parental choices

The Unforseen Value of Reproductive Rights

People have attempted to control their parental choices throughout history. Information about birth control was once considered “obscene” material that would erode public morals, in much the same way as pornography. Reproductive rights are now considered an important aspect of basic human rights in many countries, yet there are still many in which women are still struggling to achieve those rights.

Despite the continuing efforts of religious and political groups to control women’s access to contraception, in countries where it is available, the quality of life has improved considerably. Improved mental health, financial security, and increased political participation are just a few of the benefits of the ability to choose when to have children that contraception has provided women. Safe and effective contraception increases parental choices and has changed both women’s lives and society as a whole.

One of those positive changes include lower incidences of child abuse. The consequences of unintended pregnancies are both far-reaching and long-lasting. Countries with the lowest accessibility to birth control have the highest rates of forced child marriages, domestic abuse, abortion, poverty, and deaths resulting from childbirth. They also have the lowest literacy rates for women.

Most Popular Forms of Contraception

According to a 2009 United Nations report, the two most commonly used methods of contraception in developed countries are the pill and the male condom. However, in developing countries the two most commonly used methods are female sterilization and the IUD. Increasingly, female sterilization is becoming the preferred method for couples exercising their parental choices and is currently the most utilized form of contraception in the world as a whole. In developed countries, the most common method is still the birth control pill at 28% or approximately 10.6 million women, closely followed by female sterilization at 27%, or approximately 10.2 million women.

Female sterilization levels are highest in Latin America, China, India and the Caribbean. The IUD is used by 14% of women worldwide, making it the second most widely used form of contraception. Male condoms ranked at number four worldwide. Other modern contraceptive methods such as implants are gaining popularity, especially in Eastern and Southern Africa. Depo-provera is also becoming increasingly popular because a single dose can provide contraceptive effects for 12 weeks.
Sterilization has sometimes been used by governments in eugenics programs, and one article points out the disturbing fact that very few men utilize this option as compared to women. Despite the fact that the procedure is simpler and safer for men than for women, according to one article, as of 2009, the ratio of female sterilization to male vasectomies was 5 to 1. This reflects a widespread societal belief that birth control is largely a female responsibility. However, more men are now recognizing the benefits of increasing the number of parental choices for themselves as well as their families.

The Continuing Controversy Surrounding Parental Choices

Many people believe that even potential life is sacred and that preventing conception is wrong. In the continuing controversy over parental choices, members of religious groups who work in the health care field claim that government mandates to provide contraception is a violation of their religious freedom. Many pharmacists in the U site web.S. have refused to fill prescriptions for birth control as well as morning-after pills in cases of rape. This resulted in a recent Supreme Court case in which new rules were introduced for religious institutions and businesses with a moral objection to the birth control aspect of the Affordable Care Act.

Carl Djerassi, the father of modern birth control and inventor of “the pill” has been quoted as saying that with the advent of birth control, “sex became separated from its reproductive consequences”. However, birth control has done very little to protect women from the social consequences of freely expressing their sexuality. There are many opinions about why there continues to be a sexual double standard. One article maintains that women themselves perpetuate it through excessive competition. Feminists tend to point towards economic factors such as wage inequality and the capitalistic commodification of sex as reasons for the continued double standard.

Of the many benefits to mankind that the ability for people to choose when, and whether, to become parents, perhaps the greatest is that of increasing the number of children who are wanted. While people may disagree about how best to achieve the goal of a world in which every child is wanted and every parent able to care for them, everyone agrees that children deserve nothing less than to be welcomed and loved. Parental choices are helping to make that ideal world a reality.

parental choices
(Pregnant) Josefa de Castilla Portugal y van Asbrock de Garcini, Goya, 1804, Credit line; Bequeet of Harry Payne Bingham,

June 22,2016  |


On Father’s Day and Holiday’s Sentimental Attempts to Domesticate Manliness

Special Day Honoring Fatherhood

Father’s Day celebrated its 100th Anniversary in the U.S. in 2010. In 1909, Sonora Smart-Dodd of Spokane, Washington, being one of six children being raised by a single father, wanted to honor him. She suggested to her local churches that June 5th, her father’s birthday, be a day in which parishioners honored fatherhood. The pastors of the churches approved the idea of a special day honoring fatherhood, but needed more time to prepare sermons on the topic. That was why the first Father’s Day observance took place on June 19th, 1909.

Several people had suggested a holiday honoring fatherhood before that and had attempted to gain public support for the idea. One of those people was Grace Golden Clayton. While in mourning from losing her father in a mining disaster that took the lives of 361 men, she asked her local pastor to honor those men. The pastor agreed, both for her and on behalf of the approximately 1000 children the disaster left fatherless. Her request resulted in the first public celebration honoring fatherhood taking place on July 5th, 1908 in Fairmont, West Virginia.

President Calvin Coolidge recognized Father’s Day in 1924, and in 1966, President Lyndon B. Johnson signed an official proclamation of recognition of Father’s Day and made a request that flags be flown on all government buildings that day in honor of fatherhood. Father’s Day wasn’t made a national holiday until 1972, by President Richard Nixon.

Today, Father’s Day is celebrated by over 50 countries.

In the U.S., it is customary for fathers to receive a tie as a gift. In other countries, Father’s Day may be celebrated on a different day and with different traditions and gifts.

For many countries, religious traditions are interwoven into the holiday. For example, in Brazil, Father’s Day is celebrated on August 2nd, in honor of Saint Joachim, the patron saint of fathers and grandfathers.

In other countries, in addition to honoring fatherhood, the holiday also honors men’s role in society, including their military service, with parades on Father’s Day.

In Germany, on the 40th day of Easter, men celebrate Father’s Day by loading wagons with beer and hauling them to the woods. Just as women are often relieved from their mothering duties on Mother’s Day, so German fathers are relieved of theirs during their celebration.

Australia’s Father’s Day celebration on the first Sunday of September consists of special meals, outings, and stories about inspirational men and how their actions have benefited children. Gifts of adventurous experiences, such as parachuting, are also gaining popularity.

While Father’s Day being declared a holiday was meant to publicly honor fatherhood and the important role men play in society, not all men have felt honored. According to one article, many men were offended by the idea of receiving gifts and flowers like women did on Mother’s Day. In his book “American Masculinities: A Historical Encyclopedia“, historian Timothy Marr says that men

“scoffed at the holiday’s sentimental attempts to domesticate manliness with flowers and gift-giving, or they derided the proliferation of such holidays as a commercial gimmick to sell more products — often paid for by the father himself.”

In the U.S. and many other countries, Father’s Day does in fact increase sales figures. In 2009 Father’s Day, U.S. consumers spent an average of $90.89 on gifts in honor of fatherhood. By 2014, that figure had increased to $115.57, with an estimated total spending for Father’s Day a whopping 12.7 billion dollars. Those gifts ranged from simple cards to family outings, electronics and golf lessons. According to the retail federation, in 2009 Americans spent $749 million dollars on 93 million Hallmark Father’s Day cards alone. Hallmark has been printing Father’s Day cards since the 1920s.

Despite the fact that many lament the commercialization of Father’s Day, money spent is a symbol of the value of fathers to their children and society. However, the gift that father’s treasure most is the very real time, attention, appreciation and affection given them by their children, not just on Father’s Day, but throughout the year.


June 20,2016  |

matrifocal family life

Matrifocality and Women’s Power: The Peril of Fixed Opinions

“Obviously, you would give your life for your children, or give them the last biscuit on the plate. But to me, the trick in life is to take that sense of generosity between kin, make it apply to the extended family and to your neighbor, your village, and beyond.”

–Tom Stoppard

Meaning of Matrifocal Family Life

“Matrifocal” is a term first coined in 1956. In matrifocal family life, the woman and children are the primary focus, with the father playing a secondary role. The woman controls the family’s finances as well as the domestic and cultural education of the children. According to the society and the length of time, this may or may not earn her greater status within the society as a whole. Whether temporarily or long-term, the father’s role is intermittent.

Matrifocal family life was defined by anthropologist Paul J. Smith as

“the creation of short-term family structures dominated by women”.

However, many feminists in the field of anthropology believe that many more permanently matrifocal societies existed before the introduction and widespread adoption of patriarchy.

One example of this temporary type of matrifocal society is that of the Miskitu people of Kuri. In her article Matrifocality and Women’s Power on the Miskito Coast, anthropologist and professor at the University of Kansas Laura Hobson Herlihy describes a matrifocal society on the coast of Honduras. She later wrote a book “The Mermaid and the Lobster Diver” on the subject.

Matrifocal family life began in this village as a response to the frequent long-term absences of men participating in the global economy as lobster divers. The women live in matrifocal groups in which many of the social activities are female-centered. As a result, their society has also become more matrilineal, in which inheritance of property is determine by the mother’s lineage, rather than the father’s. It is the women who preserve the linguistic and cultural identity of their society.

According to respected French anthropologist Maurice Godelier, matrifocal family life arose in some cultures as the result of slavery. Female slaves in some cultures were forbidden to marry and their children were often the property as well as progeny of their owners. While the lives of children born in a racist society may have improved as a result of lighter skin, the authoritative role of black fathers in children’s lives was usurped by slavemasters. This usurpation, combined with the practice of selling individual family members, resulted in a more matrifocal slave society.

Other forms of matrifocal family life, such as those in Western Europe, were dependent upon a combination of women being allowed to enter the work force and government assistance. For research on his book, “The Metamorphosis of Kinship“, Golelier analyzed 160 societies and offered his observations of 30 of them.
In his view, instances of matrifocal family life are increasing, and will continue to increase in the future. While relatively little has been written about it historically, current global conditions suggest that matrifocal family life is becoming the norm.

Godelier believes that three major social transformations are responsible for this major cultural shift towards matrifocal family life.

  1. The first transformation was that of society recognizing the concept of childhood in the 18th century which ultimately led to the Declaration of the Rights of Children in 1959.
  2. The second transformation was the result of scientific studies that revealed that homosexuality was a normal behavior, rather than a mental illness.
  3. The third transformation was political, in which political societies began to grant the demands of homosexuals for equal rights, including the right to marry and form families that are not based on biological kinship.

In an interview, he attributes the changing composition of the family in part to capitalism, saying that

“Our economic system relies on a de facto inequality in access to capital, and engenders differences in the accumulation of wealth and means of subsistence that the state attempts to reduce. It also affects kinship links, in that it promotes each person’s self-centred individualism and marginalises practices of solidarity.”

Whatever the reasons for the societal shift to increasingly more permanent forms of matrifocal family life, Godelier’s extensive anthropological research during his long and distinguished career has convinced him that a single man and woman alone are not sufficient to raise a child. New organizations of lines of descent and family traditions will likely create new expansive forms of social kinship that will provide children with a greater number of adults to care for them than the nuclear family can provide.

The world’s power structures will surely benefit from the multiple skills that women have acquired in single-handedly managing family affairs. As their numbers continue to multiply, matrifocal groups will begin to wield greater political influence. There is no power quite as respected as that of a mother advocating for her children.

matrifocal family life

June 15,2016  |

maternal myth

Motherhood: To Be or Not To Be Should Remain the Question

“Surely all women must have a maternal instinct or the human race would die out.”

–Gillian Rossdale

Modern Motherhood & Maternal Myth

Elisabeth Badinter‘s 1982 book, The Myth of Motherhood: An Historical View of the Maternal Instinct” is one of five books she has written that challenge the maternal myth surrounding women lives. It’s forerunner, published in 1980 was “Mother Love: Myth and Reality: Motherhood in Modern History”. In addition to being an author and considered one of the leading feminist intellectuals of Paris, she was also featured in Forbes magazine as a billionaire after inheriting 19 million shares of Publicis Groupe, a public relations company. Her 2010 book, The Conflict: How Modern Motherhood Undermines the Status of Women was a topic of hot debate after it became a bestseller in Europe.

According to an article in the New Yorker, she believes that young women are undermining the progress they’ve made in achieving a degree of social, political, and economic equality. The maternal myth is a social construct in which women’s primary value lies in their accepting complete responsibility for child rearing. Her concern is that the resurrection of that myth in modern form will result in a loss of life options for women, including the option not to become mothers at all.

She refutes the importance of the scientific findings of anthropologist Sarah Blaffer Hrdy regarding the role of hormones in determining maternal behavior. Similarly, she also questions many of the benefits of breast-feeding, such as increased immunity and potential for increased cognitive development. Neither does she believe that breast-feeding is a necessary element for mother-child emotional bonding. Further, despite our genetic similarities with the primate world, she does not believe that the results of studies of primate behavior translate to human society.

Badinter uses the phrase “motherhood fundamentalism” to describe the development of a new maternal myth in which mothers are all-important in child development. She regards this idea as having originated in the West in response to economic hardship, and supported by the religious right until it became a socially contagious cult. In an article in the Globe, she likens the modern version of motherhood to

“spending all day in the exclusive company of an incontinent mental defective…”.

While her style may alienate many mothers, her level of concern that women’s rights to financial independence and a social identity separate from motherhood is evident.

A piece in The Nation seems to confirm Badinter’s belief that a right-wing backlash against many of the modern conveniences that contributed to women’s freedom originated in America. It points out the maternal myth that childbirth imparts parenting skills rather than the reality that parenting skills are learned. Most American parents live in a different city than their parents and many have no childhood experience with infants. The large number of immigrants also points to a lack of traditional transmission of parenting skills from generation to generation. This phenomenon makes American parents more susceptible to manipulation from child care “experts”, who often present conflicting advice that results in guilt, rather than improved parenting skills.

Badinter uses some disturbing statistics to challenge the maternal myth that childbirth results in maternal love. She makes the point that the pendulum of modern society has swung to the opposite extreme– from not valuing children’s lives at all, to valuing them more than the lives of women. For example, in 1780, wet nurses outside the city cared for 19,000 of 21,000 infants born in Paris, and that more than half of them died before they reached their second birthdays.

In response to the assertion that mothers did not bond with their children due to high infant mortality rates and fear of losing them, she counters that perhaps

“It was not so much because children died like flies that mothers showed so little interest in them, but rather because the mothers showed so little interest that the children died in such great numbers.”

Those same statistics show that the children who remained with their mothers to be breast-fed were twice as likely to survive.

At the heart of her arguments lies the belief that neither children’s lives, nor the ecology, should not be valued more than women’s lives. As the mother of three grown children herself, in her view, modern inventions such as bottle-feeding and disposable diapers make it possible for motherhood to be just one aspect of a woman’s life, rather than consuming it completely.

One common criticism of Badinter’s books is that many view her devaluation of the maternal myth as devaluation of motherhood itself. However, most agree that the concept of motherhood has been often been subject to sentimentalism and maternal myth. That sentimentalism is most evident when society states that motherhood is the most important job in the world, yet provides no financial compensation or social support for mothers doing this valuable and important work.

Despite its benefits to society, the work of raising children remains largely a labor of love. So long as the number of mothers and children living in poverty continue to rise, there will continue to be a need for voices that advocate for a greater number of options for women’s lives.

maternal myth
Mother and Child in a Boat, by Edmund Charles Tarbell

June 13,2016  |

Maternal narcissism

The Destructive Power of Maternal Narcissism and How to Stop It

“There’s a definition of narcissism that when a parent is narcissistic, instead of the child seeing himself reflected in the mother’s face and the mother’s joy, the child of the narcissistic parent feels like, ‘What can I do to make her okay, to make her happy?'”

–Susan Sullivan

Symptoms of Maternal Narcissism

“Narcissism” is a word that has been appearing with ever greater frequency in social media in recent years. In the age of the selfie, it is used most often to describe someone who is excessively vain or temporarily self-absorbed. However, unlike its meaning in common usage, narcissism is also a very real psychological personality disorder. There are many stories of people recounting childhoods in which a parent exhibited the damaging behaviors associated with narcissistic personality disorder.

Maternal narcissism, in which it is the mother that suffers from the disorder, is characterized by a number of symptoms.

  • One of those is the inability to recognize the needs and feelings of others, one of the most essential nurturing qualities of a parent. Those suffering from this disorder require constant admiration themselves and are frequently envious of any attention paid to others unless it reflects positively on themselves.
  • Other characteristics of the disorder include a sense of superiority and entitlement to special privileges as well as the inability to respect personal boundaries. These personality traits are often manifested in unrealistic expectations of others combined with attempts to exert excessive control over their lives through manipulation. One of the manipulation techniques commonly used by those who suffer from maternal narcissism is constant criticism.
  • Another is taking advantage of the weakness of others, and children are among the most powerless.

Causes and Effects of Maternal Narcissism

The causes of maternal narcissism are not well understood, but it is theorized that narcissism is a generational disorder. Rather than accepting responsibility for changing them, narcissistic parents tend to project their own undesirable character traits onto their children, which perpetuates the cycle. Some experts believe that it may be caused by inconsistent parenting in which a child is both excessively punished and excessively pampered.

Children of narcissists often feel that they are a burden to their parents and experience a deep sense of existential shame. Some of the damaging behaviors frequently displayed by mothers suffering from maternal narcissism include dividing siblings through deliberate favoritism in order to prevent them from forming alliances and reducing her degree of parental power.

Maternal narcissism can have serious negative effects on a child. Children of narcissist parents often feel that they are fundamentally flawed and unacceptable and must therefore adapt their personalities to become “good enough”. They also suffer from tremendous anxiety due to the inconsistent and conditional nature of the parent’s acceptance.

The sense of being fundamentally unlovable often persists into adult life. These feelings of low self-worth often result in adult children of maternal narcissists gravitating towards people who are similarly critical, rejecting or emotionally withholding of acceptance and affection. Having little previous experience with true intimacy based on consistent acceptance, they may find it frightening. Many adult children report having moved frequently, partially to avoid a level of intimacy that they’d never before experienced. Children of narcissists usually grow up having their personal boundaries constantly violated, and often have little ability to maintain healthy boundaries as adults, which also interferes with intimacy.

Additionally, each move represents an opportunity to build a new life with a clean slate, free of the past mistakes which they were convinced made them unacceptable to their narcissistic parent.

Resources for Treatment

There are an increasing number of resources and support groups for adults who experienced parental narcissism as children. A recent article by a survivor describes some of the details of their emotional recovery, and feels that it’s important for people to be aware of and accept that all humans have narcissistic tendencies. One aspect of recovery is learning to be able to accept and enjoy praise without suspicion or fear of envy.

Another important aspect of recovery is that of restoring, or building, self-confidence. Narcissistic mothers often discourage their children from becoming self-sufficient because it means losing control of them. Self-confidence is also damaged when children have to compete with more capable adults for both attention and resources. All too often, children learn to criticize themselves, which leads to an unhealthy degree of perfectionism in adulthood, robbing life of much of its joy.

Many helpful books have been written to help adults that suffer from the damaging after-effects of maternal narcissism. Dealing with feelings of inadequacy, fear of abandonment, and emotional emptiness can be extremely difficult, especially with the demands of work and family. Many people seek professional help in breaking the generational cycle of abuse.

Recovery requires a deep commitment and willingness to face the pain of childhood, but healing makes it possible to build future relationships based on mutual respect and acceptance, and there’s no better legacy for future generations than that.

Maternal narcissism
Narcissus by Caravaggio, gazing at his own reflection (1594-96) Public domain

June 8,2016  |

familiy life stories

How the Social Construct of Motherhood is Deeply Shaped by Literature

“Literature is mostly about having sex and not much about having children; life’s the other way around.”

–David Lodge

Prior to the 21st Century, literature was dominated by the male perspective. Female writers, in order to be published, have often had to adopt male pen names. This practice has been both common and necessary throughout literary history and despite progress in women’s rights, continues to this day. Just as 19th century writer George Sand was actually Amantine-Lucile-Aurore Dupin, 21st century writer Robert Galbraith is actually Joanne, or J.K., Rowling.

Consequently, the perspective of women and children has been vastly under-represented in literature.

An article on motherhood in literature points out that the topic has often been portrayed in a negative light by male authors. Novels such as “Madame Bovary” and “Anna Karenina” have served to present society’s definition of a “good mother” versus a “bad mother”. Female protagonists that were deemed bad mothers in these family life stories were usually punished, often by death. At the very least, they were socially shunned and relegated to poverty and obscurity.

Even today, mothers in the family life stories of literature are still judged according to modern social criteria. A recent BBC article celebrating motherhood in literature compiled a list of the best, as well as the worst, mothers in literature. One writer contributed their own list of the ten worst mothers in literature.

Feminists such as Nancy Chodorow have written about the extent to which women’s personal identities have been formed as a response to the social construct of motherhood. Others have pointed out that that most mothers in fiction are objects of their husbands’ or daughters’ narratives, rather than having narratives of their own.

Feminist literary critic Luce Irigaray argues that under a system of patriarchy, mother/daughter relationships are often transformed into rivalries. In such rivalries, the daughter emerges the victor, while her mother’s personhood is subsumed by the role she plays as a mother. Alison Fell presented an analysis of motherhood in the works of French female writers like Simone de Beauvoir, while Adalgisa Giorgio‘s work examines motherhood in 20th century Western European literature.

Family life stories in literature

Family life stories in literature in which women were portrayed as achieving moral goodness through motherhood, such as the mother in “Little Women” were far more common than the portrayal of women who rebelled against male authority. For example, in Anne Brontë’s second novel, “The Tenant of Wildfell Hall“, written under the male pseudonym Acton Bell, the heroine escapes her alcoholic husband to protect her son.

This novel dared to suggest that sometimes being a good mother meant challenging the patriarchy and breaking the law. At the time the novel was published, 1848, women were permitted no way to legally exist independently, and fleeing a marriage with a child was viewed as the crime of kidnapping. The novel was so controversial that after the author’s death, her sister Charlotte prevented it from being republished. However, in 1913, women’s suffragist May Sinclair said that

“the slamming of Helen’s bedroom door against her husband reverberated throughout Victorian England.”

Happily, a greater number of family life stories told from the perspective of women and children are being published and gaining a wider audience than at any other time in history. Diana Secker Tesdell, who has edited a number of Everyman’s Pocket Classic anthologies, has assembled a collection of family life stories that feature motherhood. “Stories of Motherhood” features some of the finest and most well-known female writers of this century including Willa Cather, Elizabeth Bowen, Amy Tan and Alice Munro . However, it also features some lesser known writers, such as Colm Tóibín and Anita Desai.

One review in the Guardian praised the collection, but pointed out that with the exception of one author, all the writers featured are from the United States. Despite this criticism, family life stories from a number of different ethnic cultures within the larger culture are vividly portrayed. This collection contributes the valuable perspective of mothers caring for infants such as Lydia Davis’s “What You Learn About the Baby” as well as the perspective of children, as in Ernest Gaines’s story “The Sky Is Gray“.

In life, as in literature, children represent both continuity and change, the past as well as progress. Their parents’ actions serve to illuminate the path towards posterity. By presenting family life stories in which mothers are portrayed not as good or bad, but as fully human, modern literature is helping to reshape destiny towards a more humane future.

familiy life stories
Daughter of Niobe (one of the 14 children killed) bent by terror, Niobe room in Uffizi gallery

June 6,2016  |

literature development stages

How Children’s Literature Helped Create Childhood

“More than this, I believe that the only lastingly important form of writing is writing for children. It is writing that is carried in the reader’s heart for a lifetime; it is writing that speaks to the future.”

Sonya Hartnett

Children’s Literature Development Stages

Most of us remember some of our favorite children’s stories from childhood. In fact, today’s children enjoy slightly different versions of many of those same stories in the form of animated feature films such as Cinderella. The modern story of Cinderella, and many other children’s stories, originated in France. However, at one time, there was no separation between literature for adults and children.

The first of the literature development stages was the oral transmission of stories. Parents verbally passed on stories that they had been told by their parents as children free samples. Historically, many of these stories were myths or folk tales that reflected the cultural beliefs of the societies in which they originated. For example, the story of The Asurik Tree was transmitted orally in Persia over 3000 years ago.

Stories have both captured and helped develop children’s imaginations throughout history. Many consider the Panchatantra, composed in 200 A.D. to be the oldest collection of stories for children in the world. Before the invention of the printing press in Korea in 1377 and the introduction of Guttenburg’s mechanized version of it in Europe in 1440, literary works were painstakingly written and illustrated by hand.

Until the 18th century, children were largely considered smaller versions of adults. The concept of childhood itself became popularized in the 18th century, and with it, the concept of a separate genre of literature specifically for children. As early as 1765, advertisements for children’s literature in a form that appealed directly to children appeared in newspapers. For example, a publisher named John Newbury created demand for his newest volumes that included “The Renowned History of Giles Gingerbread” with an ad that invited

“all his little friends who are good to call for them at the Bible and Sun, in St. Paul’s Churchyard; but those who are naughty to have none.”

In the early children’s literature development stages, moral instruction was a common theme in children’s stories. Newbury described his volume entitled The Valentine Gift with the subtitle of

“how to behave with honour, integrity, and humanity; very useful with a Trading Nation.”

In addition to moral instruction, social and economic considerations were also addressed.

Modern Changes in Children’s Literature

While during the early literature development stages, one of the focuses of children’s literature was teaching them to conform to societal norms, that focus began to change in the 19th century. The creation of the sub-genre of young adult literature around 1920 was another of children’s literature development stages. The role of modern children’s literature began to include social criticism and a questioning of social norms. This change was reflected in such stories as “The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn” and “The Wonderful Wizard of Oz”.

The value of children’s literature lies in the intellectual, social and emotional development it provides. Young readers responding to literature and developing their own opinions about it strengthens their cognitive abilities. It can also encourage meaningful personal and social interactions and increase mutual understanding, since people’s individual responses to literature tend to be based partly on their own life experiences. Other skills reading helps develop include analyzation, forming hypotheses, and learning to summarize. It can also be a valuable tool in learning about both their own culture and that of others.

The huge popularity of modern children’s stories such as the “Harry Potter” series and “The Hunger Games” series is a testament to the enduring power of literature. Just as in the oral tales of old, characters in modern children’s literature face difficult circumstances that require creative solutions. They also make moral choices that have personal and social consequences. For that reason, children’s literature which models important decision-making skills can be a tool in developing reasoning skills as well as emotional intelligence. Finally, children’s literature encourages creativity.

One of the latest children’s literature development stages has been that of recognizing literature that encourages active discussion. To encourage literary excellence for the benefit of young readers, several organizations and awards have been created. The Newbury Medal has honored excellence in children’s literature since 1922. Since 1938, the Caldecott Medal has also honored distinguished children’s literature. Australia has had the Children’s Book Council awards since 1945 and the U.K. the Carnegie Medal since 1936. Internationally, the Notable Books for a Global Society Award has recognized contributions to children’s literature from all over the world since 1996.

Children’s literature may be said to be a child’s introduction to the wider world limited only by the imagination.

literature development stages
Good Friends (Portrait of the Artist’s Sister Bertha Edelfelt) by Albert Edelfelt, 1881, Pavlovsk Palace Museum, 1958; fo

June 1,2016  |

historic parenting styles

The Basics of Culture: A Historic Account of Parenting

“What you leave behind is not what is engraved in stone monuments, but what is woven into the lives of others.”


Historic Parenting Styles of Ancient Cultures

Many ancient cultures had cultures had similarities as well as differences in their parenting styles. One of the most important ways parenting has evolved over time is that in most modern cultures, children are no longer viewed as property. In many ancient cultures, children were often sold into slavery. Parenting styles differed a great deal according to the social class of the parents.

The historic parenting styles of the ancient Greeks reflected the social values of Greek society at the time. Male children of the slave-owning class were trained to participate in the intellectual life of the culture from a very young age. They were also expected to learn social manners. Female children were not educated, but remained at home until they married. Slave women were responsible for most of the child care duties such as breast-feeding.

Historic parenting styles in ancient Roman culture revolved around the power of the father, who had the right to order the death of an unwanted infant. Fathers also had the right to sell their children into slavery.

As in Greek culture, female children were taught domestic skills within the home, while male children were formally educated.

Ancient Mesopotamian culture also placed a higher value on male children, and death from exposure was a common fate for unwanted female infants. Selling children into slavery was less common, and mothers nursed their own infants for up to three years. Unlike ancient Roman culture, in which fathers often used corporal punishment as a form of child discipline, the historic parenting styles of ancient Mesopotamia discouraged it. Corporal punishment was reserved for slaves.

Historic parenting styles of the ancient Han Dynasty in China were heavily influenced by Confucius. A review of Anne Behnke Kinney’s book, “Representations of Childhood and Youth in Early China”reveals that parenting practices in ancient China were heavily influenced by the ruling dynasty as well. One ancient author suggested that the way parents treated their children reflected the way they themselves were treated by their rulers.

Another writes about the power of mothers over children’s moral development, beginning with the fetus! It was believed that children absorbed the moral qualities of their environments. Female children were educated less than male children and, like most ancient cultures, were given in marriage between the ages of 13 and 16. They were expected to pledge loyalty to their husband’s family and cut ties with their own families.

The ancient Celtic culture in Britain during the Iron age consisted of clans. Children were seldom raised by their own parents, but were fostered by other members of the clan, often relatives. Each clan had its own social structure. Slavery was non-existent, largely because lands were communally owned. Women were considered equal to men and could own property, choose their own husbands, and even lead in war. Queen Boudicca led the Celts in a revolt against Roman rule.

Historic Parenting Styles Versus Modern Parenting Styles

Most modern societies find the concepts of infanticide and child slavery morally reprehensible. However, it remains true that many modern cultures continue to place a lesser value on women, both in terms of education and equal rights within the larger society.

One important difference between historic parenting styles and modern ones is that most modern child rearing experts reject historic parenting styles that use corporal punishment as a form of discipline. However, the influence of those styles is still evident. Until fairly recently, corporal punishment was often used as a form of discipline in schools as well as within the family.

Poland was the first country to outlaw corporal punishment in 1783. Many other countries began to legally abolish the practice in the 1970’s. While corporal punishment is now illegal in many countries, it continues to be legal in 19 states in the U.S.

Modern parenting styles have been influenced a great deal by the advent of modern medicine, including birth control. Historically, lower birth rates have resulted in a greater value being placed on infants and children as well as lower infant mortality rates.

Despite the negative aspects of ancient historic parenting styles, many modern experts agree that some aspects of parenting in ancient hunter-gatherer societies are worthy of emulating today. Keeping children close, giving them freedom to explore, and more involvement by fathers and other community members are among the features of such societies that experts consider beneficial to children.

There has been a shift in social evolution from viewing children as property of parents and state, to viewing them as individuals equally deserving of human rights. Since the United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child, many international organizations work tirelessly to manifest these principles into reality for the children of the world still suffering from the influence of the negative aspects of parenting styles of the past.

historic parenting styles
Akhenaten Nefertiti and their children

May 30,2016  |

family life during war

The Smallest Casualties of War

“We need to decide that we will not go to war, whatever reason is conjured up by the politicians or the media, because war in our time is always indiscriminate, a war against innocents, a war against children.”

–Howard Zinn

Family Life During War: Children’s Perspective

During the 1960’s , partially in response to the Viet Nam war, a poster which contained the saying

“War is not healthy for children and other living things”

became very popular in the United States. One of the most powerful photographs ever taken was one in which how the horrors of war affected children was demonstrated in a very graphic and visceral way. The ways in family life during war affects children is a difficult topic to discuss and one that many people would prefer to avoid. However, because children are so often the innocent victims of war, revealing the plight of these children has the potential to arouse enough global compassion to prompt social and political action on their behalf.

Although the content is disturbing, J. De Berry and J. Boyden attempt to reveal some of the traumatic experiences that children of war face in their book “Children and Youth on the Front Line: Ethnography, Armed Conflict and Displacement (Studies in Forced Migration). The book is one of the first to incorporate information gathered from interviews with children themselves. It focuses on the sexual exploitation of girls as well as orphaned children who head households and those forced into combat.

Rather than the traditional view that children of war are little more than helpless victims, the author points to the vast amount of strength, creativity and resilience they must possess just to survive. While he acknowledges the value of the medical model of the effects of victimization and trauma, he also challenges experts to expand that model through more direct interaction and study of child survivors of war. The death of one or both parents, leaving children with no-one to care for them is just one of the many negative effects on family life during war.

According to one review no less than fifteen authors, many of whom were anthropologists who had spent time in war-torn regions, contributed to the book. The book points out that even the definition of “child” and the age of responsibility differs from culture to culture. For example, there are situations in which child soldiers forced to kill or be killed have been charged with war crimes. The legal age of accountability continues to be debated, and differs from country to country.

Negative Effects on Family Life During War

The death of one or both parents, leaving children with no-one to care for them is just one of the many negative effects on family life during war. There are many more. For example, one study showed that during war, the time that mothers are able to breast-feed their children is drastically reduced, which also increases the risk of illness and death.

According to an article, studies show that post- traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) can not only be transmitted from one family member to another, but can even effect the development of a fetus in utero.

One study conducted in the U.S. also revealed an increase in child maltreatment by military personnel who had been deployed to war zones. Parents who experience combat often have difficulty adapting to civilian life and many do not receive adequate treatment for PTSD.

Children who experience such maltreatment exhibit psychological symptoms such as poor social adaptation, higher suicide rates, anxiety and aggression. The most recent research found that the increased stress of the non-deployed parent also resulted in a greater incidence of child abuse and neglect directly related to military deployment. The studies concluded that the stress of war, including the absence of a parent, affects every aspect of family life during war, and every family member, not just those that experience direct combat.

Rape and sexual violence is another common occurrence during war and has often been used as a tool of ethnic cleansing as well as a demonstration of power. Studies conducted among adolescent girls in Uganda and Kosovo showed that rape resulted in long-term difficulties with personal and social identity. Most studies have focused on adolescents, while relatively few have focused on younger children.

This book is devoted to giving the children of war a voice of their own and examining the ways in which they cope with the many forms of trauma associated with family life during war. Fortunately, there are a few international organizations that offer support to children of war. For the sake of all children, perhaps the horrors this book contains will serve to raise all parents’ voices in opposition to war as method of solving global problems.

family life during war
Child amid ruins following German aerial bombing of London. Toni Frissell, Abandoned boy, London, 1945

May 25,2016  |

family life with the !Kung

Choose Understanding over Judgment: A Recipe for Extraordinary Anthropology

“Equality between the sexes is probably greater among gatherers and hunters, including the !Kung, than in most other societies around the world.”

–Marjorie Shostak

Originally published in 1981, Marjorie Shostak’s popular book titled “Nisa: The Life and Words of a !Kung Woman” was reprinted in paperback in 2000. It continues to earn rave reviews from readers as well as the respect of anthropologists and academics the world over.

Preparation for Family Life with the !Kung

One of the many things that makes this such a remarkable book is the degree of dedication shown by the author in making it possible. That dedication took the form of painstakingly learning the language of the !Kung people during the three years from 1968 to 1971 that she experienced family life with the Kung. Her willingness to learn to communicate with them in their own language was an important factor in inspiring the level of trust necessary for Nisa to confide the many personal details which enabled Shostak to understand the true meaning of family life with the Kung.

All languages contain slang as well as nonverbal cues that affect meaning. To achieve even a rudimentary vocabulary took six months even with complete immersion and the aid of a tutor. It took ten months to acquire the linguistic skill to communicate on the level necessary to conduct a meaningful interview. After the first fifteen initial interviews, she returned in 1975 to complete six more before publishing the book and was surprised to learn how much family life with the Kung had changed in such a short time.

For good reason, the book both redefined the ethnographic interview and demonstrated its power as a tool for anthropological research. In addition to the twenty-one initial interviews, Ms. Shostak was also able to observe Nisa’s social interactions and corroborate much of what she had been told. Ironically, in many societies, women are culturally more free to speak with other women than with men, especially outsiders. Until the 20th century, the majority of anthropological field work was conducted by men, for whom it was difficult to impossible to gain the experience and perspective of the women of the culture they were studying.

Milestones in Family Life with the !Kung

An analysis of the book suggests that may be one reason that so little information about women’s lives is available. It also points out that Shostak considered Nisa her instructor, a cultural expert regarding the rites of womanhood and family life with the !Kung, and paid for her services during the educational process. The stories in the book represent only eight percent of all the interviews. Information from the interviews was arranged in chronological order from birth through all the milestones of her life as a woman.

Those milestones included discovering sexuality, marriage, childbirth, and maturation through old age. Respect for the culture as well as for linguistic precision were factors in Shostak’s choice to remain as true to the Kung form of expression as possible. According to an overview of the book, each of its fifteen chapters’ focuses on a different aspect of family life with the Kung. Through her experiences, the universal nature of the social intricacies of love, loss, joy and sorrow that accompany all women throughout their respective life journeys is affirmed.

Ms. Shostak, battling cancer, returned for the last time in 1993, and after searching the desert for weeks, found Nisa once more. Their communications during that visit served as the inspiration for a second book titled “Nisa Revisited“, which she was able to nearly complete before her death. Upon her death in 1998 at the age of 51, her work was described by the New York Times as having

“injected new life into techniques of anthropology”.

Her contribution was all the more remarkable since although her degree was not in anthropology, she later became an associate of the Peabody Museum of Archeology and Ethnology at Harvard University.

Her book continues to be taught in universities and the field of anthropology continues to benefit from Shostak’s dedication and respect for other cultures. However, perhaps it is women who benefit most from learning that some cultural differences can be beneficial ones.

family life with the !Kung
Woman Digging With Infants, taken by Marjorie Shostak

May 23,2016  |