Have you ever wished that there was one book where you could find all the scientific parenting advice and parenting styles contained in all the parenting books written in the last century?
Well, “Perfect Motherhood: Science and Child Rearing in America“ comes pretty close. This vast array of information, compiled and analyzed by author Rima Apple, does a good job of revealing the foundations upon which many of our present child rearing philosophies and parenting styles are built.
The following excerpt from the book demonstrates the authors’ belief that mothers have learned to utilize the benefits of science and medicine without giving their power away to the scientific community.
“The struggle to remove authoritarian physicians but importantly, not medicine and science from the center of child-care advice and to insert mothers as active participants in decision-making about their families’ health was not a simple change. It resulted from a complex of social and medical developments that encompassed women pushing against contemporary medical practices and a changing medical system pulling women more deeply into health care. “
The Growing Influence of the Medical Community
According to Rima Apple, this wasn’t always the case with parenting books. In her book, she points out that a number of factors contributed to women ceding their power in the parenting realm to medical “experts“.
Some of those factors included a decline in birth rates corresponding with higher infant mortality rates, the discovery of vaccines, and a rise in hospital births. Because scientific advancements such as vaccines had the power to save thousands of children’s lives, mothers responded with a willingness to concede that the medical community was perhaps more qualified to make decisions regarding the health and welfare of their children than they themselves were.
Parenting styles and books
Parenting books written by doctors and scientists began to exert more influence on mothers and a variety of parenting styles emerged throughout the 20th century. This willingness to defer to the scientific community had a great impact on motherhood, in that women also began to value the opinions of scientists and medical experts over the experience and knowledge of their own mothers and grandmothers. Women grew to depend less on relatives and midwives and more on doctors and hospitals when defining their own parenting styles.
As the influence of the scientific community grew, so did philosophical debates within that community. One of the problems with this was that competing factions within the scientific community often published findings that were inconsistent with, or even contradicted, one another. The results of one study negating the results of another left mothers more confused about parenting styles than enlightened. The source of financial backing for scientific studies was also a factor in determining what kinds of experimental studies would be conducted.
Conflicting Expert Opinions on Parenting Styles
Such differences of opinion on parenting styles between authors or experts continue today. One article on the subject pointed out that because parenting is a relatively new science, the advice given in parenting books is all considered subject to change upon further investigation. Further, because such conflicting advice about parenting styles often raises more questions than it answers, parenting books written by “experts” can result in reducing parents’ confidence in themselves.
The feminist movement in the 1970s questioned the validity of male-dominated scientific and medical institutions advocating child-rearing practices that women were largely responsible for carrying out. The validity and value of scientific contributions that could be incorporated into child-rearing practices and parenting styles was never questioned .
However, the movement did have the effect of restoring some of the former relevance of the equally valuable knowledge and experience of midwives and other child care professionals.
It also caused a shift in the way that “science” was defined in terms of motherhood. Women began to view the scientific and medical community as a source of valuable information to use when making their own decisions, rather than as the final authority on parenting. Rima Apple credits some authors of parenting books, such as Dr. Benjamin Spock as being partially responsible for the restoration of faith in their own parenting abilities and shaping their own views on parenting styles.
Parents generally agree that while parenting books can often offer valuable suggestions, in the end, it is they who must decide which ones to implement. It’s they and their children who will experience the results of their decisions. That’s why any book that increases a parent’s confidence as well as providing information is a valuable one.