Relationship between Mother and Child

The Changing Notion of Motherhood and Relationship between Mother and Child

Power is almost always a double-edged sword, and the power of motherhood is no exception. Absolute power carries the weight of absolute responsibility, and when it comes to child-rearing, that weight is simply too heavy to be born by a single person. No-one recognized and understood this more than feminist author Ann Dally. She was the first woman to study medicine at St. Thomas’ Hospital in London, and she became a general practitioner in 1953 before going on to become a psychiatrist and author. If that sounds impressive, consider that she accomplished it while being a mother to six children.

As a mother, Dally was critical of child care “experts” who offered often contradictory advice, such as adhering to strict feeding schedules, limiting affection, and treating children as subordinates.

Inventing Motherhood and Re-defining the Relationship between Mother and Child

She also took issue with the concept of “maternal instinct” (and here we saw she was not the only one), and believed that nurturing skills were largely learned through socialization. Further, she pointed out that these skills, as well as the level of devotion called “maternal” were often demonstrated by both fathers and adoptive parents.

“There have always been mothers, but motherhood was invented.”

As proof of her argument, she points out that even the word didn’t appear in the Oxford English Dictionary until 1597. In her 1983 book Inventing Motherhood, The Consequences of an Ideal she ties that invention to the advent of industrial capitalism in the 19th century. For most mothers, this new role served to increase their social isolation and degree of power over their children while decreasing their own social power.

While she acknowledged the importance of bonding in child development and of the relationship between mother and child, she also believed that other factors were equally important. The child’s needs for stimulation, a variety of experiences, and opportunities for play are also important aspects of healthy development.

She believed that the best and most effective mothers were happy, stable people with the opportunity to nurture in ways that expressed their own personalities and personal strengths. Much of her work was focused on challenging what she viewed as a highly unrealistic and destructive definition of motherhood as defined by a patriarchal society in which women were relegated to the confines of their homes and had dogmatic views of the relationship between mother and child.

Motherhood and self-knowledge

Rather than struggling to conform to an idealized concept of an all-powerful, all-giving mother while under threat of causing permanent damage to their children, Dally advocated for mothers increasing their self-knowledge. By doing so, she believed that they could maximize the effectiveness of their strengths while recognizing their weaknesses and enlisting help from others in those areas. In her view, an important element of effective parenting was developing a social network consisting of people with a variety of skills and learning to delegate.

Ideally, children would be the beneficiaries of a number of family and friends’ individual strengths and talents, while mothers would be relieved of the pressure for perfection. The relationship between mother and child would be less stressful. She believed that such pressure was partially responsible for a number of mental health issues common among mothers, as evidenced by the title of one of her earlier books, “Understanding: Coming to Grips With Moments of Inadequacy, Neurosis, Isolation, Depression, Masochism, Frustration. While recognizing childrens’ valid need for unconditional love, protection, continuity and reliability, she disputed that mothers were always the best, or only, source of these important things.

A controversial figure as a physician as well as a feminist, she was put on trial and censured for her controversial methadone treatment of heroin addicts. She was among the first to advocate treating addiction as an illness rather than a crime. She believed that addicts, despite their drug use, could still continue to function make valuable contributions to society.

Similarly, she believed that changing the definition of motherhood and the notions about the relationship between mother and child would help free both men and women from the false constructs of rigid societal roles. As a result of her ideas, today’s fathers share more of the day to day responsibilities, as well as the joys and rewards, of parenthood. Mothers, as a result, enjoy more of the benefits of personhood.

Relationship between Mother and Child
Virgin and Child, Joos van Cleve, ca 1525, Credit Line The Jack and Belle Linsky Collection, 1982. Metropolitan Museum of Art

The Plight of Nannies and Maids from Poor Countries

Women pursue careers today out of personal preference or perhaps out of necessity to pay bills. According to a 2010 article in The New York Times by Catherine Rampell, the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development stated in a report that

“Across the industrialized world, about 15.9 percent of children live in single-parent households.”

Between 1960 and 2011, the percentage of mothers who were the sole or primary source of income for their families rose from 11 to 40 percent, according to a Pew Research Center study.
Couple these statistics with information from the same Pew study that 74 percent of families said that it was harder to raise children with the rise in women working outside the home, while 67 percent felt that it made it easier for families to earn enough money to live comfortably, and you see a difficult and delicate situation parents face. The pull in two different directions means that something has got to give. For many families, that means hiring domestic help to manage the household, kids, and care for elderly family members.

Migration of Nannies and Maids

The migration of women from poor countries, typically in the southern part of the world, to the North, is the topic of a 2004 book edited by Barbara Ehrenreich and Arlie Russell Hochschild entitled Global Woman: Nannies, Maids, and Sex Workers in the New Economy. The contributors to the book delve into the emotional and financial world of mothers who leave their homelands in search of a better economic life in richer countries. I wrote another article here, on one of the authors, namely Arlie Russell Hochschild.

Caring for Others

One topic that is explored in depth in the book is the idea that mothers from poorer countries who work as nannies in other countries take their love away or redirect it from their own children and give it to the children in their care in the rich country. Some feel that there is a cultural care breakdown in First World countries, and parents in these countries seek out caregivers, like nannies, who still hold to “traditional” maternal ways of caring for children that busy, anxious parents cannot provide. This often means hiring caregivers from poorer countries.

This transference of love from biological children to children they are paid to care for often results in problems in the biological children. They may have problems in school, be resentful, or otherwise have difficulties in life. The mothers move to countries where they earn much higher salaries and pay for their children to have nannies themselves while they live with relatives as well as receive a good education. Still, the maternal bond with the children is often damaged, and this causes a lot of emotional pain for both parents and children.


Maids fill in the gap that is created when women start to work outside the home. Men have not contributed much to household work as women started working outside, as far as the number of hours goes each gender spends cleaning and cooking.

“With the decrease in cleaning hours spent by the woman of the house, men were still found to spend only 1.7 hours per week by 1995 in scrubbing, vacuuming, and sweeping, whereas women still spent 6.7 hours per week performing these particular chores,”

reports Paula Smith-Vanderslice, B.S.

Problems with Working Overseas

Maids who work in other countries also face leaving their children in the care of others. Nannies and maids may even have to leave their children in orphanages, sending home remittances to the orphanage or perhaps to relatives to pay for their care and education.

These domestic workers work long hours, and they are often isolated from the larger communities in which they live. They may suffer emotional distress, culture shock, isolation, and other difficulties. They live on very little in many cases, with their money being sent back home. Some of them may even be forced to work as sex workers to their employers, but they live in isolation and cannot get help.

Perhaps an important take-away from this book is that if a mother in a First World country hires a domestic worker to help her manage her home while she works to provide for her family, it is important to remember that that worker probably has a family at home and faces financial and emotional difficulties in caring for her family.

Some understanding and encouragement to make friends and acquaintances with and outside the family, as well as the opportunity to take time for themselves and to travel home regularly to see their children could make their lives just a bit easier. Paying attention to their needs, and making an honest effort to assist them can make an important and positive difference for them.

Ia Orana Maria (Hail Mary), Paul Gauguin, Atuona, Hiva Oa, Marquesas Islands, 1891, Credit Line Bequest of Sam A. Lewisohn, 1951. Metropolitan Museum of Art
Baby Care in Daycare

Baby Care in Daycare and Making the DayCare Choice

Children and Baby Care in Daycare

Child and baby care in daycare structures are rising, but is this a good thing and for whom? What is the effect on society, mothers, and fathers, and children themselves. Take a look at the results of these studies.

In the “Who’s Minding the Kids? Child Care Arrangements: Spring 2011” report from the U.S. Census Bureau, it was noted that 12.5 million (61 percent) of the 20.4 million children under age 5 participated in some kind of regular child care.

In the U.K., between 2011 and 2013, “The total number of full day care staff also increased between 2011 and 2013, rising by six per cent,” and “The number of registered places in full day care settings rose by ten per cent between 2011 and 2013,” according to the “Child Care and Early Years Providers Survey: 2013.”

Finally, an Australian government study from 2009 called “Child care and Early Education in Australia” found that

“The majority of the parents using child care (62.1%) accessed informal care provided by relatives, usually grandparents, or non‑relatives; 37.9 per cent used formal, government‑regulated long day care or family day care services; and 10.0 per cent used a combination of formal and informal care.”

The effect of this time away from care givers other than parents is undoubtedly on the mind of every parent. According to,

“Entry into child care before the age of one and continued and extensive child care throughout early childhood years are associated with less social competence and cooperation, more problem behaviors, negative moods, aggression, and conflict.”

Before you decide to quit your job and stay home with your child after reading this, consider that

“parenting quality was a much more important predictor of child development than was type, quantity, or quality, of child care,”

contended researchers of a 2007 long-term National Institutes of Health-funded study.

Consider your family’s individual needs and preferences before you make a final child care decision. Topics about child and or baby care in daycare are difficult and very personal. There is not fit-all solution.

Benefits of Daycare

Child care centers provide a routine for your child every day, which can help her to learn and to feel safe and secure. Baby care in daycare structures are usually inspected to be sure they are safe, and they are administered by a director.

U.S. National Institute of Child Health and Human Development research has found that children who attend daycare could

“have an intellectual edge over those in other kinds of care. . .,”

notes Lastly, toddlers and preschoolers can socialize with other kids in daycares, which is not possible quite as often when a nanny or family member cares for them.

Drawbacks of Daycare

Daycares charge late fees if parents are late or if they pick up late. They also have to find back-up care when the center closes for holidays, and they cannot bring their children to the center when they are ill. Children in daycare also tend to pick up more illnesses in daycares. Children also do not often get the individualized care they would with a babysitter, nanny, relative, or small, at-home daycare.

Developmental Effects of Daycare

The research done by the 2007 NIH-funded report found that children who had high-quality child care before they went to Kindergarten found that they had higher vocabulary scores in fifth grade than children did who were in lower-quality child care. This may be due, in part, to the exposure to more words during the day. They may receive explicit instruction in vocabulary from teachers as well.

However, the same study found that those children in center-based child care before Kindergarten received more notes of problem behaviors from their sixth grade teachers. The researchers said that these findings were not that significant compared to the quality of the parenting children receive.

Additionally, baby care in daycare organisations often have lower levels of social competence and cooperation, worse moods, aggression, and problem behaviors. The Australian study referenced previously found that

“Teacher ratings of social development were lower for children who attended more child care settings each week.”

However, the education of teachers and the child to teacher ratios also contributed to children’s social development in daycares.

Note these outcomes from the Australian study:

“Children who did not attend a formal early childhood program had lower scores for receptive vocabulary than children in pre‑Year 1 and preschool programs (whether this was in a single setting or with other additional care), and comparable scores to children in long day care. Children who attended long day care plus other additional care had the lowest scores. The relationship between child care factors and children’s receptive
vocabulary appeared to be a function of the amount of time in care rather than type of early childhood setting. . .Not attending a formal early childhood program had less of an impact on children’s achievement in early literacy and numeracy than on receptive vocabulary. Apart from the enhancing effect of being in pre‑Year 1, there were only minimal differences in test scores across the six types of early care/education settings children attended and these did not differ from scores for children not attending an education program.”

In the end, it seems that even if a child is a daycare most of the day, the quality of the parental care at home is vital in determining the social and emotional development of a child. Even if you don’t have much time with your child, the quality of the time you spend with her is essential. The quality of care at a daycare, or that which a family member, babysitter, or nanny provides is important as well. Your family will make the most appropriate decision about child care for your child. Even if it involves a daycare, you will research and make the most informed decision about the best environment for your child.


Baby Care in Daycare

women in leadership

Between the Bench and the Bottle: Women in Leadership Experiment with Motherhood and Careers in Science

Chien Shiung-Wu, also called First Lady of Physics, said once,

“I sincerely doubt that any open-minded person really believes in the faulty notion that women have no intellectual capacity for science and technology. Nor do I believe that social and economic factors are the actual obstacles that prevent women’s participation in the scientific and technical field. The main stumbling blocking the way of any progress is and always has been unimpeachable tradition.”

For those of us who want to become women in leadership and have careers that are long and impacting on the fields we inhabit, we certainly have a lot to overcome. Even if we conquer the possible harassment, unequal pay, and discrimination that have been well documented in the working world, when we decide to become mothers, we then have to conquer our own biology to remain active in our careers.

This is especially true in the fields of science and mathematics where vigorous schooling and workloads make it incredibly hard to become an attentive parent (or vice versa). Though we carry the responsibility of being beautiful vessels of life, many people, policies, and careers fail to give that responsibility the respect it deserves.

This often leaves women with a huge choice: spend life progressing their scientific careers or choose to experiment in being a parent. But why can’t we do both?

It is well documented that women are a minority in STEM fields (science, technology, engineering, and mathematics). Many programs and campaigns have been implemented in the past decade to recruit more women into these fields, but to little effect. According to the National Science Foundation, women comprise only 25% of the STEM workforce. Even if the campaigns work to recruit women into STEM degrees in university, many will not complete the STEM degree or will, later in their career, drop out of the field. But why? The reasons behind this differ, and there is research pointing to the fact that many women are simply not that interested in STEM careers, but recent investigation suggests that many women are making the choice to leave the laboratory so they can be mothers.

The Prevalence of Mothers in STEM Studies and Scientific Careers

A thorough study published in American Scientist suggests that women in leadership positions have careers equivalent to men in the same position until they plan to have children. Just the idea of becoming a parent exerts a stronger force on a woman’s career than on a man’s and for valid reasons. The path to a successful career in science requires many years of schooling, starting with a bachelors degree and ending with a PhD. This is followed by a few post-doc positions to gain research experience after the PhD, then finally, a full-fledged career in industry or academia.

Women’s fertility cycles clash with this timeline. A woman is most fertile at the start of and during her stressful, high-risk PhD years, with fertility exponentially declining in the years when her career becomes more stable. The question for women in leadership positions then becomes, risk a career to become a mother or risk infertility?

Making the Choice: The Gender Gap and Motherhood

In the end, women should not feel they have to make a choice. If a woman wants to have a career in science and be a mother, then she should be able to do so. By virtue of biology, however, a woman will be distanced from her career when she has a child. Therefore, the factors contributing to women dropping out of their careers not only include discrimination or lack of interest, but also gender inequality related to outdated policies that work for men and not for women. In other words, tradition contributes to the “motherhood or career” dilemma women face. Implementing policy changes that account for a woman’s biology when she decides to become a parent (and not only a man’s) would help STEM fields retain women in leadership.

Women in Leadership Speak Out About Mixing Motherhood with the Laboratory

Though it will undoubtedly take many years to create the policy changes needed to increase the number of women in STEM fields with long-standing careers, many women in leadership every day still make the decision to be both mothers and scientists, and do it successfully.

A book documenting the unique difficulties mothers face in the competitive field of science was recently published, giving hope and inspiration to women who wish to successfully combine their family goals with their career goals. The book is called Motherhood: The Elephant in the Laboratory: Women Scientist speak out. The book has also been turned into a project that hopes to bring awareness to the need for change in the STEM fields. You can find the website linked to the project here.

In the end, women are tough, smart, and mothers. Though we face traditions that work to thwart our goals in life, we work against them to create the lives we want. A career in science and in motherhood, though not easy, helps to create the change many of us wish to see in the world by concurrently allowing us to have a family, raise insightful children with strong role models, and partake in life-changing research. We can be women in leadership in both career and family, and if we continue to ask for change, it will get easier.

“The great use of life is to spend it for something that will outlast it.” – William James

Here are some great resources for further reading:

women in leadership

parental roles

Araphesh Motherhood and Parental Roles in Today’s Society

Margaret Mead said,

“Anthropology demands the open-mindedness with which one must look and listen, record in astonishment and wonder that which one would not have been able to guess.”

And she looked and listened alright.

Equal parenting roles is really only now starting to take hold in our society, meaning that it is not as looked down on as it once was. The rise in stay-at-home dads in charge of infant development is certainly evidence of this.

National Public Radio in the United States reports the Census Bureau’s finding that 3.5 percent of stay-at-home parents are dads, and this number has doubled in the last ten years. This percentage doesn’t include dads who work part-time, and the figure is likely largely unrepresentative of the larger, true number of dads who are their children’s primary caregivers. Parental roles studies in the United States may take an interesting turn as men begin to take care of their children more and spend more time with them outside of work.

This is making big headlines in today’s news because, as a society, men are considered the breadwinners and in charge of the financial aspect of the family’s life. Women, on the other hand, are thought to be better suited to seeing to their infants’ development and taking care of the household responsibilities. Parental roles are clearly defined, but are they?

Arapesh Motherhood seen by Margaret Mead

Around the world, however, this is not necessarily the way that all societies operate. Margaret Mead, the famed cultural anthropologist who started her work in the 1920’s, observed societies in Papua New Guinea in which our cultural norms and parental roles were seemingly turned upside down and inside out.

One people group Mead studied was the Arapesh. This group had gender role expectations and parental roles than were different from some surrounding groups, and they were definitely at odds with the expectations for men and women in society in the West. In general, the male and female Arapesh were cooperative, calm, and helpful toward one another. This contrasted with the Mundugumar (Biwat) people, a group in which both men and women were more aggressive. The Tchambuli (Chambri) were even more distinct in that the women were more dominant than the men.

Ideas on parental roles were also very different. Much of Mead’s work was criticized for being too neat and fitting in easily into her nurture over nature theory, but this was how she initially described these groups of people.

Infant development and parental roles

Infant development and parental roles was a key component of Mead’s research. She noted that the Arapesh and Mundugumor mothers carried their children around in containers attached to their foreheads, according to the Library of Congress website. The Arapesh used net bags, while the Mundugumor used more rigid baskets that were likely more uncomfortable for the infants. Older children among the Mundugumor were carried around on their mothers’ backs simply by their holding on to their mothers’ hair.

Nature and Nurture, the start of a debate that lasted a century

Mead’s field work over 24 trips to the South Pacific indicated that cultural environment was at least as strong an influence as biology on gender and parental roles in a given society. She viewed humans as a whole, and she thought that all facets of life were connected. She believed that all cultures could learn from each other, states the Intercultural Studies website. In her works Male and Female and Growth and Culture”, Mead laid out her ideas that personality differences between men and women are in large part due to how they were raised instead of biological tendencies, according to the website.

Infant development among the Arapesh centered around adults considering it important to tend to their needs, despite inconvenience to themselves. Adults take care of babies by holding them and tending to their needs.

Even though the Arapesh considered childrearing  the duties of both men and women and saw equal parental roles, R. F. Fortune, Mead’s second husband noted in an “American Anthropologist” article he penned in 1939 that

“The biological multiplication of the clan is, however, a definite Arapesh ideal maintained by the clan. The Arapesh express more concern for replenishing the land with children than they do for finding land for their children. . .They give a barren woman an intentionally shameful burial.”

Today, as gender roles change, as they have in decades past, it is important to remember that raising children in a world where two incomes is essential for many families requires men and women to pitch in. Each family should decide whether the primary care of children falls to the man or woman, how to best attend to infants’ development, and each member should be comfortable with that decision. Society’s views of parental roles, working women, stay-at-home men and any combination of the two will ebb, flow, and change direction based on the way the wind is blowing at any given moment.

What is important is that the children are getting the best the parents can offer them.

Here you you will find more about the Navajo, a maternal society.

parental roles
Margaret Mead (1901-1978) Source: Wikimedia
maternal society

Motherhood in Navajo tradition, a maternal society

The Maternal Society

The Navajo have a drastically different way of parenting than modern day western parents. Though in both cultures the mother takes on the dominant care-giver role the Navajo society puts much more emphasis on the importance of childrearing. The bond between mother and child from this culture is of particular interest. It is a true maternal society.

Navajo children are the center of entire communities and basically control their schedule from birth. Mothers are expected to nurse on demand until the baby decides to wean itself, sleep with their infant, and continuously teach and prepare them for adult life. In contrast modern western mothers and doctors usually recommend feeding and sleeping schedules and having the baby sleep alone.

The Changing Woman

The Navajo are known for their strongly maternal society in contrast to Western male dominance. One of the reasons for the strong mother figure came from the tribe’s creation story. The “Diné Bahane” explains how the Changing Woman rubbed the first four clans of the Navajo from her very own skin. This Mother Earth figure is meant to be the Navajo women’s role model and serves to establish maternal dominance in this maternal society.

The primary care giver in a maternal society

It was a woman’s main duty to have several children and to be their primary care provider. The mother-child relationship is considered the most important bond in this maternal society. The bond was so important that resources and lineage was all passed on the woman’s side. Commonly all of the nursing, bathing, comforting, teaching, and feeding were duties that the woman would perform. The men’s primary duties were to provide for their wives and children the things they could not provide themselves.

feeding babyThe Navajo mothers would take their babies with them everywhere and even created cradleboards, a type of infant carrier, to carry their babies with them when collecting food or tending to crops.

When babies became fussy feeding baby was the first thing that Navajo mothers offered. Feeding a baby was not scheduled. Schedules were very flexible and there were no bedtimes. The mother and baby typically slept in the same bed until one year of age.

Breast feeding in a maternal society

Breastfeeding is an essential bond in the Navajo tribe. It was very rare that a mother would not breastfeed her baby. Mothers milk in a maternal society takes on another meaning. Mothers were expected to have a diet high in meat and herbs dedicated to milk production for their infants.

The Navajo believe breastfeeding provides a number of great benefits including improved physical growth, faster development, provided for attachment, created a sense of security, and turned into better listeners. If the mother’s milk failed or has not come in yet feeding baby from a bottle was traditionally practiced. They would feed them goat, cow, or sheep milk.

The Navajo believed that bottle feeding was not natural and may result in the baby crying needlessly. Infants were fed and weaned on their own schedule but usually babies would wean themselves between 18 and 24 months old.

Maternal society raises children in communities

Because the Navajo do not practice birth control their family sizes are not at all restricted. On the contrary larger families were considered better due to a high mortality rate for young tribe members. Twins on the other hand were not handled well because the mother would often have difficulty caring for two infants.

Usually if the mother can’t care for her baby a relative will take on the responsibility. THis is quite typical for a maternal society. Traditionally women would have the responsibility of not only their own children but their relatives as well. Communities came together to raise the children and frequently older children would live with a relative other than their parents. The community recognized that mothers are unable to completely provide everything for every child. Feeding children as a group was considered to strengthen the entire society.

The tribes or this type of maternal society had a much more encompassing definition of family than the Western world. Historically families included mom, dad, unmarried children, married daughters and their husbands, and their children as well. Typically everyone lived in clusters like this within shouting distance.

Navajo mothers in a maternal society

Navajo mothers care for and generally interact with their babies more than anyone else. This culture or maternal society provides an example of a society which places this mother and child bond above all else. Modern mothers are evolving into a society much more similar to Navajo tradition than historical European traditions.

Today’s modern expectation is that mothers should be both empathetic towards their infants and completely devoted to fulfilling their physical and emotional needs. It can sometimes feel overwhelming trying to provide such encompassing care as just one individual and not with the community’s support. It can be very beneficial to take note of some Navajo beliefs on child care. Although I’m not suggesting going out and making a cradle board…

Head over here if you want to find more about how wonderful Karen Sacks who explores the range of motherhood roles in primitive societies.

maternal society

extended families

Childbearing in primitive societies had no impact on productivity thanks to the concept of extended families

Dealing with Motherhood in Other Societies

Karen Sacks, a professor of anthropology and director of women’s studies at the University of California at Los Angeles was one of the women who showed how women would deal differently with motherhood in other societies. The definition of a mother is in these societies quite different. Extended families was a major contributing factors. An extended family is a family that extends beyond the nuclear family, and it thus consists of grandparents, aunts, uncles, or cousins all living nearby or in the same household.

In her book, Sisters and Wives, written in 1982, she writes a lively and beautifully researched analysis of mothers roles in primitive societies (pre-capitalist) in Africa. She showed how they turn out to be quite interesting for women’s issues throughout our modern world. She does not moan about the equality debate between men and women but gives a data driven explanation of women’s relationships and their status across six different African groups of societies.

The Definition of Motherhood

In analyzing the ethnographic data describing the division of labor by sex in 224 societies, Karen Sacks showed in 1979  the enormous range of economic activities that women perform in different societies (Sisters and wives. The past and future of sexual equality. Westport, CT: Greenwood Press, 1979). Women may be primarily responsible, for

“(…)mining and quarrying, stone work, lumbering, herding, clearing the land for agriculture, burden carrying, and grain grinding”(…)”

Furthermore, Sacks found that in all societies women combine these physical activities of producing food and material objects with the physical activities of child rearing and motherhood.

“While carrying, bearing, and nursing babies is certainly productive labor, no human society has denied this as the totality of women’s labor.”

A most significant conclusion of Sacks, and directly contrary to most analyses, is that it has been women’s subsistence or productive activities that have shaped her relationships to reproduction and the conditions of her motherhood rather than the opposite. They did indeed have another definition of a mother, family life and the role of extended families.

Ruth Bleier another scientist, devoted herself to applying gender role analyses and perspectives to the theories and practices of science after seeing how sexist and other cultural biases affected the biological sciences. She did not agree with the many gender differences in the areas of math, verbal skills and creativity supposedly biologically based.

Ruth received her M.D. in 1949 from the Women’s Medical College of Pennsylvania, then the only remaining women’s medical school in the country. She practiced general medicine in the poor, inner city of Baltimore for nearly ten years. She then took a postdoctoral training position in neuro anatomy at the John Hopkins School of Medicine and joined the Department of Neurophysiology at Wisconsin in 1967. In the early 1970s, her book Science and Gender, A Critique of Biology and Its Theories on Women, and her anthology, Feminist Approaches to Science, are considered classics and are required reading in many women’s studies courses.

Extended families

Ruth Bleier wrote in 1984 in her book Science and gender. A critique of biology and its theories on women  (Pergamon Press. p. 145-146):

‘It is reasonable to assume that !Kung women know that nursing stops menstruation and therefore pregnancy, and they are thus scheduling their childbearing to fit the requirements and capacities of their essential foraging and other productive activities, which provide the majority of the group’s food and water… The difference between women and men is women’s capacity to bear children, and this must, therefore, account for all the other dichotomies and inequalities, whether or not they follow logically… However the ethnographic and ethno historical evidence demonstrates that there has not been a universal basic division of labor into the categories of women’s reproduction and men’s production, and that women have not been universally excluded from any sphere of productive activities by their childbearing capacity or by child care.‘

Women have not been universally excluded from any sphere of productive activities by their childbearing capacity or by child care. It seems to be rather a matter of organization or social institutions so exclusion of young mothers does not take place on a large scale. The notion of extended families is crucial in the analysis.

Here are Margaret Meads views on the nuclear versus the extended families.

extended families
Who are we – Where are we going, by Paul Gauguin, Metropolitan Museum of Art
maternal health

What we learned from the Samoan indians on maternal health and breast feeding

Have you wondered about the history behind the re-introduction of wet nurses and breastfeeding into American and European culture?

The old ideas of breastfeeding, maternal health and wet nursing are returning as part of worldwide or universal culture as science verifies vital aspects of maternal health that some cultures never lost touch with.

What is surprising is the story behind the history of breastfeeding reintroduction due to one educated American woman.

How Margaret Mead revived breastfeeding, promoted the wet nurse profession and maternal health professional work

In the early and emerging days of the field of Anthropology, Margaret Mead decided to place her professional focus as a Ph.D. on the Samoan people. In particular, she studied sexuality of females of all ages on the island where she conducted her work in 1924. However, what was interesting was Margaret Mead’s intertwining of personal experience with her professional study of the Samoan women.

What Margaret Mead studied in Samoa

Numerous references to Margaret Mead’s work with the Samoan women in 1924 have been published in academic works over the past nine decades. What makes her work so fascinating is that Mead attempts to display observations in the most honest manner possible.

This is the main idea behind good anthropology and dispelling the problems associated with ethnocentrism. Since Mead’s work with Samoan women is considered to be sound academic work, it is still highly referenced. One field of academia that uses her research frequently is nursing and maternal health.

What breastfeeding was like for Margaret Mead

You will see films and other works about Margaret Mead announcing that she “reintroduced breastfeeding to America.” When Margaret Mead pushed the envelope with challenging ideas in America about maternal health and breastfeeding, her notions denoted several big changes. Interestingly, maternal health practices during the 1920s and 1930s relied heavily on using formula instead of breastfeeding or using a wet nurse. Popular maternal health literature of the time also asked women to give babies formula on a schedule instead of feeding the baby when it was hungry.

Margaret Mead’s relationship with Benjamin Spock

In addition to a professional relationship, Margaret Mead used Spock as a pediatrician for her own child. Mead gave birth to a girl in 1939, and sought out the top professional of her time. Spock was the author of several books on childrearing that were crucial throughout the middle of the 1900s, and Margaret Mead shaped Spock’s writing about maternal health and breastfeeding with her research before she used him as a pediatrician.

Maternal health and wet nursing

In popular media, Margaret Mead was known for her work with the Samoan women that concluded that a baby should be breastfed on demand. This differed from a previous idea that was prevalent in American culture that asked mothers to feed their babies formula on a schedule. Nevertheless, what often gets overlooked is that Mead also favored wet nursing.

In the book A Social History of Wet Nursing in America: From Breast to Bottle by Janet Golden, there is paraphrasing from Margaret Mead’s autobiography, Blackberry Winter (1972), that talks about Mead’s concerns in 1939 that she might not be able to breastfeed her own child. If this was the case, Mead remembered that she decided she would investigate hiring a wet nurse. Janet Golden suggests that Mead may have found hiring a wet nurse in 1939 a challenge because the practice was sharply on the decline due to the upsurge in infant formula use.

Margaret Mead’s enduring legacy

On a deeper level, Margaret Mead said her thoughts about her Samoan research changed when she actually became a mother. In Divided Lives: American Women in the Twentieth Century by Rosalind Rosenberg, there is a quote that explains this shift.

In her earlier books, “Coming of Age in Samoa” (1928) and “Sex and Temperament” (1935), she had portrayed motherhood as incident in the life cycle, a positive experience but not significant for the culture at large. … By the time she wrote “Male and Female” in 1949, however, Mead had begun to discuss the ways in which biology might work dialectically with environmental forces to shape culture. Maternity became the central feature of this dialectic, the one great problem that all cultures must confront in organizing gender roles. How, she asked, do societies deal with universal experiences, like pregnancy and childbirth?

Opponents of Margaret Mead 

Infant formula was introduced in the 1920s, and an aggressive campaign to sell this product began. In the forefront was Nestle that was well-known for making advertisements for developing nations that encouraged mothers to use formula instead of breastfeeding.

The situation was so dire that United Nations stepped in to rein in Nestle and other infant formula companies in favor of breastfeeding. The main issue with that was that many women in developing countries did not have access to clean drinking water, and their babies would die. While it is not easy to find information about opponents to Margaret Mead and her work with breastfeeding, what you will find is a heavy legal push in the 1960s and early 1970s by infant formula companies that disputed Benjamin Spock’s published breastfeeding advice that used Margaret Mead as a reference.

What Margaret Mead means to us today

Over the past decades, multiple branches of academics have combined to form the philosophies behind worldwide maternal health practices. In the end, Margaret Mead is still remembered because her work is still relevant. The truths that she learned from the Samoan women about breastfeeding on demand were correct and transformed maternal culture in America.

Today, we have universal maternal practices that are based upon using the most practical means possible. While we certainly have not strayed away from using infant formula, more women around the world are being shown by science and culture that breastfeeding is the best way. Perhaps in the future, Margaret Mead’s nod toward wet nursing practices will expand as breastfeeding acceptance becomes universal.

maternal health
The Natchez, Eugène Delacroix, 1835, Credit Line Gifts of George N. and Helen M. Richard and Mr. and Mrs. Charles S. McVeigh and Bequest of Emma A. Sheafer
child and baby care

Child and Baby Care : Evolving viewpoints

“There is no evidence that babies or infants attach less to other carers than the mother.”

This was shown by research on child and baby care done by Rudolph Schaffer and Peggy Emerson in Scotland back in 1964. Other research on child and baby care confirmed similar facts.

There is, we must conclude, nothing to indicate any biological need for an exclusive primary bond (with mother); nothing to suggest that mothering cannot be shared by several people.’

wrote Rudolph Schaffer in 1977 in his book Mothering published by the Harvard University Press.

This is off course a sharp contrast to the imprinting generalization on the human species.

And later research on child and baby care went even further. A baby can attach as much to another caring person than the mother even if she is the one staying most of the time at home with the baby. The research on child and baby care shows that the baby or infant can be as and even more distressed when the father, or grandmother leaves the place than the mother. The baby has the intellectual and emotional capacity to attach itself to several people just like adults and this from an early age on. By the time the baby is eight to twelve months it will have as strong bonds with and the mother and the father and siblings if all of them are fun to be with.

And there is the debate whether or not women can go to work when their children are very young and use child and baby care for example. In many countries child and baby care by others is still not encouraged. The reason given is often the emotional implications on the children. The people who feel a mother should be with her children still wonder why it is so important for certain women to go to work and can not understand they do not wish to stay at home with their children. They do not understand why it is necessary to take any chances or risks with other types of child minding when the stakes are so high. In their eyes, the risks are surely higher on one side than on the other. This child and baby care is surely more valuable and important than the employment for some extra years.

If sharing child and baby care would be proven harmful one would think these research data on child and baby care would be mediatized  and that it would be impossible for most women with the choice to even consider going to work and organize group child and baby care. But the data of the research on sharing care says the contrary and this since several years. It was not always so.

The sole condition of child and baby care

There is however one condition. The daycares or other forms of child and baby care need to be of sufficient quality. And a good carer with the right training seems to be able to praise, comfort, respond, question and instruct young children more than others. This is of utmost importance because this quality of baby care will influence positively language skills, intellect and emotional skills. It is also said that the quality of child and baby care is more determined by knowledge of childminding and less by experience. So all these things need to be taken into account whether group care or care by the father or by family members or friends is being debated. Once qualitative child and baby care is seen divergently from the mother, this will have an impact on how we organize as a society.

Child and baby care and Penelope Leach

Sharing care or child and baby care by other people than the mother was not always okay. Back in the seventies, full-day attendance at a day nursery, with mother excluded by her own outside job and/or by professional staff, was considered to do a child considerable harm. It was actually Penelope Leach, a loved British psychologist and bestselling author who was one of the first to debate this matter and the effects on sharing care, in Who Cares? A New Deal for Mothers and Their Small Children written in 1979. But even today and in her last books The Essential First Year (2010) and Family Breakdown  (2014), she is extremely cautious about child and baby care in the first year.

Leach has been criticized for her view that young children require one-on-one attention, ideally provided by mothers or family members and which cannot be provided in day-care.

It is no coincidence that most research on child and baby care showed the opposite of what was actually done in that same period. We now know when children can be taken care by other or more people besides the mother, it does not leave her at a disadvantage in employment, politics or other areas of public life, and does not impose excessive demands on them that can produce so frustration and unhappiness.

Women can get out or combine it with an activity for which they have studied or are passionate about, which gives them their identity and there backbone in questioning moments. Sharing care, child and baby care or group care (more here)are not longer judged and criminalized as before.

child and baby care
A Domestic Scene, Annibale Carracci, 1582-1584, Credit Line Purchase, Mrs. Vincent Astor and Mrs. Charles Payson Gifts, Harris Brisbane Dick and Rogers Funds, 1972



The effect of active fatherhood on a child’s education

A Father’s Influence

Male Parental Units, or MPUs, as they are known in the 1993 movie “The Coneheads,” are vital influences in their children’s lives. More commonly known as fathers and dads, MPUs have strong effects on how their children develop. Research corroborates the idea that children benefit greatly from having a father’s presence.

The Fatherhood Initiative website reports that one in three children, about 24 million, in the United States do not live in homes with their biological fathers. Research on fatherhood has delved into the topic extensively, and the results of these studies indicate that fathers have powerful impacts on their sons and daughters. Let us have a look.

Research on Fathering and Fatherhood

Already back in 1978 dr Pilling and dr Pringle did some research for thei book ‘Controversial Issues in Child development‘. 1978. It revealed that fathering, fatherhood and love for fathers as a result of it has been associated with adjustment qualities both socially and emotionally. The lack of affection or inadequate affection is associated with delinquent behavior.

One of the clear results is verbal skill. It seems that children who are actively raised by fathers as well as mothers have a more developed verbal knowledge. The father is a second adult and therefore a second opportunity to talk.

Another interesting result was that mothers who are sharing the tasks of child rearing have a higher degree of self-confidence and this is in turn has an effect on the child. The child will in turn be given more autonomy and self-confidence. Therefore encouragement of independence and autonomy in decisions making has benefited children.

Another outcome of this study on fatherhood showed the ability decision-making when faced with choice and change, at least for the girls. This is a direct result of the development of women’s equality and liberation.

A 2006 study on fatherhood published in the Journal of Family Psychology that looked at father involvement in the lives of over 100 children of adolescent mothers discovered that when fathers were in contact with their children, the children had better socio-emotional and academic success. The study on fatherhood followed children under 10 years of age. Children in the study had higher reading scores and fewer behavioral difficulties. An important conclusion of this study was that fathers make significant differences for the better in the lives of their at-risk children. This is true even when dads don’t live with their children.

The best gift a father can give a child is self-esteem, according to Adrienne Burgess, the father of Fatherhood Reclaimed: The Making of the Modern Father. Burgess also holds that fathers who interact with their children have more influence over their children’s lives than fathers who do not spend as much time with them. Other studies on fatherhood have shown that being a good father can help children develop more satisfaction in their lives. They also have more satisfying relationships as adults.

Additionally, children with involved and present fathers have fewer criminal problems like abusing drugs, according to the Dad Info website. Burgess is quoted on the Dad Info website as saying,

“If you want to keep your child off drugs or out of gangs, the best way is to build a strong, positive relationship with them as a tiny child, then maintain that relationship as they grow up.”

In a 2007 study published in Acta Paediatrica the authors reviewed 24 publications and found that 22 “described positive effects of father development.” Even though living with both father and mother is connected to fewer “externalizing behavioural problems”, fatherhood that involved dads engaging with their children on a regular basis also led to a wide range of positive results in the children’s lives. Behavioral problems in boys and psychological problems in girls occurred less often.

Children of dads who are not in their lives at all often have more difficulties making friends. They also tend to become bullied or to bully others. They may think it’s their fault that their father is not around, feel grief, distress, and low self-esteem as adults. These children may also make their fathers out to be worse or much better men than they really are.

Children in families where a father-figure is present do better on intelligence tests than those without a father figure. This is especially true in non-verbal reasoning areas, like math and science. The IQ bump is thought to be connected to how fathers physically interact with their children and play with objects like blocks. On the other hand, a Chinese study on fatherhood uncovered that a father’s caring attitude toward his children helped predict their success in school, according to the Pathways to Family Wellness website.

Biological Fatherhood and live away fathers

Research shows that good fathers are not necessarily those who are biological fathers. They do not necessarily have to live in the same household as their children. A father-figure, step-dad, or non-resident dad keeps his temper and have consistent and sensible rules. They spend time with their children regularly, and they listen attentively to what they have to say.

A father does not have to be present in the home of a child to have a positive benefit. Fathers can benefit their children most by being active parts of their lives.

Researching Fathering / Fatherhood

Research on fathers and their impact on children is not an easy thing. Besides getting hold of them, knowing that you are being ‘researched’ and the artificiality of the situation influences obviously the results. But still there is consistent data coming out while using a variety of study methods.

One caution when interpreting this research is to know that active fathering is more present in middle and upper classes. This might impact the result when compared to the norm. It is also crucial to consider these results as a reflection of our times. These same studies might have been different last century when the society viewed men and women and mothers and fathers differently.

But, research shows in point of fact that father figures do have positive and long-lasting impacts on their children just by engaging with them in affirmative and encouraging ways.

Here you you will find a short but great video illustrating wonderful fatherhood.

First Steps, Franz Ludwig Catel, German, 1820–25, Credit Line The Whitney Collection, Promised Gift of Wheelock Whitney III