anthropology of family life

The Anthropology of Family Life: The Value of Questioning Our Cultural Norms

“My goal is to offer a correction to the ethnocentric lens that sees children only as precious, innocent and preternaturally cute cherubs. I hope to uncover something close to the norm for children’s lives and those of their caretakers.”

The Anthropology of Family Life and Questioning Cultural Norms

David F. Lancy’s book,”The Anthropology of Childhood: Cherubs, Chattel, Changelings, now in its 2nd edition, has been described as

“the only baby book you’ll ever need”.

A review of the book points out the extent to which humans remain largely unaware of the huge influence of their cultures on their parenting practices. This collection of observations based on his study of the anthropology of family life around the world succeeds in raising that awareness. Through learning about common parenting practices of other cultures, parents are able to question whether conforming to their own cultural norms is always in the best interests of their children.

Lancy is a pioneer in the relatively new field of the anthropology of family life. As a professor Emeritus of Anthropology at Utah State University, this is his seventh book. His research includes having done extensive fieldwork in Liberia, Sweden, Trinidad and Papau New Guinea. The anthropology of family life provides parents with the cultural context in which parenting practices are developed. It also offers a broad view of cultural alternatives which contributes to parents’ ability to make conscious informed parenting choices, rather than unconsciously conforming to cultural norms.

The Anthropology of Family Life and Other Cultural Norms

Lancy divides cultural child-rearing practices into two types, which he calls “pick when ripe” and “pick when green”. “Pick when ripe” cultures are defined as those in which adults don’t pay much attention to babies and toddlers. This is partly the result of higher infant mortality rates. Children are not considered to have individual identities and may not even be given a name until they are old enough to be weaned. Their individual identities are developed through a process of actions that constitute increasing levels of contributions to their communities according to their abilities. For example, they may be expected to run errands or perform portions of adult tasks to develop their skills.

In “pick when green” cultures, babies are recognized as individuals from the moment they are born and begin to be verbally instructed at a very young age. In an article in Slate magazine, Lancy pointed to the phenomenon of parents verbally instructing their children to share, rather than modeling sharing behavior over time as an example of the “pick when green” cultural mentality and parenting style.

In many cultures, children are expected to begin making contributions to the family and wider community at a very early age in comparison to Western cultures. Rather than formal schooling, in most parts of the world, knowledge is gained through imitation and play. Older children also play a much larger role in the caretaking of their younger siblings. Fathers play a much smaller role in the lives of their children as well.

The Role of Adult-Child Play in the Anthropology of Family Life

According to an article in the Boston Globe, Lancy is concerned that many professionals in the field of child development are promoting a parenting style that involves adult-child play to low-income parents too aggressively. He questions the validity of the premise that parenting styles that differ from the model in which children learn through verbal interaction and instruction from their parents are inherently inferior. He believes that the potential positive outcomes of programs based on the belief that adult-child play is crucial for child development could be reduced by suspicions of “racism or cultural imperialism”.

He points to decades of studies of the anthropology of family life that demonstrate that globally and historically, the practice of adult-child play is actually relatively rare. However, developmental psychologies Alison Gopnik disagrees with his assertion, and believes that the definition of parent-child play should be expanded to include not just verbal interaction, but physical touch and cuddling, which also provides mental and emotional stimulation.

There are similarities between an African child learning a physical skill from an older sibling and an American child learning a new vocabulary word from a nanny in that both demonstrate a degree of playfulness . She does agree with his assertion that American culture has taken structured “play” with the goal of increasing future academic achievement too far.

One of the most important tasks of parenting all over the world is that of transmitting cultural norms to the extent that the child gains the skills that will enable it to survive, and even thrive within that culture.

One of the most valuable contributions of the anthropology of family life is the information it gives parents to enable them compare their own cultural norms with those of others. Information is power, which includes the power to choose to transmit those norms that prove beneficial, and eliminate those that don’t.

anthropology of family life
Bedouin Mother and Child NGM-v31-p552 by Garrigues. – 300 ppi scan of the National Geographic Magazine, Volume 31 (1917),

April 18,2016  |

religious conflict in family life

How to Religious Choices Can Enrich Family Life

“The harder the conflict, the more glorious the triumph.”

–Thomas Paine

Interfaith Marriages and Religious Conflict in Family Life

Despite the seeming hopelessness of ever peacefully resolving the issue of religious conflict depicted in recent newspaper headlines, the fact remains that a growing number of interfaith families are doing just that in their own homes. In the U.S., a recent study found that 39% of Americans who have married since 2010 married someone from a different religious group. That number has almost doubled from the 19% of those who married before 1960. Further, 49% of unmarried couples live with someone of a different faith or no religious affiliation.

The survey also revealed that adherents of some religions, including Hinduism(91%) Mormonism (82%) , and Islam (79%), are more likely to marry within their own faith than others. The statistics are lower within Judaism (65%) and Protestantism (59%). Those with no religious affiliated married a religious person at a rate of 56%. However, despite the increase in religious tolerance and willingness to marry outside one’s faith that these numbers represent, according to one article, statistics show that inter-faith marriages are three times more likely to end in divorce.

Common Reasons for Religious Conflict in Family Life

Many of the challenges that interfaith couples face are emotional in nature. For example, because one of the elements necessary for a successful marriage is successful psychological separation of each partner from their families of origin. If the couple’s families are against the marriage for religious reasons, the guilt from defying their parents can make this separation more difficult. While the families of many interfaith couples are able to accept their child’s decision to marry outside of their faith, many do not. As a result, those couples lose the valuable emotional support and guidance of their families and must attempt to navigate the new world of marriage without the benefit of direction born of years of experience.

The adjustment to marriage can be a difficult one even under the best of circumstances. Part of that adjustment period entails developing effective negotiation skills and learning the fine art of compromise. Compromise sometimes includes the willingness of one partner to convert to the religion of the other. This decision often results in feelings of anger and betrayal by the family of the convert, or even a refusal to attend the wedding. Traditional wedding rituals are deeply rooted in religious beliefs. Some couples, to avoid offending or alienating family members, choose to have a simple civil ceremony rather than a religious one.

Religious conflict in family life can also affect a couple’s ability to achieve personal intimacy. Most religious and non-religious people alike consider their beliefs to be an essential part of their personal identities. Understanding and respect of one’s most deeply held convictions is a necessary element in achieving the level of intimacy and complete acceptance required for any marriage to be truly successful. A successful marriage can be measured by the degree of emotional safety and support the couple is able to provide one another.

Choosing which faith in which to raise the children is also a common source of religious conflict in family life. In some churches, agreeing to raise any future children in the faith is a requirement for conversion. In marriages in which neither party converts to the religion of the other, couples deal with this issue in a number of different ways. Some choose to expose the children to both religions and allow them to choose for themselves at a certain age. Others choose to forego formal religious activities altogether to avoid confusing the children or potentially creating inner conflict or a sense of disloyalty towards one parent by choosing one religion over the other.

Ways to Reduce Religious Conflict in Family Life

One article offering tips on avoiding some of the religious conflict in family life presented by interfaith marriages stresses the importance of education, communication and inclusion. Communication is what makes it possible to incorporate many of the best traditions of both religions into the household. Most religions are rich in tradition and traditions are a wonderful way to both create happy family memories and anticipation of future events. While each religion may have different holidays, most are celebrated with a feast of traditional foods.

Couples educating themselves and each other about the meanings surrounding rituals and celebrations within their respective religions can also reduce the amount of religious conflict in family life. When meanings are understood and respected, favorite rituals can continue to be observed and celebrated to the benefit of the entire family.

Including extended family in the development of new rituals that incorporate common elements of both religions can serve to be a strong bridge towards mutual understanding and acceptance among family members who may feel alienated.

religious conflict in family life
Seated Mother Goddess, Indus Civilization, ca. 3000–2500 bc, Pakistan

April 13,2016  |

maternal construct

How The Social Value Of Women And Mothers Has Changed

The Changing Social Value of Women

“Women’s maternal role has a profound effect on women’s lives, on ideology about women, on reproduction of masculinity and sexual inequality, and on the reproduction of a particular form of labour power. Women find their primary social location within the sphere of social reproduction”

Nancy Chodorow

The Introduction of Reproductive Rights and the Maternal Construct

As early as the 1920’s early feminists who helped found the modern women’s movement formulated three basic elements which they felt were necessary for women to achieve equal rights. Those elements were civil marriage, divorce, and abortion. Later, birth control would be added to this list of political demands that feminists have worked tirelessly to achieve.

Reproductive rights began to be included as an element of basic human rights beginning with the 1968 Proclamation of Teheran, which states that

“Parents have a basic human right to determine freely and responsibly the number and the spacing of their children”.

In 1969, the UN General Assembly in the Declaration on Social Progress and Development elaborated further by stating that

“The family as a basic unit of society and the natural environment for the growth and well-being of all its members, particularly children and youth, should be assisted and protected so that it may fully assume its responsibilities within the community. Parents have the exclusive right to determine freely and responsibly the number and spacing of their children.”

The Maternal Construct Before Reproductive Rights

Historically, society’s shifting views on the ideology of motherhood had been reflected in the types of social programs created to support those views. The impact of social programs, or the lack of them, on society, is a substantial one. Feminism has played a large role in re-inventing the maternal construct and women’s role in society, which before the introduction of reproductive rights, had been created and maintained largely by religious organizations, including the Catholic church.

In early 20th century Europe and most parts of the world, the ideology surrounding the role of women in society was based on two basic premises navigate to this web-site. The first premise was that women were emotionally and intellectually, as well as physically, inferior. Therefore, it was believed that their survival was completely dependent upon men. Their primary value lay in their ability to give birth, and in exchange for their financial support, men claimed ownership of their sexuality, which included any children they produced. In this way, men were better able to ensure that that their possessions, and power, would be passed to their “rightful” male heirs.

The second premise of the maternal construct was that maternal instinct, and therefore the ability to be a good mother, could only be acquired by giving birth within a societally sanctioned heterosexual marriage. The social message underlying this belief was that women had to choose between their sexuality and motherhood. Those who became pregnant outside marriage were viewed as having chosen sexuality, which rendered them incapable of being good mothers. It was considered women’s duty to control not only her own sexuality, but that of men as well.

The Effect of Social Programs on the Maternal Construct

Industrialization was a contributing factor to a sharp rise in the number of single mothers. With migration to larger cities, smaller communities lost the power of peer pressure that often contributed to men marrying women when they became pregnant. The Catholic Church was among one of the first organizations to develop and implement social programs for single mothers.

Despite the fact that these women were often the victims of economic and sexual exploitation by the employers upon whom they depended for survival, they were viewed as sinners deserving of punishment. In addition to suffering the loss of their babies, which were put up for adoption, many of these women were also subjected to a lifetime of forced labor and physical abuse.

Other organizations provided less punitive and more therapeutic assistance to those considered “fallen women” which often included victims of incest or domestic violence and women forced into prostitution to survive. Anglican facilities called “penitentiaries” in Victorian Britain were among those that offered shelter and support to women who, not being considered fit mothers, had lost all value to society.

The Hull House Settlement in Chicago, modeled on Toynbee Hall in London, was begun by Jane Adams in 1889. Similar settlements, such as the Kozma Street settlement in Hungary, that provided a number of social services for women and children, were established in Europe. These programs helped change the prevailing maternal construct by demonstrating that unmarried women were in fact capable of being good mothers. However, many believe that this change resulted in male control being replaced by that of the state.

Science, in the form of brain research and modern birth control methods, has played an important role in changing the maternal construct. However, the history of forced sterilization points to the potential for abuse of its power by the state, which demonstrates the need for continued feminist activism to prevent such abuses. Science, combined with activism, has helped women demonstrate their true social value, completely independent of the maternal construct that once defined it.

maternal construct
Mrs. John Garden, Ann Garden and Her Children, John and Ann Margaret, John Hoppner, 1796

April 11,2016  |

maternal ideals

Transforming The Maternal Ideals Into The Social Idea

The Maternal Ideals of the Motherhood Constellation

Daniel N. Stern’s 1998 book The Motherhood Constellation has continued to exert a lasting influence on the field of child development. A recent article in Psychology Today cites portions of the book in describing the cognitive shift in priorities of expectant mothers as they prepare themselves emotionally, and socially, for the demanding role of motherhood. Stern asserts that all of the relationships in a mother’s life, including the relationship with her own mother, have an effect on her ability to successfully care for her child.

His theory addresses four basic elements of successful parenting. One of those elements is referred to as “identity reorganization”. This term is used to refer to the mother’s ability to imagine herself as a mother and shift her priorities towards meeting the responsibilities of motherhood. Research suggests that identity is constantly being reconstructed according to changing motivational goals.

Six recognized motivational goals are

  • self-esteem,
  • self-efficacy,
  • continuity,
  • distinctiveness,
  • belonging, and
  • meaning.

Identity is also shaped through meaningful social interaction.
Identity reorganization has an effect on the other themes, which include the level of concern for the development of the baby, her level of connection to the child after it is born, and her social system of support. That social support system is what Donald Winnicott referred to as ” the holding environment”, in which an expectant mother can develop her future maternal behavior. Ideally, this environment consists of several experienced mothers and other adults who can provide encouragement and support as well as serving as positive role models for the development of positive maternal ideals.

This support system is especially important for teen mothers. One study investigating the concept of the motherhood constellation in the context of teen pregnancy found that one of the difficulties faced by teens becoming mothers was an overlap in developmental tasks. For example, mothering skills would have to be acquired at the same time as other difficult skills associated with young adulthood. While teen mothers often require more assistance as a result of this overlap, achieving that delicate balance can be difficult. Studies show a link between excessive grandparent involvement with a teen mother’s firstborn child and the teen having a second child more quickly.

Impact of Family Therapy on Maternal Ideals

An article from the Mental Health Journal is critical of the delay in incorporating the research findings into modern methods of family therapy. According to the author, family therapy is still too focused on the dyadic relationship between mother and child, rather than taking into account the many familial and community relationships that play an important role in child development.

Ideally, therapy for new mothers can help reshape the maternal ideal by offering a wider variety of possible examples of mothering for her to choose from, or avoid, in creating her own maternal ideal. The majority of infants in most cultures around the world are influenced and acculturated during their formative years by a number of significant caregivers in addition to their mothers. The influence of these caregivers, as well as the quality of their relationships with both mother and child, are often minimized by mental health professionals who continue to focus primarily on the maternal ideals reflected by the mother-child relationship.

According to author Patricia Minuchin,

“studies of the parent-child dyad…do not represent the child’s significant reality, especially after infancy”.

The child’s reality, rather, consists of the complete family and community that serve as the center of the child’s security. Many experts now believe that it is more beneficial to observe parents and babies within the context of interactions between the larger family unit to successfully diagnose potentially damaging patterns such as interference, undermining, exclusion or disengagement. Diagnosing such patterns is considered critically important in understanding and treating maladjustment.

One of the useful diagnostic tools that help reveal familial patterns is called Lausanne Trilogue Play, which utilizes information gained from body postures and affective signaling. In one study, researchers were able to document four distinct family alliance patterns, which they labelled disordered, collusive, stressed, and cooperative.

Therapy that focuses primarily on altering a single relationship, such as the mother-infant relationship, can potentially cause a negative ripple effect, such as increasing competition, within the larger family system.

Further research has also revealed the importance of considering the family’s cultural context when analyzing data, which in the case of bi-racial families, may include multiple cultural contexts. Patterns of engagement between grandparents and children can vary widely between, and even within, different cultural groups.

The Expansion of Maternal Ideals

Dr. Stern’s work has contributed significantly to the understanding of the importance of multiple relationships in healthy child development. Perhaps more importantly, by advocating the conscious development of healthy maternal ideals by all important caregivers in a child’s life, it has relieved mothers of the stress associated with the belief that they alone are responsible for their children’s well-being.

After his death in 2012 at the age of 78, a tribute in the Telegraph praised his efforts towards transforming maternal ideals into social ideals for the benefit of future generations.

149.W Mother with two children II.Oil on canevas, Egon Schiele 1915. Leopold Museum, Vienna (Austria). Inv.Nr 457, CC3.0

April 6,2016  |

family life after

Breast Cancer: How Diagnosis and Treatment Affects the Family After Diagnosis

Family Life After a Diagnosis of Breast Cancer

A diagnosis of cancer can affect both the patient and other members of the family in many different ways. Telling the family is often one of the most difficult aspects, and many women reported dreading taking this step. For those who have already lost a relative to cancer, the reaction of the family may be elevated from fear to terror. Those with elderly parents in delicate health themselves are often also reluctant to share their diagnosis. Ironically, this reluctance to upset family members so often experienced by women accustomed to being nurturers often places the patients who need the most support in the role of caretaker.

The initial response of most families upon first hearing the news is shock, followed by fear, sadness and sometimes, anger. Once the family has worked through these initial emotions, many women report an overwhelming degree of support. Some of the support takes the form of physical assistance, such as older children taking over some of the household chores, or family members sharing the responsibility of driving the patient to appointments.

The Effects of Treatment on Family Life After the Diagnosis

There are several treatments for breast cancer, including removal of the breast. One of those treatments is a process called ovaries ablation, which suppresses the production of estrogen by the ovaries. Estrogen, a natural hormone which plays a role in regulating cell growth, unfortunately also plays a role in the growth of cancer cells. Part of cancer treatment is the necessity of suppressing the production of estrogen. Patients who have already had children and don’t plan to have more sometimes choose to have an ovariectomy, in which the ovaries are removed through either traditional surgery or laparoscopic surgery, which is less invasive. Recent clinical trials found that disease- free survival rates for women under 50 were highest for those who received ovarian ablation as a treatment to prevent further tumors.

Patients who plan to have children in the future often choose to halt the production of estrogen temporarily through radiation treatments. To prevent a recurrence of cancer, standard treatment options include drugs such as tamoxifen, which affects estrogen receptors. Due to the extremely adverse physical effects of chemotherapy, efforts to develop new drugs that can be effective alternatives are ongoing. Side effects of current treatments include putting the patient at higher risk of future cardiovascular disease and osteoporosis.

Emotional Effects on Family Life After a Diagnosis

While necessary life-saving treatments have some physical side effects, they can also result in emotional side effects that can affect family life after treatment. Some physical side effects of ablation include hot flashes, night sweats, and mood swings. All of these side effects affect the patient’s emotional state, which in turn affect the family after treatment. In addition to the physical and hormonal challenges the patient faces, there is also an emotional impact on family life after a diagnosis of breast cancer.

Anxiety, fear, and depression are common responses to the threat of the loss of a loved one. Another common change to family life after a diagnosis of cancer is that family members become caretakers to varying degrees. The caretaker role increases stress levels, which can impair the immune system. Increasingly, health care professionals are recognizing the potentially adverse effects of prolonged emotional stress. In an effort to ensure the continued health of the entire family after a diagnosis of breast cancer, some have created coping and distress checklists for both patients and caregivers.

They have also developed a number of free online classes to help the family after a diagnosis of a life-threatening illness. Topics included effective communication, stress management, self-esteem, intimacy, and coping strategies. One of the most important sources of support for women facing breast cancer and the family after the diagnosis are the thousands of inspirational stories of other women who have successfully survived it. Many survivors have reported that the family after the experience was stronger and closer than ever.

Sources of Support

There are also a number of both national and international organizations and support groups available for breast cancer patients and their families, as well as cancer survivors and those who have lost a loved one to the disease. Cancer recognizes no national borders, and happily, nor does the compassion of the many individuals who work for organizations that help bring victims of the disease and their families together for mutual support and healing.

One survivor reported learning some valuable life lessons through her experience in successfully battling cancer. While she lost her job as the result of the lengthy treatments, she listed many of the things she felt she had gained. Among them were the ability to stand up and advocate for herself, and a heightened appreciation of health family, friends and life itself. She now runs a small non-profit volunteer organization that raises funds for cancer research. She also didn’t allow cancer to rob her of her sense of humor, judging by the name of her blog, which you can read at www.insertboobshere.com.

family life after
The Van Moerkerken Family, Gerard ter Borch the Younger, Dutch, , ca. 1653–54, Credit Line The Jack and Belle Linsky Colle

April 4,2016  |

social change for women

How Information Can Accelerate the Elimination of Gender Inequality

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

–Mahnaz Afkhami

Positive Social Change for Women in the 21st Century

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

The Importance of Information

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Examples of Current Gender Inequality

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

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

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

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

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

March 29,2016  |

infant and child psychoanalyst

Human Growth and Development: It’s a Life-long Process

”These small moments, rather than the traumatic or dramatic moments of a baby’s life, make up the bulk of the expectations that adults bring to their relationships.”

–Daniel N. Stern

Controversy Surrounding Infant and Child Psychoanalyst Daniel N. Stern

Have you ever wondered what it would be like to have a view inside the mind of a pre-verbal child? Infant and child psychoanalyst Daniel N. Stern’s 1985 book, “The Interpersonal World Of The Infant: A View from Psychoanalysis and Developmental Psychology”attempts to give readers just that. The theories presented in the book disputed the widely accepted theories of Freud regarding child developmental stages, and sparked a great deal of controversy.

Shortly after its publication, a 1986 article in the New York Times announced that the journal of Contemporary Psychoanalysis would devote an entire issue to comments about the book. Psychologist Louise Kaplan called his hypotheses unverified and unsupported by research, while psychologist Stanley Spiegel declared that it would be the most influential book on psychoanalytic theory of the decade.

Relevant Contributions of Infant and Child Psychoanalyst Daniel Stern

Among the controversial contributions of infant and child psychoanalyst Daniel Stern to the field of child psychology is the term “proto-narrative envelope”, which he believed contains organized experience in the structure of a non-verbal narrative consisting of perceptions. According to psychologist Felix Guattari, Stern’s work demonstrates that child development is not a matter of Freudian stages, but of what he calls levels of subjectivation. Subjectivation is a term used to describe the process of individuation, or the creation of a separate subject, or self.

Stern’s research provided evidence that infants are born with the capacity for mental organization and the ability to link sensory experiences. When new-born infants were asked questions, their answers were physical responses, such as turning their heads and looking. They were also able to generalize and recognize differences. It was this ability that caused Stern to question the idea of fixed developmental stages and to theorize that trauma can affect anyone similarly at any stage of life.

Research Studies of Infant and Child Psychoanalyst Daniel J. Stern

Stern’s research consisted in part of filming the interactions between mothers and their children and analyzing the films extensively. In one study, he videotaped three-hour sessions of the interactions between a mother and her infant twin sons until they were 15 months old. While analyzing the films, he detected a difference in how the mother maintained eye contact with one of the twins compared to the other. With one twin, when the baby averted it’s face, she immediately re-established eye contact, which often resulted in the baby crying. With the other, she allowed the baby to choose to re-establish eye contact. By age 15 months, Dr. Stern noted that the twin with whom the mother had forced eye contact seemed more fearful and dependent, averting his face when he wanted to break eye contact, while the other continued smiling while looking upward to do so.

Stern’s studies, observations and research led him to conclude that small daily exchanges between parent and child can shape the child’s relationship patterns in later life. He believed the same to be true for fathers as well as any adult spending prolonged periods of time with an infant.

Recommendations Resulting from Infant and Child Psychoanalyst Studies

Stern’s theory posits that rather than phases of development, life consists of a long continuum of small, yet important, interactions. He recommends that mothers “match” their children’s physical and emotional communications in order to provide them with a sense of being understood and connected. For example, when an infant squeals in delight, the mother might echo that sentiment by matching its pitch in her response.

This sense of feeling understood and validated helps promote individuation and autonomy. According to Stern, autonomy begins with small acts, such as a baby averting its eyes of face to express displeasure, which infants are capable of at about 4 months. Another important step in autonomy is gaining the ability to walk away at about 12 months, and to say no at about 14 months.

In response to critics who felt that his findings placed additional pressure on parents, Stern offered reassurance that while the psychological imprints of these early interactions are important, they are not irrevocable.

“Relationships throughout life – with friends or relatives, for example – or in psychotherapy continually reshape your working model of relationships. An imbalance at one point can be corrected later; there is no crucial period early in life – it’s an on-going, life-long process.”

Since parents, no matter how great their love, how good their intentions or how much expert advice from an infant and child psychoanalyst they follow, will always be imperfect human beings, this is welcome news indeed.

 infant and child psychoanalyst

March 28,2016  |

abortion and social change

Abortion: The Controversy Continues, but Women’s Vision Remains the Same

Abortion and Social Change Around the World

Abortion has always been a controversial subject as well as practice. Historically, whether abortion was legal or not, women who were unprepared to become mothers, either financially or emotionally, have attempted to end their pregnancies. The largest difference legalization of abortion has made is that fewer women have died during the process.

In the United States, prior to the famous Roe v. Wade Supreme Court decision that granted women the right to safe and legal abortion, 5,000 of the estimated 200,000 to 1.2 million women who received illegal and unsafe abortions each year died. Their deaths were often due to complications such as infections arising from non-sterile facilities or hemorrhages caused by the lack of professional medical expertise. Despite legal and medical advances in many developed countries, almost half of all abortions performed worldwide are still unsafe.

As of 2013,

  • unrestricted abortion is legal in only 61 countries
  • 66 countries forbid abortion except in extreme cases in order to save the mother’s life
  • 59 countries permit abortions for reasons related to the mother’s overall health
  • 13 countries permit abortion for socioeconomic reasons.

Abortion and Social Change Throughout History

Abortion has been practiced since ancient times. The abortifacient herb silphium, was in such high demand in ancient Greek society that it became extinct. Other techniques for ending unwanted pregnancies included abdominal pressure, strenuous activity, girdles, fasting, and even bloodletting.

During the Middle Ages, many plants, herbs, and unusual concoctions were believed to be reliable ways to effectively end a pregnancy. Even crushed ants and camel saliva were recommended for this purpose.

In the ancient Caledonian society of 1760 B.C. , women were fined for having miscarriages, the amount of the fine depending upon their social status, with the specific amounts for each social class listed in the Code of Hammurabi. Although the first recorded case of induced abortion was in Egypt in 1550 B.C. men continued to exert control over the process. According to the laws of Assyria in 1075 B.C., a woman could receive the death penalty for receiving an abortion against her husband’s wishes.

During the Middle Ages, many plants, herbs, and unusual concoctions were believed to be reliable ways to effectively end a pregnancy. Even crushed ants and camel saliva were recommended for this purpose. Throughout history, rates of abortion have risen during times of economic hardship. For example, Japanese documents from the 12th century show a rise in the number of abortions during a period of famine.

The Controversy Surrounding Abortion and Social Change

The debate regarding the morality of abortion has existed as long as abortion itself and continues the be a source of social and political division regarding abortion and social change. Many people believe that the debate reflects the lesser value placed on women’s rights as well as their lives. For example, the ancient Greek philosopher Aristotle believed that the male human embryo gained a human soul at 40 days, while the female human embryo didn’t gain one until 90 days.

The question of at what point an embryo becomes a human being is still being debated, but a general consensus has been reached that late-term abortions are morally objectionable. As a result of this consensus, a number of laws have been passed restricting late-term abortions, with some states requiring that they be performed within the first 20 weeks of pregnancy.

Additional Issues Surrounding Abortion

Governments have historically used abortion laws as a tool for population control. For example, the Russian Soviet Federative Socialist Republic was among the first governments to legalize abortion in 1920. However, in 1936, Joseph Stalin, in order to encourage population growth, which some believe was for military purposes, banned abortion, and it remained illegal until 1955. The United States is currently facing a similar decline in population growth.

Other issues in the controversy surrounding abortion and social change cases of rape and incest which result in pregnancy. The religious beliefs of many people hold that all human life is sacred, even if that potential life is the result of a violent act. Further, they believe that abortion itself is a violent act, and that the rights of the unborn must be defended.

Others believe that denying women abortions is a violation of their basic human rights, which should include reproductive rights and control over their own bodies.

An important aspect of abortion and social change is the development of increasingly effective birth control methods that successfully reduce the need for abortions. There is a great deal of evidence that long-lasting and effective birth control methods such as intrauterine devices and hormonal implants, which don’t require daily monitoring, can successfully prevent millions of abortions. In cases of rape and incest , the “morning after pill“, which has become available over-the-counter in the U.S., can prevent pregnancy.

Even a safe and legal abortion is often the most emotionally traumatic choice a woman ever has to make. Although their beliefs may differ, all women envision a future in which all children are valued and are able to provide adequately for them.

abortion and social change

March 22,2016  |

social change for mothers

The Evolution of Motherhood: The Next Generation

Has Technology Created Positive Social Change for Mothers ?

Motherhood as we know it began two million years ago with the emergence of homo erectus. Anthropologist Sarah Hrdy believes that one of the distinguishing features of human mothers in comparison to other primates was that of allowing others to care for their children, which is termed “alloparenting”. Child expert Pinky McKay believes that technological advances will never replace the emotional and educational benefits provided to children by the active involvement of extended family and a supportive community.

Advances in technology have resulted in the potential for an unprecedented amount of positive social change for mothers. However, societies have been slow to implement policies that fully realize that potential. A 2012 study funded by Proctor & Gamble and carried out by Galaxy Research sought to determine how much social change for mothers has resulted from technological advances. An online survey of 1,006 mothers with children aged 16 or younger throughout Australia revealed some surprising results.

Social Change for Mothers and Time

Surprisingly, regarding the question of whether modern technology has increased the amount of time that mothers have to themselves, the answer was a resounding “no”. In fact, the majority of respondents felt that they had the same amount or less time to themselves than their mothers had while raising them, even with the benefit of modern conveniences. The economic necessity of employment outside the home in addition to their parenting responsibilities was cited as the number one reason.

These findings reflect those of another study conducted by Eileen Trauth, a professor of Information Sciences at Penn State University. After interviewing 200 women, she concluded that mothers need as much social support today as they ever have. She also believes that such support should come in the form of improved parental leave policies for parents, retraining programs for those who temporarily leave the workforce to care for children, and more work- at- home options.

Multi-tasking- A Potential Negative Social Change for Mothers

Developments in technology have made it possible for women to attend online classes and professional conferences from their smart phones. However, while these developments have resulted in allowing women to spend more time with their children, it has also resulted in constant multi-tasking. Although they may be physically present with their children more, their attention is often divided. Additionally, the full benefits of technology, such as flexible schedules that allow women to work after their children are asleep, are still offset by women assuming the majority of housework in addition to their professional and childcare duties.

According to the P&G survey, mothers reported being able to spend an average of two hours and twenty minutes per day with their children, and most reported experiencing guilt as a result. The encouraging news is that 46% of them felt that it was more time than their own mothers had been able to spend with them as children. 78% of mothers also reported parenting differently than their own mothers, with 34% describing their style as more relaxed and 29% describing theirs as more nurturing.

Social Change for Mothers and Increasing Social Pressure

Another article points out that today’s mothers often face far more social pressure than mothers of previous generations. One reason is because according to the Pew Research Center the number of stay-at-home mothers in 1970 was still 40%, while by 1997, that number had shrunk to just 23%. In 2012, that number increased to 29%, but experts believe that this was the result of the difficulty in finding work due to the extended economic recession that continues to affect a number of countries.

While women still bear a greater responsibility for child care and household chores in addition to working outside the home, today’s mothers report that an increasing number of fathers are participating more in child care. 70% of respondents in the study reported that they received help from the children’s fathers and 21% received additional assistance from the children’s grandmothers. Sadly, 16% reported receiving no child care assistance from anyone.

Resources to Prevent Isolation

87% of modern mothers in the study reported experiencing feelings of isolation, with 36% reporting feeling that way every day. There is nothing as beneficial as talking with other mothers to help ease that sense of isolation. In fact, many mothers reported that their relationships with other mothers were among their primary sources of emotional support. Feeling a sense of isolation is so common that many mothers use social media to share tips for overcoming it with new mothers.

There are also a number of national and international support groups specifically designed for mothers to prevent social isolation. Other benefits include sharing resources, such as personal recommendations for safe dependable child care. Experts advise mothers-to-be to find and join a group even before the baby arrives. While online support groups can serve as a springboard for meeting other mothers, modern technology will never be able to replace the human hug as the most ideal form of understanding and encouragement.

social change for mothers
House Post Figure, 19thC, Indonesia, Papua, Kabiterau, Sentani people Credit Line The Michael C. Rockefeller Memorial Col

March 21,2016  |

child slavery

Child Slavery: Raising Awareness Can Stop It

Child Labor in Modern Society

In 1999, the International Labor Organization, which created ILO Convention 182, which defined the worst forms of child labor. The convention was ratified by 180 countries as of October 2015. The worst forms of child labor include slavery, trafficking of children, debt and other forms of bondage, forced or compulsory labor, including recruitment for military purposes, prostitution, production of pornography, being used by adults in the commission of crime such as theft or drug trafficking or any work likely to harm the health, safety or morals of children.

According to 2015 World Report on Child Labor from International Labor Organization, 168 million children remain trapped in child labor. Of that number, 47.5 million are youth aged 15-17 performing hazardous work.

Despite ratification of the convention, according to the 2015 World Report on Child Labor, 168 million children remain trapped in child labor, although the number has declined from the 246 million in the year 2000. Of that number, 47.5 million are youth aged 15-17 performing hazardous work. Asia and the Pacific constitute the highest number at 78 million or 9.3%, but Sub-Saharan African countries report the highest incidence per capita at 59 million or 21%, followed by 9.2 million or 8.4% in the Middle East and North Africa and 13 million or 8.8% in Latin America and the Caribbean. 59% of all child slavery occurs in the field of agriculture.

The Long-lasting Effects of Child Labor

Evidence from countries where data is available consistently show that involvement in child labor results in lower educational attainment and a reduction in the likelihood of obtaining future work that provides more than basic subsistence. For those who fall victim to forms of child slavery other than agriculture, the long-term effects can be even more devastating.

For example, it is estimated that one million children in Africa, Latin America, Europe, and Asia are forced to work in unregulated mines. From as young as the age of three, when bones are still forming, many suffer from bone deformities caused by carrying heavy loads.

Exposure to chemicals and dust cause permanent damage to the respiratory and nervous system and these children have no access to either healthcare or education.

According to a recent article in the Business Times, Anti-Slavery International reports that there are approximately 300,000 child soldiers in more than 30 conflict-ridden places around the world. These child soldiers are forced to kill or be killed by those who tear them away from their families. In many cases, even the few children who survive, rather than being liberated from their captors, themselves face war tribunals and imprisonment.

Girls are particularly vulnerable to commercial sexual exploitation for profit and unpaid domestic service. Young women, often victims of child slavery, are often arrested for prostitution and fined or imprisoned. A criminal record further reduces their ability to find other work and escape their owners. There are many examples of child slavery in which children are abducted and sold at such a young age that they never learn that any other way of life exists. In the United States, there are an estimated 50,000 domestic slaves, and it is estimated that up to 17,500 more are brought into the country each year. Most are kept hidden and remain completely dependent upon their captors.

Even boys are often subjected to being forced into prostitution in the underworld of child slavery. An internal investigation for UNICEF revealed evidence of young boys being sexually exploited by men in Kabul and other regions of Afghanistan. Further, they found that police officers and other men in positions of political power, including Western visitors, often participated in the practice.

Positive Actions People Can Take to Stop Child Slavery and Labor

According to one article, one of the most important ways the average person can help stop the practice of child slavery is through exercising their consumer power. That means researching the business practices of companies and boycotting those who profit from any form of child labor. This can be difficult to achieve. For example, in 2010 an undercover BBC journalist discovered that the cocoa industry participated in child slavery, and that even chocolate stamped with a Fair trade seal may not in fact be child-labor-free. However, increasing consumer awareness is an important step towards putting companies that save labor costs by utilizing child labor out of business.

The Institute for Humane Education offers additional tips, resources and suggestions. Among those suggestions is putting pressure on retailers to hold wholesalers more accountable for their business practices. More customers demanding the Fair Trade Label on products has already resulted in some positive changes.

The CIRCLE (Community-based Innovations for the Reduction of Child Labor through Education) organization believes that through best practices consisting of awareness, education, advocacy and investment, it is possible to eliminate the human tragedy of child slavery.

child slavery
Children road workers near Rishikesh, India, by Paul Rudd, CC2.0

March 15,2016  |