Mother Roulin with Her Baby, 1888, The Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York

August 19,2016  |