parenting styles

Parenting Styles And How We Come to Know Truth through Parenting Books

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.

parenting styles


September 4,2015  |

extended family

Margaret Mead and her Thoughts about the Nuclear and Extended Family

“Nobody has ever before asked the nuclear family to live all by itself in a box the way we do. With no relatives, no support, we’ve put it in an impossible situation.”

This might be the first generation of women in history that could relate to that statement. Mead believed strongly in the importance of the extended family. It’s just one of the many worthwhile quotes by cultural anthropologist Margaret Mead. Mothers and fathers alike owe her a debt of gratitude for her pioneering work.

This post is more personal in the sense that I have for an inexplicable reason and for several years now been attracted and intrigued by Margaret Mead. While I recognize her weakness lies in the scientific side of her research, she has influenced my thoughts on specific subjects more than others and she was very present when I wrote my fictional book a couple of years ago.

Even after her death, she continued to be high controversial. Among the more debatable aspects is the fact that she was among the first women to openly address were female sexuality, patriarchy consumerism and the link between race and intelligence. Many considered her opinions to be a threat to the sanctity of the family and society.


Born to professor of finance Edward Mead and sociologist Emily Mead, she worked with Franz Boas at Columbia University to obtain her Ph.D. in cultural anthropology. She was one of the first to study the role of women, when she went to Samoa in 1925 to conduct fieldwork, which resulted in her famous book “Coming of Age in Samoa: A Psychological Study of Primitive Youth for Western Civilization”, published in 1928, and republished over and over again.

“I have tried to answer the question which sent me to Samoa: Are the disturbances which vex our adolescents due to the nature of adolescence itself or to the civilization? Under different conditions does adolescence present a different picture?”

The book sparked religious and social controversy regarding the relaxation of sexual mores. Her two divorces further challenged patriarchy, fueling controversy.

Nuclear versus Extended Family

Rather than being a destructive force, she was actually a champion of the family, the nuclear and extended family. The term extended family  has two distinct meanings: it is synonym of consanguinal family (consanguine means “of the same blood”) and in societies dominated by the conjugal family, it refers to “kindred” (network of relatives that extends beyond the domestic group) who do not belong to the conjugal family. Based on her anthropological research, affirmed the centrality of the nuclear family in human society:

“As far back as our knowledge takes us, human beings have lived in families. We know of no period where this was not so. We know of no people who have succeeded for long in dissolving the family or displacing it … Again and again, in spite of proposals for change and actual experiments, human societies have reaffirmed their dependence on the family as the basic unit of human living—the family of father, mother and children.” Mead, Margaret and Ken Heyman. 1965. Family. New York: Macmillan. pp. 77-78.

However Mead observed as an anthropologist various aboriginal societies, where nuclear family structures did not exist in a strict sense. Children grew up within the extended family. Mead’s observations of those societies indicated that adolescents grew up and smoothly transitioned into adulthood without any major issues evident in our own culture.  Dominance of nuclear versus extended family structures have a sociological impact on different levels. Not only does this impact the values of a society such as caring and sharing. This impacts the role of women in a society as well.

Family Values

In a 1963 interview Mead spoke out against the dangers of consumerism and its adverse effects on the family by saying

“We tell people every day in the advertisements, on TV, over the radio: “This is the kind of house you ought to have. This is the kind of car you ought to drive. Are you keeping your wife a prisoner because you only have one car? Are you making a slave of your wife because you’ve turned her into a dishwasher instead of buying a dishwasher?”

In her opinion, children were being neglected in favor of maintaining social status through buying all the latest time-saving gadgets. She also spoke out against age segregation and felt that children would benefit both socially and educationally from the continued involvement of grandparents.

She and her third husband, Gregory Bateson, in 1936, had a daughter, Mary Catherine, who also became an anthropologist. She wrote a memoir ‘With a Daughter’s Eye”, on her mother and herself. Her pediatrician was none other than Dr. Benjamin Spock, whose theories were influenced by Mead’s anthropological observations regarding breastfeeding on demand rather than according to a rigid schedule. You can find more on Dr Spock, here. Their marriage dissolved in 1950, but their friendship lasted to the end of her lifetime. She did not marry again, but rather, stated that an individual’s sexual orientation may evolve over a lifetime.

Career Controversy

The many controversies surrounding her increased both her visibility and popularity, and made her one of the more famous women in history, at least in the 20th century. She was a regular columnist for Redbook magazine as well as often being asked to speak on radio shows. She served as curator of ethnology at of the American Museum of Natural History in New York from 1946 to1969 and as an adjunct professor at Columbia University from 1954 to 1978. She founded Fordham University’s anthropology department while a professor there and was also a faculty member at the University of Rhode Island.

After her death, her work was criticized by a number of people, including Steven Pinker, Richard Dawkins and the feminist Betty Friedan. Derek Freeman published “Margaret Mead and Samoa: The Making and Unmaking of an Anthropological Myth”, in which he accused Mead of failure to apply scientific methods to her research. He negates her claims about the society’s more relaxed sexual mores. Defenders of her work point out that much of the society had been converted to Christianity during the interim.

Contribution to the Role of Women in History

In spite of the controversy that surrounded her, on January 19, 1979, President Jimmy Carter posthumously awarded her the Presidential Medal of Freedom. The award for her important contributions was presented to her daughter at a ceremony sponsored by the American Museum of Natural History. The words on the award were as follows:

“Margaret Mead was both a student of civilization and an exemplar of it. To a public of millions, she brought the central insight of cultural anthropology: that varying cultural patterns express an underlying human unity. She mastered her discipline, but she also transcended it. Intrepid, independent, plain spoken, fearless, she remains a model for the young and a teacher from whom all may learn.”

These words speak to the truth inherent in perhaps her most well-known quote, which is

“Never doubt that a small group of committed people can change the world. Indeed, it is the only thing that ever has.”

women in history

July 31,2015  |