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  |

parental care

On how Hrdy’s primates studies impact our views on parental care

Sarah Hrdy is an American anthropologist who has devoted much of her career to studying parental care in primates, and she has ruffled quite a few feathers along the way. In her one of her first books, The Langurs of Abu: Female and Male Strategies of Reproduction (1977), she described the langurs as practicing infanticide. That description led one (male) colleague to snipe,

“Sarah Hrdy’s monkeys are deranged.”

Hrdy had seen male langurs attack and kill infants sired by rivals, so that they could induce estrus in the females and then mate with them. Female langurs had their own defenses against marauding males. When a male took over a troop, pregnant females would fake being in estrus and let him mate with them. The male would then believe himself to be the father of her offspring and protect them accordingly.

In her next book, “The Woman That Never Evolved (1981), Hrdy argued that female primates had developed many strategies for coping with dominant males, including forming alliances with other females. She also maintained that Darwin’s belief in sexually passive females stemmed from relatively new social mores that most primates, including some humans, did not abide by. Hrdy also described polyandry, the practice of mating with more than one male, as advantageous to females and their young. Most or all of the males that had mated with a given female were likely to believe that the resultant offspring was theirs.

Cooperative Breeding and Parental Care

1999’s “Mother Nature” was a synthesis of her earlier work, and it also described why humans developed infanticide and polyandry in the first place. Hrdy views humans as cooperative breeders who need a village to raise a child.

Throughout history, humans have used allomothers to help with parental care. Despite the name, an allomother can be male or female, and they are usually a relative of the mother who helps her raise a child. Women need allomothers to successfully rear children, and Hrdy also argues that the lack of allomothers in modern human societies has caused such problems as child abandonment. If a mother feels overwhelmed and helpless, she may well decide to abandon her child— or worse. In an interview, Hrdy described the case of a woman who had drowned her five small children in a bathtub. Hrdy argued that probably would not have happened if the young mother had had some kind of support.

The Limits of Maternal Love

Hrdy also maintains that the so-called maternal instinct doesn’t exist. A female primate’s capacity for parental care depends largely on her access to resources like food, shelter and a supportive mate.

Women do indeed bond with their infants, and those bonds can have a biological basis, like certain hormones. Those bonds, however, can be overridden by the wrong set of circumstances.

Contrary to what many people believe, maternal love is conditional, and that’s especially true with humans. Human women are virtually the only female primates that commit infanticide, which is generally the province of males in other primate species.

Furthermore, infanticide is not as rare as people want to believe. Hrdy describes times and places in which infanticide was extremely common. A village in Bolivia was plagued by both war and extreme poverty during the 1930s, and practically all the women in it killed their newborn children. Far from being heartless or insane, these women recognized they did not have the resources to give good parental care to their children. Hrdy reported that, after their situation had improved, many of the women went on to have children who they treated very well.

Extended Families Versus Nuclear Families

2009 saw the publication of Mothers and Others: The Evolutionary Origins of Mutual Understanding, in which Hrdy returns to the topic of allomothers or alloparents. She argues that the development of extended families had a profound influence on human evolution.

Cooperative breeding helped make it possible for families to successfully rear children that took two decades to reach maturity. Hrdy argues that human beings are supposed to live in extended family groups and that the nuclear family is an aberration that does not provide sufficient support for its members. Consider what often happens if one parent in such a family dies or is incapacitated. In an extended family, the surviving adults would help both the children and their parent(s). An extended family shares the duties of parental care, thus reducing the odds of any one adult becoming overwhelmed.

Unlike Hrdy, most psychologists and authors on books about parental care take the nuclear family for granted, a stance she disagrees with.

One of Hrdy’s colleagues, Hillard Kaplan, calculated that a human child needs 13 million calories of nutrition during the first 18 or 20 years of its life. That is far more than a single woman or couple could provide on their own, so humans must have evolved to be part of extended families.

The assumption of the nuclear family’s primacy

Hrdy points out that the assumption of the nuclear family’s primacy has affected research. Most research done on families simply compares married couples to single parents, rather than comparing either one to an extended family. Researchers have also not compared the various types of extended families to each other. That means there is so far no way of determining which familial arrangements might be optimal for raising children: parents working with grandparents, siblings raising children together, or some other arrangement. Determining which arrangements would be most beneficial for parents and children would only help society in the long run.

parental care

July 10,2015  |