family life on the street

Child Homelessness: A Modern Crisis

“We think sometimes that poverty is only being hungry, naked and homeless. The poverty of being unwanted, unloved and uncared for is the greatest poverty. We must start in our own homes to remedy this kind of poverty.”

–Mother Teresa

In 2005, the United Nations attempted a global survey to determine the number of homeless children in the world, the results of which estimated that 100 million people were homeless worldwide. Tobias Hecht‘s 1998 book,At Home in the Street: Street Children of Northeast Brazil study takes readers behind the headlines and statistics into the day to day experience of family life on the street. While this book is the result of a three year study from 1992-1995 in Brazil, the tragedy of child homelessness continues today, and it is not confined to undeveloped or “third world” countries.

In a 2014 article, Newsweek reported child homelessness in the U.S., one of the world’s wealthiest countries, had reached an all-time high. A shocking 2.5 million children, or one in 30, experienced homelessness in 2013, an 8% increase over 2012. According to an article in the Guardian, the number of homeless in London increased by 75% in 2014 and by 26% nationally over the last four years. In France, 2012 saw a 50% increase in homeless people, 30,000 of which were children. In Australia, 12% of the 105,000 people reported as homeless in 2009 were children under the age of 12.

Family Life On The Streets

In some countries, such as the U.S. , child homelessness is largely the result of systemic poverty and the lack of affordable housing. As of 2014, 1.5 million families in Spain were living in shelters. In other countries, it is the result of natural disasters. For example, in 2012, severe flooding in Cameroon left 25,000 people homeless. In Haiti, 2.3 million people were left homeless by an earthquake in 2010.

Child homelessness can also be the result of political oppression and war, exemplified by the current situation of thousands of Syrian refugees. Similarly, according to a recent article in the Telegraph, political conflict in the Ukraine has left an estimated 1 million people homeless.

Dangers and Effects of Living On The Street

The dangers of life on the street are many. In addition to physical danger, life without stable housing poses social and psychological dangers as well. An undercover reporter for the BBC exposed some of those dangers in a 2014 article about his brief experiences as a homeless person on the streets of Belfast. Families for whom homeless is prolonged are exposed to much more.

One of the biggest dangers of family life on the street is vulnerability to violent crime, including theft of the family’s few remaining possessions. Child trafficking for purposes of labor, sex, or the harvesting of organs is also a perpetual possibility among this most vulnerable population. 2012 statistics from the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime reported a 7% increase in child trafficking over three years. Of the estimated 4 million instances of human trafficking each year, 50% of the victims are children.

The physical dangers of family life on the street include a much higher potential for death from disease. The stress associated with homelessness weakens the immune system, and combined with the lack of access to proper hygiene, results in more illness. In many countries, the large number of homeless has begun to pose a national health concern, with communicable diseases like tuberculosis on the rise. Research shows that family life on the street also results in higher instances of mental health and substance abuse issues.

Some of the mental health issues caused by family life on the street include depressive disorders. 47% of homeless women in the U.S. were found to suffer from such disorders, which is twice the rate of the national average. The frequent moves associated with family life on the street also impairs the development of children’s social skills and often results in PTSD and attachment disorders. The lack of stability also disrupts education and negatively impacts academic achievement.

Alternative Solutions

Family life on the street has increased in nearly every country around the world in recent years. In response to this growing crisis, many governments are developing and implementing social programs or expanding existing ones. Some of them have already achieved a remarkable degree of success. For example, Scotland, as the result of homelessness prevention services, achieved a 34% reduction in the number of homeless people from 2010 to 2014. Their success is attributed to a housing option model and changes in legislation by local authorities.

According to a 2011 survey, Finland’s strategy reduced homelessness by 50% compared to rates in the 1980’s. The success of their program has been attributed to the conversion of homeless shelters to permanent housing. The program combines elements of existing programs in the U.S. and U.K. with preventative measures such as financial guidance, debt settlement, and psycho-social case management. Through the continued exchange of ideas, perhaps one day the horror of child homelessness can be eradicated.

family life on the street
Saudade de Nápoles (Missing Naples). Painting by Bertha Worms, 1895, Pinacoteca Sao Paulo, Google Art project

March 14,2016  |

nurturing placenta

The Placenta: The Source of all Human Life

“The beautiful life-giving placenta is given back to the earth to continue is life-giving journey. Family and friends can be invited and a libation can be given to the ancestors. Thank the spirit guides and the placenta for protecting the child”.

–West African quote

The Role of the Nurturing Placenta in Celebrating the Miracle of Birth

Throughout history, in many cultures, the nurturing placenta, one of the miracles that makes life possible, has played an important part in rituals and ceremonies celebrating the birth of life. For example, in Indonesian culture, and many others, the placenta is believed to be a protective link between the child and the earth. Fathers are responsible for either burying the placenta near home to endure that the child remains close to the family, or taking it to sea to ensure travel and a wide perspective.

Regarded as sacred, some cultures believed its nurturing properties prevented bleeding, depression and other ailments associated with childbirth. Others, such as those in Russia and China, have used it as medicine to treat fatigue and infertility. Some cultures practice the ritual of placentophagy, in which the placenta is eaten. According to one article, the nurturing placenta is the mother of us all.

Functions of the Nurturing Placenta

The nurturing placenta, named for the Latin word for “cake” is a pancake-shaped organ that connects the developing fetus to the uterine wall. It serves many other functions as well. In addition to providing oxygen and vital nutrients, it also eliminates waste through a process called diffusion. Using IgG antibodies, it fights infections, provides immunities and produces essential hormones.

Human chorionic gonadotropin is the hormone that prevents spontaneous abortion. Progesterone serves to help the embryo pass through the fallopian tubes and implant successfully. It also stimulates an increase in secretions for fetal nutrition. Estrogen is crucial for growth of the fetus and production of milk after the birth of the baby as well as increasing the blood supply.

Development of the Nurturing Placenta

The placenta develops in layers from a single blastocyst The outer layer of the blastocyst becomes the trophoblast, and forms the outer layer of the placenta. This outer layer is further divided into two more layers called the cytotrophoblas and the syncytiotrophoblast layers. The syncytiotrophoblas covers the surface of the placenta.

The average fully developed placenta measures approximately 22 cm (9 inch) in length and 2–2.5 cm (0.8–1 inch) in thickness. It is thickest in the center and thinnest around the edges. Crimson in color, it weighs just over one pound or 500 grams. The 55-60 cm (22 to 24 inches) umbilical cord is developed by the nurturing placenta to connect mother and child through the chorionic plate. Maternal blood begins circulating through the placenta towards the end of the first trimester of pregnancy, coming into contact with the fetal chorion. Deoxygenated fetal blood passes through umbilical arteries to the placenta, where it is oxygenated and carried to the baby through the umbilical vein.

From Nurturing Placenta to Afterbirth

The process of placental expulsion, the final stage of delivery doesn’t begin until 15 to 30 minutes after the birth of the child. In some traditions, it is customary for the father of the child to make the symbolic gesture of cutting the umbilical cord.

For many years, in Western cultures, the attending doctor cut the cord immediately after birth. However, that practice is slowly changing as new parents move towards more holistic and traditional methods of childbirth, such as the use of doulas or midwives, rather than hospital births. A practice called “lotus birth” in which the umbilical cord is not cut at all is gaining popularity. Even without cutting the cord, the placenta would fall away naturally within a day or two.

According to one article, some experts believe that because the area around the umbilical cord seals itself about an hour after birth, by not clamping and cutting the cord, newborns can get one last beneficial transfusion of blood from the nurturing placenta. Placental blood is rich in stem cells and immunoglobulin that helps fight infections.

Today’s parents have the benefit of combining age-old natural wisdom and modern medical technology to make childbirth the safest and best experience possible.

nurturing placenta
Wooden placenta bowl, Maori, New Zealand,1890-1925 Science Museum A6697, #L0064825

March 8,2016  |

family life and prison

Family Life and Prison: Changing Statistics Through Kindness

“Although the world is full of suffering, it is full also of the overcoming of it.”

-Helen Keller

Family Life and Prison: An Increasingly Common Phenomenon

Virtually every country uses incarceration as a consequence for having committed a crime. In recent years, as the result of a number of factors including the war on drugs and the increasing economic gap between the rich and the poor, incarceration rates have begun to rise in most countries. In some countries, the increase in the number of incarcerated citizens has been substantial.

For example, in the U.S., 698 of every 100,000 people are currently incarcerated, exceeded only by Seychelles at 799 per 100,000. As of 2013, there were 2.7 million, or one in 28, children in the U.S. with a parent in prison. Over 14,000 of those children enter the foster care system each year. A 2011 study estimated that 800,000 children in the European Union (EU) experience separation from an incarcerated parent each year. In Russia, the ratio is 445 of every 100,000 people. Australia’s ratio is 151 of every 100,000 , while the Netherlands is at 75 per 100,000.

Many countries, such as Cambodia, Mexico, Turkey and Argentina, allow children to live in prison with their mothers until the age of 6. Russia requires children of prisoners to be placed in child care facilities attached to the prisons, with parents given regular access. Other countries, such as Norway and Australia, have residential units for female prisoners with young children. In the United States, very few prisons allow children to remain with their mothers, and those that do, only for 18 months. Despite differing ratios, geographic locations, and policies, the combination of family life and prison have similar negative effects on children worldwide.

Family Life and Prison—An Incompatible Combination

According to a 2009 report by the National Conference of State Legislatures acknowledges the importance of maintaining family contact to the well-being of children as well as to the post-release success of prisoners. However, according to Bureau of Justice Statistics, in U.S. state prisons, only 12.3 percent of fathers and 14.6 percent of mothers received visits from a child once a month, while fifty-nine percent of fathers and 58 percent of mothers received no visits.

Some of the reasons for infrequent contact include barriers such as prison rules and prisons being located too far away for family members to travel. American prisons also commonly charge excessive fees for telephone calls that might help maintain regular communication between family members. Long waits, body frisks, and crowded waiting rooms with no activities for children are also factors. Often, the other parent wants to sever ties with the prisoner.

Effects of Family Life and Prison on Children

In addition to the emotional trauma of being deprived of consistent contact with an imprisoned parent, children of incarcerated parents are at higher risk for a number of other health concerns. A study designed to examine the effects of having an incarcerated parent on the health of children found that they suffered higher rates of attention deficits, behavioral problems, speech, language and other developmental delays. Another study found that they had higher rates of anxiety, depression, obesity, and asthma.

A parent in prison can also affect a child’s future education. According to a 2013 report, in the U.S., only 1 to 2 percent of students with incarcerated mothers and 13 to 25 percent of students with imprisoned fathers graduate from college. A member of the family going to prison is considered one of the “adverse childhood experiences” that contribute to potentially life-long significant health, educational, and social problems for children.

Family life and prison causes children to struggle with feelings of anger and shame associated with social stigma. Grieving the loss of a positive role model, they often fear growing up to be incarcerated themselves.

The caretaking parent is often faced with financial difficulty due to the loss of a second income. Increased poverty leads to increased stress, which can also lead to angry and aggressive behaviors that can further negatively impact the child.

Family Life and Prison: Challenges Upon Release

The effects of parental incarceration on children continue after the release of the parent from prison. Reuniting with family members after a long separation is difficult. Children have grown and changed and have often formed relationships with other adult parental figures during their absence. The caretaking parent during the incarceration may feel protective and be hesitant to allow the child to re-establish a relationship for fear of future similar abandonment. Such conflicts between adults often add to a child’s stress.

Fortunately, there are some sources of support for children of incarcerated parents and their families. One organization even created a series of educational tools designed specifically to help children deal more effectively with the emotional issues surrounding family life and prison. One uses the popular Sesame Street characters in a children’s story which reflects the realities of these children’s lives in a kind, supportive way to help them feel less socially isolated and ashamed. Every kindness is a preventative measure that eases the pain of these innocents.

family life and prison
End of the World prison, by Lius Argerich, cc2.0

March 7,2016  |

social change for single sex parents

How Same Sex Parents Contribute to Positive Social Change

Statistics Reflect Social Change for Same Sex Parents

The latest statistics from the Pew Research Center show that of the 15 countries worldwide to permit gay men and lesbians to marry, eight have done so since 2010. Six in ten Americans now say homosexuality should be accepted by society, up from 49% in 2007. In 2010, the first year that the census began counting same sex couples, the total number of same sex households in the U.S. was 901,997, still under 1%. However, the number of same sex couples living together in the U.S. has increased by 345% in the last decade. The number increased by 90% in the U.K., where there were 69,000 same sex couples living together in 2012. According to the Office of National Statistics, 12,000 of those are parents.

The 2013 New Zealand census reported 11,220 same sex couples, with slightly more females than males. In Australia, one in ten same-sex couples had children living with them. In Canada, the 2006 census reported 45,300 same-sex couples. One website devoted to global gay family issues reports that world-wide, a greater number of female same sex couples have children living with them than male couples. On average, same sex couples also have fewer children.

The Law and Social Change for Same Sex Parents

One of the most important ways social change for same sex parents is reflected is by changes in the laws, many of which, until recently, criminalized homosexuality. Governments, while taking into consideration the traditional religious beliefs of their citizens, have begun granting homosexual couples the same civil and legal rights as heterosexual couples. For example, in New Zealand, civil unions were legalized in 2004, and gay marriage in 2013. This demonstrates that most societies require a number of years to become comfortable with social change for same sex couples.

In addition to laws regarding marriage, other laws restricting homosexual couples from having and raising children are also being changed.

For example, in 2008, the U.K. removed legal barriers to lesbian couples receiving fertility treatments. Additionally, gay adoption is also now legal in the UK.

Other countries that have legalized gay adoption include Sweden, Belgium, Argentina, Spain, and Iceland. In the United States, only 19 states allow same sex couples to adopt, while six states still forbid same sex couples from adopting or even becoming foster parents.

These laws reflect a lingering belief by many that homosexuality is linked to child molestation, which a large body of research has refuted. These beliefs resulted in laws forbidding homosexuals from becoming teachers in many countries. Those laws, too, are slowly changing.

The Effects of Social Change for Single Sex Parents on Families

There have been several research studies that have attempted to measure the effects on children of being raised by same sex parents. However, the results of those studies have often been contradictory, a phenomenon which can be attributed in part to funding sources and political agendas. For example, according to one of the world’s largest studies on same-sex parenting, children being raised by same-sex couples are thriving. This study of 500 children in Australia found that for overall health and family cohesion, children of same sex couples scored higher than the national average. The lead researcher of the study, Dr. Simon Crouch, theorized that this could be attributed to the families having to cope with social bullying. According to one study, 70 percent of gay and lesbian students in the state of Queensland, Australia experienced bullying from both students and teachers.

Another article points to a different study involving 512 children of same-sex couples, which concluded that children from same-sex households were more at risk for a number of problems such as depression, anxiety and attention deficit disorder. This study was conducted by D. Paul Sullins, who is a sociology professor at The Catholic University of America in Washington, D.C. It cites statistics showing that only 4 percent of children who live with both biological parents experience emotional problems, with the figure rising to 10 percent for children living with only one biological parent, and to 21 percent of those living with no biological parents.

According to the study, 19 percent of children living with same sex parents experienced ADHD or learning disabilities, compared to 10 percent of children living in opposite-sex households. Other studies have shown that adopted children with no biological relationship to either parent also face a higher risk for emotional or behavioral problems.

While results of studies may differ, social change for same sex parents points to one very important change that benefits all of humanity–the elimination of social bullying. For many years, one of the arguments against same sex couples raising children was that it was unfair to expose them to the damaging effects of potential schoolyard taunts and social exclusion. Individuals and societies are beginning to refuse to participate in social bullying or allow it to determine their life choices. Jodie Foster and Robert DeNiro are among the successful people raised by same sex parents, and who advocate for continued positive social change.

social change for singe sex parents
Sleep Like a Baby, by Peasap, Flickr CC.2

March 1,2016  |

parental objectives

Parental Objectives and Designer Babies: Fooling Mother Nature or Accelerated Evolution?

“There is no time, to wait for Darwinian evolution, to make us more intelligent, and better natured. But we are now entering a new phase, of what might be called, self-designed evolution, in which we will be able to change and improve our DNA. With genetic engineering, we will be able to increase the complexity of our DNA, and improve the human race. “

–Steven Hawking

Parental Objectives for Designer Babies

The history of designer babies is a relatively short one, beginning when baby Jessica, who was conceived using the in vitro fertilization process, was born on August 13th, 1996. Parental objectives for utilizing the miracles made possible by science are as varied as the individuals. In this case, the parental objectives included choosing the sex of the child. In the 2000 case of Lisa and Jack Nash, their daughter Molly suffered from a bone marrow deficiency caused by a genetic disorder.

They “designed” their son Adam by choosing embryos that proved to be a perfect tissue match to be a bone marrow donor for Molly. Using stem cells from his umbilical cord, doctors were able to replace life-saving bone marrow. Parental objectives regarding designer babies have been the subject of a great deal of controversy. In addition to religion objections, a number of moral, ethical and legal questions have been raised regarding this issue.

One example of legal restrictions was demonstrated by the case of a British couple with a 4-year-old son named Charlie. Charlie had a rare condition requiring regular blood transfusions, and needed a bone marrow transplant. Britain’s Human Fertilization and Embryology Authority denied them permission to utilize in vitro fertilization. They then sought treatment at the Reproductive Genetics Institute in the United States, where genetic engineering is largely unregulated.

Ethical Considerations

According to one article, one of the questions raised is whether it is ethical for parents to choose specific embryos to have a child that can serve as a donor for another child. Many have questioned whether it should be legal, and many countries do have strict laws surrounding the use of science to influence the creation of children. Another question is whether designer babies could potentially adversely affect society by creating a group of people with unnatural advantages over their peers. Others have raised the possibility of genetic engineering reducing the necessary degree of variation within the gene pool to ensure continued evolution of our species.

Scientists argue that genetic engineering will make it possible to eliminate the suffering caused by genetic disorders and hereditary diseases. Additionally, they believe that rather than decreasing genetic variation, it will increase it more rapidly that nature alone. The most common parental objectives for genetic engineering is to ensure that they are able to produce a healthy child. Another increasingly common objective is to choose the sex of the child.

Scientific Advances in Genetic Engineering

There are now medical facilities that advertise the ability for parents to choose their child’s gender as well as offering screening for hereditary diseases. A new process called Preimplantation Genetic Diagnosis (PGD) has made it possible to determine the gender of the child with a success rate of 99.9%. In this process, the mother’s eggs are fertilized with the father’s sperm in a laboratory. Only a healthy embryos of the desired gender is implanted in the mother. Other healthy embryos can be frozen for potential future use. Several eggs are extracted from the mother by our doctors, sperm is supplied by the father.

It is now possible to screen for a great number of hereditary diseases. The process called the aneuploidy (abnormal chromosome count) detects some genetic abnormalities, such as Down’s Syndrome, Turner’s syndrome, and Kleinfelder’s syndrome. This process, combined with choosing the gender of the child costs approximately $17,000. Complete screening processes combined with donor services can cost as much as $30,000.

Parental Objectives and the Rise in Fertility Tourism

Strict regulation in many other countries has resulted in what is called “fertility tourism. Many prospective European parents go to the United States because of the lax regulations and the high success rates. Ironically, Americans often choose to go to India or Asia due to the high cost coupled with lower wages. Many women are confronted by the decrease in fertility that accompanies the aging process after spending years achieving the level of pay necessary to support a child.

Professional women for whom it is necessary to undergo in vitro fertilization to become pregnant has become increasingly common. In fact, it has become so common that recently Apple and Facebook began covering the costs of their female employees extracting and freezing their eggs. There have been mixed reactions to this news, with supporters saying that it will help women balance their careers and family lives and those who oppose accusing the companies of devaluing family life to retain workers longer.

Whatever the parental objectives or the ethical considerations, genetic engineering is here to stay. That’s why it’s important that as a global society, we must shape its direction through education and discussion, rather than allowing it to shape ours.

parental objectives
What Happened to Baby Jane, by Doug Bowman, Flickr cc2.0

February 29,2016  |

parental differences

Parenting Without Borders: How Parents can Benefit from the Global Village

“I think some things have fallen off our radar like the idea that it’s okay to have children feel interdependent with you. Like you are there for them but they are also there for you. That doesn’t have to mean that you are stifling them – it’s a very rich way to live in harmony with other people and that is an idea that I saw carried out in the societies where children are thriving the most on objective measures of well-being.”

 –Christine Gross-Loh

Child Well-Being—Economics and Parental Differences

According to UNICEF, some of the objective measures used to determine overall child well- being include material well-being, health and safety, education, behaviors and risks, and housing and environment. Surprisingly, the most recent report showed that the United States and the U.K. rank at the bottom in most categories. The Netherlands ranked in the top ten in all categories, with Northern European countries ranking in the top four. The fact that the Czech Republic ranked higher than many wealthier nations such as France and Austria suggests that parental differences may be even more important than economic considerations in achieving a high degree of child well-being.

This is the first generation of children to spend much of their early childhoods in child care outside the home. A great deal of neuroscientific research has concluded that developing secure relationships in the early years of life is critical for optimum child development. The development of child care support systems in many countries have not kept pace with the changing economic realities of parents who must utilize them. Stressing the importance of developing child care systems that make this transition easier for parents and children, the report suggests that the future well-being of children may depend on it.

How Parental Differences can contribute to Child Well-Being

Meanwhile, whatever their parental differences, parents around the world continue to meet the challenges presented by changing economic realities and rapidly advancing technology with remarkable creativity. All parents want to help their children develop positive characteristics such as creativity, resilience, academic excellence and independence. In her 2013 book, Parenting Without Borders: Surprising Lessons Parents Around the World Can Teach Us, Christine Gross-Loh, who has also written a series of articles for The Atlantic magazine, takes readers on an educational around-the-world parenting tour.

Every culture has its own parenting strengths and weaknesses, and the goal of this book is to examine as many of those strengths as possible. Since the advent of the internet, this is also the first generation of children able to benefit from the combined knowledge and experience of the global village. Some of the topics that illustrate parental differences include co-sleeping, protectiveness, and the value of play and self-esteem. From her observations of other cultures, the author advocates implementing the best parenting practices from each culture.

How Parental Differences are Reflected in Social Systems

In the U.S., the high value placed on individuality is reflected both in parenting and in social institutions. In an interview, the author pointed out that the tendency of American parents to feel responsible for “shaping ” their child might be balanced by the Japanese culture’s belief in allowing children to become themselves. She also points out that learning about parental differences of other cultures differences can help parents realize that there is not just one right way to parent, which can help them relax and enjoy their children more.

She provides many examples of the ways that cultural parental differences are reflected in social systems. For example, in France, school lunchtime consists of several courses and lasts for two hours, which reflects the cultural value placed on relaxation and community during mealtimes. Schools in Finland provide individualized education plans for each student depending upon their academic strengths and interests and abilities.

In an article in the Wall Street Journal, she compares some of the educational differences between the U.S. and Japan. One of the most striking differences was that in Japan, every student studies home economics from fifth grade through high school. Home economics includes such diverse and practical courses as embroidery, woodworking, meal planning, cooking and grocery shopping. In the U.S., home economics courses, which were once offered to girls while boys engaged in classes considered more “masculine” such as woodworking, have virtually disappeared.

In a review, one criticism of the book was that while it offered many examples of potentially beneficial cultural exchanges, many of them would require structural changes to implement. One such change is demonstrated by the highly regarded University of Chicago Laboratory School, which now makes home economics compulsory for their seventh and eighth-grade curriculum. Their website states that the courses foster

“competency to make educated and intelligent choices, and to apply principles and generalizations to new situations.”

Individually, parents do have the power to implement some of the beneficial practices of other cultures. For example, they can consider sleeping arrangements that foster a sense security, eating habits that reflect self-care, and activities that promote kindness and community as well as independence.

parental differences
Global Village Wikipedia CC 2.0

February 24,2016  |

tamarin animal mother

Back to the Future: What Primates Can Teach Us about Parenting

“I’m certainly not advocating that we should behave like monkeys and apes. I’m saying that understanding the basic primate way will help us make more informed choices about the kinds of parents we want to be.”

–Harriet J. Smith

A practicing clinical psychologist and former fellow at the National Institute of Child Health and Development, Harriet J. Smith she has published many journal articles over the years. In her book, Parenting for Primates, she offers parents valuable knowledge gleaned from the four months she spent in the Peruvian rain forest observing primates as well as the 30 years that she managed a colony of tamarin monkeys in her own home. She became interested in primate parenting and realized that human mothers could benefit in many ways from her study of the tamarin animal mother. Some of the topics in the book include the roles of mothers and fathers, single parenting, weaning babies, baby-sitters, independence and dealing with an empty nest.

Maternal Instinct and the Tamarin Animal Mother

Her experience with the tamarin animal mother began with two orphaned monkeys, which were bottle-fed and hand-raised. When these monkeys became parents, they displayed very little interest in caring for their young. In fact, their reactions to them were often hostile, and included sticking out their tongues and making threatening gestures.

In an article, Smith describes how the infants were fostered and cared for by a tamarin animal mother named Rachel, who had been captured as an adult after having been raised in a primate family group in the wild. This experience led her to conclude that rather than being the product of maternal instinct, parenting consists of a complex set of learned behaviors. After Rachel taught them those behaviors through example, the natural parents were able to develop those skills.
One of her goals for writing the book was to alleviate the sense of guilt experienced by mothers who question their own maternal instinct. Guilt is often experienced by women suffering post-partum depression. It can also be the result of an overwhelming sense of inadequacy by new mothers who question the value of skills learned from their own mothers. Evidence that parenting skills can be learned is a potent antidote.

The Social Support System of the Tamarin Animal Mother

In tamarin primate families, the males care for the babies from an early age, providing as much, and sometimes more, care than the females. Just as the females were able to learn parenting behaviors, the males were also able to learn adequate parenting skills. Tamarin animal mothers without a mate often rely on other adult males as well as female relatives for assistance. Smith points out that in the primate realm, parenting does not take place in social isolation. The degree of social isolation that parents in industrialized societies experience is one of the most difficult challenges they face.

Tamarin animal mothers also utilize baby-sitters for their young. Those who provide care are usually related to the mother or socially subordinate to the extent that they recognize her ultimate parental authority. The mother never goes so far out of range that she cannot return and immediately take charge upon hearing a cry of distress. Babysitting in the simian world is carried out on an individual basis, rather than a single adult supervising a group of young tamarins.

Applying Lessons Learned from the Tamarin Animal Mother

According to one article, “Parenting for Primates” has generated some controversy. The book received critical acclaim from several sources such as Publisher’s Weekly and favorable reviews from colleagues like psychologist Jay Belsky, London University’s director of the Institute for the Study of Children, Families and Social Issues. However, others such as Georgia State University’s Dr. Emily D. Klein, believe that it may add to the guilt of mothers in industrialized societies who, due to economic realities beyond their control, are unable to implement many of the suggestions.

In response to her critics, Smith offered the reassurance that “My message is not that mothers shouldn’t work, but that they should be thoughtful about how much time they spend away from their children and about who will care for them in their absence.” Rather than working mothers feeling guilty about the need to rely on professional day care, she counsels parents to develop good relationships with their child care providers. Another way to enhance the child’s experience of being cared for by others is for the parent to remain in the area for a period of time during the transition. An example of this would be to invite the child care provider into the home to develop a relationship with the child while the parents are present.

Many educators also believe that parents in industrialized societies can benefit from the parenting lessons provided by the tamarin animal mother. For that reason, a 7 credit continuing education course designed for parents has been developed based on the book. Perhaps some ancient history, in the form of successful parenting tips provided by our distant tamarin cousins, may be worth repeating to create a better future for our own children.

tamarin animal mother
Vase in the Shape of a Mother Monkey with Her Young, Old Kingdom, Dynasty 6, Reign of Pepi I, 2289 2255bc, Egypt

February 22,2016  |

family life and homeschooling

How Home Schooling Became the Fastest Growing Form of Education

“Schooling operates out of an assumption that ordinary people are biologically or psychologically or politically inferior; education assumes that individuals are sovereign spirits. “

–John Taylor Gatto

Family Life and Homeschooling—A Growing Educational Trend

Home schooling has been steadily becoming a more popular option for parents around the world. According to one article, it’s the fastest growing form of education, increasing at an annual rate of between 7% and 15% per year. While information isn’t available for all countries, countries in which home schooling is on the rise include Australia, Canada, France, Germany, Japan, Mexico, South Africa, and the U.K. Those statistics don’t include parents who homeschool just one of their children or those that homeschool part time or only for a year or two.

There are a number of reasons that parents choose to homeschool their children. Some choose homeschooling for religious reasons. Others believe that school environments aren’t conducive to learning or don’t foster independent thinking. Still others are concerned about perceived deterioration of the academic quality of public schools as a result of overcrowded classrooms. Parents of children with special needs often choose to homeschool their children because their homes provide better accommodation for those needs. The majority of parents who choose to homeschool do so for the best of reasons. However, sadly, there are some parents who choose this option as a way to hide child abuse.

Benefits of Family Life and Homeschooling

Whatever their reasons for choosing to home school their children, most parents report that one of the benefits of family life and home schooling is a sense of togetherness. Family life and home schooling advocate and educational reformer John Taylor Gatto believes that rigid school routines discourage children from the process of self-discovery. He describes self-discovery as a process of making choices, noticing patterns within those choices and using that self-knowledge to make future choices. Further, he believes that if the personal growth that accompanies this process is interfered with, it can result in creating adults who are easily manipulated. He says that his 30 years of teaching left him with the realization that “Institutionalized schooling… is about obedience in exchange for favors and advantages.”

One of the benefits of home schooling is gaining valuable experiences that cannot be created within the confines of a classroom. For example, the ability to take far more field trips allows both parents and their children to experience, rather than read about, the changing of the seasons. Family life and home schooling also become inseparable as children gain hands-on experience. For example, a nutrition class can include shopping for and cooking a meal, which could also include a valuable lesson in hosting a social event, as well as the sanitary importance of cleaning up afterwards. One mother’s personal experience with family life and homeschooling lists some additional benefits.

The Challenges Presented by Family Life and Homeschooling

One of the challenges of family life and homeschooling is that the parents must often reeducate themselves. This is especially true in the age of technology, in which new information is being discovered and disseminated more quickly than at any other time in human history. Because it is rare for any person to have a passion for every subject, many parents that homeschool form support groups in order to utilize one another’s interests, talents and abilities. For example, a parent who enjoys and excels in teaching science but dreads teaching grammar might arrange to have their child attend another parent’s grammar lesson in exchange for their child attending a science lesson. Another benefit of this approach is that it provides an avenue for supervised socializing since home schooled children often have fewer opportunities to socialize.

One of the most common challenges of family life and homeschooling is that of sibling rivalry. Maintaining an emotional atmosphere that promotes optimum learning can be difficult. All families experience occasional conflict among siblings, and some parents report that teaching children respectful conflict resolution skills can be the most difficult aspect of family life and homeschooling. Another is the potential for parental burnout, since parents who home school are often on duty 24 hours a day. That’s why scheduling time away to relax on a regular basis is extremely important.

In 1909, President Woodrow Wilson, who was then the president of Princeton University, said “We want one class of persons to have a liberal education, and we want another class of persons, a very much larger class of necessity to forgo the privilege of a liberal education.” For many parents who want their children to receive a first class education, but are unable to pay expensive tuition, homeschooling can reduce the effects of income inequality.

There is no shortage of examples of successful people who learned to be such independent thinkers at a young age that they found it unnecessary to earn a college degree. That list includes computer whizzes Steve Jobs, Bill Gates, and Michael Dell, creator of the CNN news network Ted Turner. Ingvar Kamprad, founder of IKEA, and Warren Avis of Avis Rent-a-Car. It’s hard to argue with success like that.

family life and homeschooling

February 17,2016  |

baby care gifts

Celebrating The Amazing Event, The Birth Of A Child –Then And Now

The History of the Modern Baby Shower

Historically, all cultures have developed and maintained rituals surrounding childbirth. Many of those rituals incorporated elements of the culture’s religion. In ancient Greece, when a child was born, those present at the birth shoutedoloyge!” in celebration of the end of labor. A welcoming ceremony called Amphidromia was conducted on either the fifth or seventh day after the birth. In this ceremony, the father walked around the family hearth several times to symbolize the child’s entry into the household. Another ceremony called Dekate was observed on the tenth day, in which the new mother enjoyed a meal with friends and relatives celebrating her return to society. She would dedicate the gifts she received to the birth-goddess Eileithyia.

In ancient societies, women were often confined during pregnancy. In the Middle Ages, new mothers continued to be confined for 40 days after the birth of a child. That meant she was not even allowed to attend their baptismal ceremony! The child’s godparents usually bought gifts for the child, but rather than modern baby care gifts, the most common gift was a pair of silver spoons. During the Renaissance, gift items included wooden trays, bowls, paintings, sculpture, clothing and food. The most popular gift items were painted childbirth trays which, in addition to carrying food for new mothers, came to symbolize wishes for good health for mother and child.

The term “baby shower” is derived from the Victorian era custom of putting gifts inside a parasol, which, when opened, literally showered the recipient with gifts. Showers began as post-birth tea parties attended by other women, in which games were often played. The new mother was positioned in a decorated chair that symbolized a return to a pure virginal state, as well as an economically dependent one.

The economic prosperity during the baby boom after WWII helped give rise to the consumer ideology of the 1950’s and 60’s, which was the beginning of the modern baby shower. Baby showers served to help defray some of the costs for young parents. Some of the most common baby care gifts given by more financially established family members were expensive items such as cribs, playpens, baby carriages and changing tables. Baby care gifts given by friends often included adorable clothing items, bibs, diapers and toys, such as rattles. Gradually, motherhood itself came to be defined to a great extent by the accoutrements required for infant care.

In Western culture, modern baby showers are customarily given before the birth of a child, in part so that when the child is born, she will have everything necessary to care for a new infant. However, partly in response to high infant mortality rates caused by poverty, many other cultures observe similar rituals in giving baby care gifts after the birth of the child. Rather than baby showers, many countries observe other traditions surrounding the birth of children.

Childbirth Celebrations around the Globe

In Chile, one of the most important traditions is that of choosing godparents and the baby’s baptism. In Japan, baby care gifts aren’t given until after the baby is born. Mother and child are given a month or two to rest and bond before festivities begin. A gift of 10,000 yen is more traditional than purchasing baby care gifts. However, gifts which depict dogs may be welcome before the birth, as dogs are considered symbolic of a safe and speedy delivery.
In Pakistan, rather than a baby shower, the birth of a child is celebrated by giving alms to the poor. In China, baby showers are typically held on the first or second full moon after the birth of a child, and are often formal dinner banquets at which guests pass red envelopes symbolizing good fortune containing money, to the new parents. In France and Korea, baby showers aren’t given until the child’s first birthday.

In addition to traditional baby showers in which baby care gifts are given, some celebrate the event with a meal shower. As any sleep-deprived new mother knows, cooking can become more of a dangerous chore than a pleasure in the months following the birth of a child. A variety of home-made meals that don’t have to be prepared is a thoughtful and time-saving gift.

How Technology Has Changed Traditional Baby Showers with Baby Care Gifts

Advances in technology have resulted in other time-saving developments as well, such as invitations being created online and emailed rather than being delivered by post. Today’s mothers-to-be also have the option of setting up an online registry. Such registries have several benefits. One of them is that those who are unable to attend a baby shower in person can still have a gift delivered in their names. A second benefit is that gifts aren’t duplicated. The parents list items they need and the items are removed from the list as they are purchased.

Technology has also added some new games to the more traditional ones played at baby showers. There are even completely virtual baby showers! Whatever form it takes, or when, the birth of a child is perhaps life’s best cause for celebration.

baby care gifts
Charles and Catherine Darwin 1816 by Sharples

February 15,2016  |

expert child psychologist

The Proven Benefits of Social Activities in Your Child’s Brain Development


Expert child psychologist Dr. Dorothy Einon’s books have proved to be a favorite with many parents. A lecturer in psychology at University College, London, she has a background of research in child development. That research includes studying different educational cultures in order to provide parents with beneficial activities they can participate in with their children.

The Role of Brain Development for the Expert Child Psychologist

According to one article, a baby’s brain at birth contains 100 billion neurons. The formation of the brain begins at approximately three weeks after conception. Each neuron begins with about 2,500 synapses, but by the age of three, that number increases to about 15,000. Part of the brain’s function is to eliminate those that are rarely used. Scientists have determined that there are specific windows of opportunity, or periods of time that are optimal for learning specific tasks. For example, neurons that control vision begin sending messages between 2 and 4 months of age.

Dr. Einon, in her capacity as an expert child psychologist, believes that these studies demonstrate the importance of early stimulation in building a good foundation for optimum brain development as well as the development of crucial social skills. Experience is an important factor in brain development, and emotions have been found to develop in layers. The stress response develops almost immediately, while other emotions such as empathy and envy begin to develop during the second year.

The Importance of Research to the Expert Child Psychologist

One area of Dr. Einon’s research has been on the value of play in the development of social skills as well as brain development. In one experiment with rats, littermates were separated into three groups. During the ages of 20 to 50 days, one group was given an hour of play-fighting experience each day, while another was isolated. Those who were not given the play-fighting experience demonstrated aggression more frequently. The results of that research was then applied to practical life situations.

For example, in one article , she points out that the ability to initiate a friendship begins to be developed between ages 2 and 3. Children normally display more interest in the games then in the individual children participating in them before that age. After age three, children begin to choose activities based on their feelings towards other children. Dr. Einon advises parents of shy children against protecting them from interactions that they may at first find difficult and offers methods of gradually introducing them to positive social situations.

The Development of a Baby IQ Test

Einon was approached by Fisher Price in response to the number of parents who had expressed a desire for guidelines that would help them determine whether their children were developing normally. While she did develop a 10-question test for that purpose, she also stressed that children don’t all develop at the same rate. To account for those normal differences in developmental rates, she estimated that the results would show that about half of children would score, if only temporarily, below average.

As an expert child psychologist, she points out that average IQ scores have risen by an average of three points each decade since the introduction of the tests in 1917. She attributes that increase to parents being educated about the ways in which they can help stimulate their children’s minds with the use of games and toys. The test itself sparked some controversy regarding whether it was a legitimate measure of ability or a clever marketing tool for children’s toys.

Educational Activities Designed by an Expert Child Psychologist

Despite the controversy surrounding the test, there is a large body of research that demonstrates the importance of interactive activities on brain development. One study, which spanned two decades, revealed that cognitive stimulation children received from parents at age four would continue to positively affect their brain development even 15 years later. Brain scans are able to measure the growth of specific parts of the brain.

Other studies show that babies learn more quickly in response to human interaction than when presented with similar information through videos. The majority of Dr. Einon’s books offer hundreds of educational and skill building activities that parents can participate in with their children. These activities not only contribute to brain development, but to emotional and social development as well. This whole-child approach is one of the things that make her books so popular. They not only make research accessible, but offer parents ready-made activities that allow them to apply the knowledge gained by research in an enjoyable way.

Even as an expert child psychologist with a specialty in “normal” developmental guidelines, Dr. Einon stresses the importance of recognizing children’s unique differences. For example, for parents of more than one child, she advises against dividing things equally, which she believes can lead to constant comparison. Instead, she advocates responding to each child’s differing needs. She also believes in allowing children the opportunity to release frustration through physical activity. Participating in enjoyable activities that encourage brain development, help release frustration and strengthen social bonds benefit both parent and child–and ultimately– the world.

expert child psychologist

February 10,2016  |