maternal kit

Maternal Kit: The Continuing Gift of Life

According to data gathered by the World Health Organization, approximately 830 women die each and every day due to completely preventable causes surrounding pregnancy and childbirth. Those days add up to over 300,000 women’s lives lost in a single year. 99% of those women live in developing countries. Political division and war are causing that number to skyrocket, and with so many refugees worldwide, accurate statistics that reflect just how great an increase are often impossible to obtain.

Doctors With out Borders is one organization that attempts to provide crucial medical services to refugee populations. Marjie Middleton, a midwife working with the organization on a reproductive health project for Syrian refugees, says that in addition to other factors such as inadequate nutrition and lack of access to health care

“…the combination of psychological and physical stress is very dangerous for their pregnancy.”

The psychological stress experienced by these women, many of whose husbands and other family members have been killed in war, is extreme. High blood pressure during pregnancy is among the most common reasons that women die in childbirth. Severe bleeding with no access to medical care is another.

Another danger to pregnant refugee women is the necessity of giving birth in unsterile conditions, which often results in deadly infections. This danger extends to their newborn infants as well. The World Health Organization reports that 4.5 million innocent children under the age of one year died in 2015 alone.

The Maternal Kit

Most mothers in developed countries prepare for the delivery of their children by creating a maternal kit. A maternal kit contains all the items expectant mothers will need to care for herself and her infant during the first days of life.

Many times, these items are received as gifts from family members and friends, and include such essentials as diapers and blankets. In countries in which hospital births are the norm, some of these items are also provided by the hospital. Hospitals also provide other things equally important for any maternal kit like sanitary conditions and medical assistance during delivery.

Many women in developing countries do not have access to regular prenatal care or the benefit of medical assistance during delivery for economic reasons. Those fleeing political oppression and war often lack a sanitary environment in which to give birth as well as even the most basic items necessary to care for her newborn infant after the delivery.

One charitable organization is dedicated to reducing the number of preventable deaths of mothers and their children caused by the lack of these basic necessities. To reduce the possibility of infection and severe bleeding during delivery, their maternal kit includes a plastic undersheet and an absorbent underpad, sterile gloves and a scalpel. For after the delivery, the maternal kit includes soap and a washcloth to clean the newborn infant, and a tunic, hat, and blanket for warmth. Each donation of $25 dollars can provide a maternal kit for an expectant mother in dire circumstances.

Many charitable organizations have come under fire in recent years due to allegations of corruption. Unfortunately, this has resulted in many people being reluctant to donate, suspecting that their money may be used to cover bureaucratic administrative expenses or fund lavish fundraising parties. Scandals such as the $500 million in missing donations to the Red Cross after the earthquake in Haiti have resulted in watchdog organizations that monitor charities. For example, the Charity Navigator is an organization dedicated to increasing the financial transparency of charitable organizations. To help people donate wisely, they make public the financial details of charitable organizations, including information regarding how much is spent on administrative salaries.

According to their data, IMA World Health, spends 95.7% of donations on programs such as the one that creates and distributes the potentially life-saving maternal kit for expectant mothers. CARE is another organization devoted to reproductive health and decreasing maternal and infant mortality around the world. What greater gift is there than to bring to an expectant mother than the gift of life itself?

maternal kit

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),
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
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
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
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

Meaning of Kinship Bonds in a Matrilineal Primitive Society

“Just as love is an orientation which refers to all objects and is incompatible with the restriction to one object, so is reason a human faculty which must embrace the whole of the world with which man is confronted.”

–Erich Fromm

The Kongo Kingdom existed as an independent state for over 500 years, from 1390 to 1891. It covered the territory of what are now the African states of Angola, Cabinda, the Republic of the Congo, and portions of the Democratic Republic of the Congo and Gabon. As a result of invasion and colonization by various other countries, including France, Portugal and the Netherlands, and rebellious uprisings against it, the territory and names of states in the area have changed more than once.

Ancient Traditions & Family Life in Kongo

Little, if any, written history about family life in the Kongo Kingdom before invasion and occupation by competing ideological and economic interests exists. However, resistant remnants of their formerly matrilineal society still exist, as evidenced by the greatest respect and responsibility for child care being bestowed upon the oldest brother of the child’s mother. While under the political control of other nations, many of the original kinship systems were abolished.

The many languages and dialects of the area also reflect their formerly matrilineal customs. Despite the abolition of matrilineal practices, through the many languages and dialects of the area, people continue to define themselves in reference to their mother’s clan. “Home” is defined as the village in which that clan is located, and family life in ancient Kongo society took place in these villages. Under subsequent governments, sections of each matrilineal clan were divided into landowning houses, with inheritance continuing to be passed through the female line in many places.

There are many words that reflect the kinship bonds that made up the societal structure of family life in ancient Kongo society. Those words have been passed down throughout history from generation to generation. For example, mpangi, the word for “siblings” is used to describe any two people of the same social status as the speaker. The word for “child”, mwana , is also used to describe a mother’s brother’s daughter. According to the reasoning behind the language, all cousins are considered siblings, much like some Indigenous American tribes such as the Crow.

The male leader of a matrilineal group or clan is referred to as a nkazi. His power is limited and most disputes that arise in family life in modern society are managed by committees consisting of members of members of both the maternal and paternal clans of the parties in question. Those committees can include children and grandchildren, and also represent their clans at important social functions such as weddings and funerals. The spokesman of the clan, called the nzonzi , is chosen for his ability to influence others through the use of authoritative cultural references, much like legal precedents are used in the courts of the Western world. All such communications between clans conclude with the exchange of food and gifts.

Art and Culture

While very little written history of family life in ancient Kongo society exists, some art has survived. In an article about the artwork of the Kongo people, Alisa LaGamma, curator of the exhibition Kongo: Power and Majesty at the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York, discussed the ways in which the artwork reflected the role of women in society. According to her, many of the pieces incorporate symbols of women in positions of leadership and social influence.

She says that much of the art depicting family life in their society was created in response to the threat to their way of life caused by the transatlantic slave trade. Many people also died as the result of epidemics of illnesses from foreign lands. Because of the large number of deaths, women, as sources of regeneration, had a great deal of responsibility for continuation of the culture. Some of the artwork was created with the dual practical purpose of providing assistance to women having children. Significantly, women are portrayed upon thrones and wearing traditionally male crowns.

The creation of art as a way to preserve one’s humanity in the face of oppression has a long historical tradition. However, the creation of art does require a certain amount of social and political stability, which much of the African continent had very little of during the demise of the Kingdom. Family life in war-torn countries is far too difficult to allow time for much more than survival. It is fortunate that at least these relatively few masterpieces survived so many generations of political turmoil.

Each culture provides a valuable piece of information necessary for the preservation of family life. When all of these pieces are assembled, they complete the grand puzzle of life to which all loving parents perpetually seek answers.

family life in Kongo
Kongo-Yombe Maternity Group, Democratic Republic of the Congo
family life struggles

How Brain Science And Mindfulness Can Help Us Solve Our Struggles Within Family Life

“We now know that the way to help a child develop optimally is to help create connections in her brain—her whole brain—that develop skills that lead to better relationships, better mental health, and more meaningful lives. You could call it brain sculpting, or brain nourishing, or brain building. Whatever phrase you prefer, the point is crucial, and thrilling: as a result of the words we use and the actions we take, children’s brains will actually change, and be built, as they undergo new experiences.”

–Daniel J. Siegel

Dr. Daniel J. Siegel is currently a clinical professor of psychiatry on the faculty of the Center for Culture, Brain, and Development at the UCLA School of Medicine. He also serves as the innovative executive director of the Mindsight Institute. One of his innovations is the Norton Professional Series on interpersonal neurobiology, of which he is the founding editor, and which has published a number of works that focus on recovery from trauma. Some of the titles in the series include, “Healing Trauma,” “The Power of Emotion,” and “Trauma and the Body.” In addition to his teaching and writing, he has also delivered lectures all over the world and has made a number of videos to make to make his research findings more accessible to people. His goal is to reduce the number of family life struggles while increasing the quality of interpersonal relationships between family members.

The Role of Trauma in Family Life Struggles

In a world in which, due to war and economic and social inequality, the devastating effects of trauma have created a cycle of abuse and neglect, he has made it his life’s work to break that cycle. One of the most important ways to accomplish that is educating parents. While trauma causes physical changes in the brain that can increase family life struggles, there are steps that can be taken to reverse the damage. Because one of the characteristics of the human brain is it’s remarkable plasticity and potential for healing, he developed a workbook to accompany his 2011 book, “The Whole Brain Child“. The workbook contains practical exercises and activities that assist in healthy brain development.

Much of his work focuses on mindfulness. He considers one of the most important things parents can do to achieve what he calls “attunement” with their children, is to become aware of, and take steps towards healing, their own childhood wounds. Through becoming aware of the qualities of their own attachments and fears, parents can avoid transmitting those fears to their children. Best of all, while parents may begin the process out of love for their children and a desire to both heal trauma and prevent further damage, the process results in healing for the parents as well.

The Role of Education in Reducing Family Life Struggles

A number of his books are based on the scientific premise that brain development is affected by the quality of interpersonal relationships. His gift for simplifying and communicating the complex relationship between physical and mental experiences and brain development has earned him rave reviews from colleagues and lay readers alike. It has also gotten him invited to participate in the prestigious TED talks series more than once. Using simple language and easily understandable examples, he is able to transmit a great deal of information in a very short time.

In a review in the Guardian, Siegel suggests that rather than fearing the onset of adolescence and the physiological changes that accompany it, parents should embrace it as a potentially powerful agent of positive social change. Because adolescence is a time of rapid brain development as well as elasticity, it is a time of great creativity. He believes that channeling that creativity in positive directions can result not in increased family life struggles, but in exploring new, and more sustainable, ways to do things. That creative spark, combined with heightened emotions associated with the increase of hormonal activity, could have the power to create sustainable solutions to some of the global problems that currently pose a very real threat to life on the planet. Individual family life struggles all too often result in family life struggles on a global scale within the human family.

The best news for parents is his scientific conclusion that the brain can change, and that different areas can be accessed and stimulated, at any age. In an audio interview, he offers strategies for parents who are struggling to adapt to the powerful changes in their children during adolescence. One of the indicators of a great teacher is the recognition that people have a variety of learning styles. Differences in learning styles can be one source of family life struggles. Since most parents are too busy providing for their children to take formal courses in neurobiology, he makes this valuable information available in visual, audio, and written form to benefit as many parents as possible. Towards that end, “The Whole-Brain Child” has also been translated into 17 languages.

family life struggles
Plasma ball, day 18 by Pete Markham
parenting styles and advice

Miriam Stoppard–There’s No Stopping A Force of Nature

“Love is an amazing thing. It makes you feel you can climb mountains and swim oceans for the loved one…and that great drive and desire comes flooding back with grandchildren.”

–Miriam Stoppard

Miriam Stoppard, now in her 70’s, has experienced life as a doctor, journalist, writer, broadcaster, and businesswoman. Perhaps more importantly, she has experienced it all as a mother of two sons, four stepchildren, and eleven grandchildren. One of her sons is actor Ed Stoppard, from her marriage to playwright Tom Stoppard from 1972 to 1992 .

She attended Universities at Newcastle, Bristol and London and earned numerous degrees, including her M.D. She became a Fellow of the Royal College of Physicians in 1998. In 2007, she was voted the United Kingdom’s number one parenting guru by the Bounty Mums. She received the Stonewall Journalist of the Year Award in 2008.

Sharing a Lifetime of Experience

Despite her advanced age, she continues to be active as an expert on parenting styles and advice via a regular column in the Daily Mirror. Some controversy arose when in one of those articles, she accused mothers who continued breastfeeding through toddlerhood of being

“mothers who desire to keep their child dependent on them.”

Among her most recent opinions regarding parenting styles and advice is the suggestion that the ideal length of time for breastfeeding is until the appearance of teeth.

While today there are a number of accepted child-rearing philosophies, in the past women were expected to follow the advice of experts, often without question. In the fifties, women began to express that motherhood wasn’t always the ideal experience portrayed in literature. In addition to bliss, they often felt anger and hopelessness in trying to live up to experts’ recommended parenting styles and advice. That anger was often followed by guilt.

The Rise of Feminism

In many ways, it was the feminist movement that helped women communicate their actual experiences of motherhood rather than feeling that something was wrong with them. Parenting styles and advice often didn’t reflect many of the social and economic realities associated with motherhood in the industrial age. For the first time, women didn’t feel alone in questioning socially accepted parenting styles and advice. As a result, books by capable feminist authors such as Miriam Stoppard sold in great numbers.

Many male experts responded by becoming more authoritative, and their recommended parenting styles and advice contained long lists of things to do and not to do in any conceivable situation. It was almost as if they considered women children as well, with faulty instincts, and incapable of determining the right course of action.

By the seventies, society was beginning to show signs of the influence of these feminist writers. One of those changes was that rather than focusing on “motherhood”, more books that recommended parenting styles and advice focused on “parenthood”. Although in the majority of cases, the primary caretaker was still the mother, this linguistic change proved to be a powerful one. Miriam Stoppard’s 1984 book “The Baby Care Book” referred extensively to the joint responsibility of parenthood.

The child care system did not sufficiently serve the needs of working mothers, who already suffered a great deal of guilt for leaving their children. Parenting styles and advice provided by experts was often contradictory, contributing to a lessening of self-confidence in parenting, especially for inexperienced new mothers. A common complaint among women regarding such advice was that much of it seemed to go directly against their instincts and what felt right for them.

Reconciling Conflicting Advice from Experts

One of the contradictions was that many experts were of the opinion that mothers would know instinctively how to mother, which completely ignored the necessity for parenting education and the value of shared experience. Other experts seemed to assume that mothers knew nothing about parenting and needed to be instructed as if they had no prior life experience. Increasingly, as women became more educated, they began to replace male experts in matters of parenting styles and advice. Many male experts responded by becoming more respectful towards women’s capabilities in their writing.

Miriam Stoppard’s professional capabilities helped transform male attitudes towards women and mothers. She has more than eighty published books that have sold more than 25 million copies worldwide to her credit. Although she wrote primarily about pregnancy, child development and women’s health, she was also politically astute and active. During her journalistic career, she conducted interviews with some very important people, including Margaret Thatcher. She also appeared regularly on medical and scientific television programs such as “Where There’s Life” and Don’t Ask Me.

Now 77 years old, after a life of so many accomplishments, in a recent interview with the Daily Mail, when asked what she’d most like to be remembered for, replied

“For introducing the concept that women should choose how they give birth.”

I think all mothers would agree that choice is a fine legacy.



Parental Effectiveness Training

How Communication Skills and Sharing Power Can Make Parents More Effective Leaders

“It is one of those simple but beautiful paradoxes of life: When a person feels that he is truly accepted by another, as he is, then he is freed to move from there and to begin to think about how he wants to change, how we wants to grow, how he can become different, how he might become more of what he is capable of being.”

Thomas Gordon, Parent Effectiveness Training: The Proven Program for Raising Responsible Children

Parental Effectiveness Training: Communication is the Key

Clinical psychologist Thomas Gordon developed a parental effectiveness training course in 1962 that remains not only popular, but widely respected, even today. In fact, his books have been translated into 33 languages and over five million copies have been sold. Additionally, more than a million people in 45 countries around the world have participated in the course. Recognized as a pioneer in communication skills, in addition to authoring several parenting books, his training course was modified to address nearly any type of group. Several of the skills he outlined and advocated developing are frequently used by family therapists as well as business owners. Among those skills are active listening and communicating using I-messages. He believed that those basic skills were necessary for successful conflict resolution.

Families, like businesses, often experience conflict. A common source of conflicts is the internal power dynamic. One of the things that differentiated his theories from other parental effectiveness training experts was his belief that power had an adverse effect on relationships. While parents have power over their children both physically and economically, it was his opinion that it should never be used in a coercive manner to control their behavior. According to Gordon, parenting is a type of leadership and part of parental effectiveness training is teaching the skills that have proven to be useful in effective leadership in other types of human dynamics.

The Gordon Model of Parental Effectiveness Training

He began writing when he was asked by his mentor Dr. Carl Rogers, at the University of Chicago where he was earning his Ph.D., to author a chapter in a book he was writing. That chapter, titled “Group-Centered Leadership and Administration” would become the beginning of the parental effective training course that became known as the Gordon Model. Drawing on his experience as a business consultant he focused on the communication techniques he had found most successful. That experience led him to develop the core of his model using several key foundations.

The first principle of the model is that effective leaders create conditions in which they can relinquish control and become a member of the group. The desired result is that other group members will learn to function within a leadership role as well.

The second principle is that conflicts require that all people involved participate in resolving them. This requires an environment in which everyone feels safe and that their feelings and opinions are valued, which is the foundation of group-centered leadership. Achieving such an environment is accomplished through using communication techniques such as reflection and listening empathetically.

Another aspect of parental effectiveness training is parents learning effective problem-solving skills that they demonstrate to their children both through modeling and encouraging active participation in the process.

Gordon viewed group leadership as a number of functions that should be distributed to all the members. Problem solving consists of a number of steps, the first of which is recognizing that there is a problem. The next step is diagnosing or defining the problem more precisely. The group members then offer solutions to the problem before making a decision about what actions to take. Finally, the group agrees to accept and carry out that decision. The Gordon Model of parental effectiveness training proved to be so effective that he was asked to modify it for teachers, and in 1974 he co-authored the Teacher Effectiveness Training book.

In addition to serving on the faculty of the University of Chicago for five years after completing his Ph.D, he was also a member of the American Psychological Association. More specifically, he was a member of its Division of Peace Psychology. He also served for a time as the President of the California Psychological Association. Because of his significant contributions to parental effectiveness training, he was the first to receive a Career Achievement Award from the National Parenting Instructors Association and be invited to speak at the White House Conference on Children.

In further recognition of the lasting value of his work in improving the quality of communication skills within families and society, he was nominated for the Nobel Peace Prize three times. While he did not win that prize, he did receive the much longer titled prize of the Gold Medal Award for Enduring Contribution to Society in the Public Interest by the American Psychological Foundation in 1999. The following year, he was also honored with the Lifetime Achievement Award.

His death in 2002 left a lasting legacy of a parenting model still respected and utilized today, with few modifications from the original.

Parental Effectiveness Training
Edward Savage, The Washington Family, Google Art Project CC by 4.0