On Reproductive Consciousness and the Power of Creating and Sustaining Life

On Reproductive Consciousness and the Power of Creating and Sustaining Life

The Struggle for Power Throughout Nurturing History

Everyone agrees that war has a negative effect on children. That has also held true regarding the battle of the sexes. Although the term was not coined until 1973, to describe the famous tennis match between Billie Jean King and Bobby Riggs, the struggle between men and women to effectively share power has been going on for centuries.
In ancient times, before reproductive consciousness, or scientific knowledge of the human reproductive system, women alone were believed to possess the power of creating and sustaining life. Social customs reflected that belief in a number of ways, including the greater number of rights that women enjoyed in matrilineal societies. Those rights included almost exclusive ownership of the property upon which women carried out their sacred duties of single-handedly creating future generations.

The ancient mythologies and primitive religions of many societies also reflected the belief that men played no role in reproduction. Reproductive consciousness occurred in a number of stages. The first step was the observation of the reproductive behavior and biological realities of domesticated animals. Once it had been established that male sperm was indeed responsible for producing offspring, the balance of social power shifted drastically. While semen was a visible power, the female egg was not visible. Lacking proof of the female contribution of the egg in the reproductive process, men began to women as little more than fertile ground in which to plant their seeds.

The Rise of Paternity in Nurturing History

These faulty scientific beliefs were incorporated into both social customs and religious practices. Before the advent of Christianity, the religion of the Roman Empire was much like that of the Greeks. In fact, most Greek gods have Roman counterparts. For example, the Roman counterpart of Aphrodite, the Greek goddess of love, is the Roman goddess, Venus. The Roman counterpart of the Greek goddess Gaia, or mother earth, is Tellus, or Terra Mater. Their respective pantheons of gods and goddesses were believed to play a large part in fertility and childbearing.

The Latin term “Pater Familia” originally referred to invoking the god Jupiter, the father of gods and men, and other male deities. However, the new consciousness of the male role in reproduction resulted in men being bestowed with the power that mothers had formerly enjoyed. Unfortunately, it is the nature of power to corrupt, which often leads to abuse of said power.

Some laws created during nurturing history, such as those of the Twelve Tables, viewed women and children as property and even granted fathers the right to sell their children into slavery. They also had the power to approve or reject their children’s choice of marriage partners. Adult males were not granted the status of head of household until the death of their own fathers. If they married, any property they purchased or children born to them were considered the property of the head of the household. In legal language, the term paterfamilias was used to refer to any male who was not under the power of a father or master.

The Role of Religion in Nurturing History

Myths and religions also began to reflect the newfound power of fatherhood in nurturing history. Just as societies had believed that motherhood elevated women to the status of goddess, people began to believe that fatherhood elevated men to the status of gods. Consequently, men desired to have as many children as possible. The Brhaddarma Purana, a Hindu religious text, states that “No rituals are performed for the man who has no descendants…. Sons are useful to give oblations to the ancestors” Without the prayers of his descendants, it was believed that a man’s spirit was doomed to wander homeless throughout eternity.

St. Thomas Aquinas, credited with synthesizing Greek philosophy with Catholicism, said that a father is the true parent, while a mother is only the “soil” in which his seed grows. He believed that fathers should be loved and revered more than mothers due to their active role in their creation and support, rather than the passive role of the mother. (The existence of the female egg would not be discovered by science for four hundred more years.)

Some religions attempted to temper paternal power by advocating love of all beings. For example, Buddha urged fathers to use their power wisely by emulating the nurturing history of mothers in their behavior towards children. In his Discourse on Universal Love, he said: “As a mother, even at the risk of her own life, protects and loves her child, her only child, so let a man cultivate love without measure toward the whole world, above, below, and around, unstinted, unmixed with any feeling of differing or opposing interests…. This state of mind is the best in the world.”

Evidence suggests that the pendulum of parental power, having swung from women to men during nurturing history, may be approaching a peaceful equilibrium, marking an end to the battle of the sexes. Just as creation requires both egg and sperm, children are happiest when both parents share the power, responsibility, joys and benefits of parenting.

nurturing history
Magical Stela, 360–34bc, Egypt, Alexandria, Credit Line Fletcher Fund, 1950
207.W Alchemie _ Mystik, Taschen, 2007, K?ln, p. 10

Female Deities, Mother Figures and Motherhood Symbolism

Ancient Female Contributions to the Nurturing History of Science and Math

According to Hindu scriptures, the Goddess Samjna, invented all the symbols that convey the meaning of what it is to be human, including art and the letters of the alphabet. Her name is the word for sign, name, and image. An important figure in the nurturing history of the Hindu religion, she is also said to have given birth to the Vedas, important texts considered revelations, as well as logic, grammar and all measurements of time and space. Those measurements include the scales which produce the music by which life is celebrated as well as the end of time which marks death.

The Sanskrit word for mother “matr” is the root of the word “matra”, which means “measurement”. Similarly, the Greek word “meter” means both “mother” and “measurement.” The linguistic derivation of the word mathematics is a combination of “mother” and “wisdom”. In addition to mathematical terms such as geometry, trigonometry, and hydrometric, the root word of motherhood also produced many other words, such as mensuration and mentality. According to the Vayu Purana, an ancient Hindu religious text, men once believe that women had the power to give birth due to their superior skill in measuring and figures vrvup3b. Further, there was a time in nurturing history when they believed that acquiring these skills would enable them to give birth as well.

Ancient Female Contributions to the Nurturing History of Linguistics

In addition to the contribution of the goddesses to mathematics, many other cultures also credited them for the creation of the alphabet. The Latin alphabet was believed to have been created by the Goddess Carmenta, who was also considered the mother of charms. In Egypt, the alphabet was believed to have been created by the goddess Isis, who is often depicted in art nursing a child. She is believed by some to serve as an archetype of the Virgin Mary.

In the Middle East, the last ruler of the Assyrian Empire, Ashurbanipal, took great pride in having learned the “noble art of tablet writing”. This knowledge was usually possessed only by learned scribes called maryanu. At the beginning of Babylonian civilization, numbers and letters were inventions of the Goddess and were the concern of priestesses. The Egyptian word for scribe, “maryen”, also meant “mother” or “great one”. Only women who had given birth were allowed to enter the Holy of Holies in the municipal temple of Babylon, which was dedicated to the Goddess Mari-Anna, also known as Ishtar. The nurturing history of Hittite society also included priestesses who taught the art of writing as well as practicing medicine, keeping records, and advising kings.

Ancient Germanic society was guided in part by a number of female deities, including Sjöfn, whose name means “love”. Female writers were called Die Schreiberinnen, while the Roman mother of destiny was called Fata Scribunda, meaning “the fate who writes”. Before the advent of Christianity, the nurturing history of ancient Roman culture included several deities believed to perform certain functions throughout the process of pregnancy, childbirth, and child development. For example, Proverta, goddess of the past, was believed to prevent breech births. The goddess Rumina was believed to endow new mothers with milk for suckling infants.

The mother’s ability to nourish life as well as her role in creating it was revered in most ancient cultures. According to the Mahanirvanatantra, a sacred Hindu text, “Mother is superior to father on account of her bearing and also nourishing the child.” The Laws of Manu, some of which date back to the 2nd century BC, state that “A spiritual teacher exceeds a worldly teacher ten times, a father exceeds a spiritual teacher one hundred times, but a mother exceeds one thousand times a father’s claim to honor on the part of a child and as its educator.”

Women, able to nourish a child during its first year of life, certainly deserve a special place in the nurturing history of mankind. Fortunately, modern technology is making it possible for fathers to play a larger role in their children’s lives. The division of labor caused first by agriculture and then industrialization, is gradually being rendered obsolete by time and labor-saving technology that promises to allow all parents to participate more fully in their children’s lives. The world’s children of tomorrow can look forward to a fusion between the best of the past and the brightest of the future.

nurturing history
Alchemie & Mystik, Taschen, 2007, Köln, p. 10
187.W Draped Reclining Mother and Baby, sculpture by Henry Moore at the NY Botanical Garden, picture by Peter Rivera, Flickr CC

How Imagined Baby Care Guides Can Improve Parenting Perspectives

“I was born in ancient times, at the end of the world, in a patriarchal Catholic and conservative family. No wonder that by age five I was a raging feminist – although the term had not reached Chile yet, so nobody knew what the heck was wrong with me.”

–Isabel Allende

Childhood in ancient societies was far different than childhood today. In fact, the concept of childhood as we know it today didn’t exist until the late 18th Century. The policies of potentates often had more power to determine the fate of children than the power of parents. Children were often subjected to slavery and in some societies, were even used as a form of payment for debts.

The Code of Hammurabi is one example of the power of political leaders to influence the course of baby care history. It is one of the earliest surviving examples of government regulation of family life. The consequences of breaking a law were harsh indeed, the most common being that of being put to death. The baby care history of ancient civilizations is a bleak one.

The Code of Hammurabi granted fathers a great deal of power in Mesopotamian family life. It also legislated female sexuality, making it the property of husbands in order to ensure paternity. Teen-aged rebellion was not tolerated. In fact, according to the code, “if a son strikes his father, his hands shall be hewn off”. An example of what this ancient society would consider “liberal” would a change in the law that limited the amount of time that a father was permitted to sell a child into slavery to three years.

Similar patriarchal laws were made and enforced throughout much of baby care history. In the ancient Roman Empire, under the law of patria potestas, translated as “the power of the father” men had absolute power over children. Under this law, they were even permitted to sell them into slavery or kill them. It was not uncommon for fathers to decide to allow newborns to die of exposure to the elements and he was within his legal rights to do so.

Girls as young as 13 were given in marriage. That may seem young, but at the time, approximately one third of all children died by the age of 10. The average life expectancy of men was only twenty-two, and only twenty for women. That meant that only the most fortunate girls even lived long enough to have a child, and few lived long enough to raise a child to adulthood. Consequently, many laws allowing adoption and the inheritance of property to adopted children were passed.

In ancient Greek society, physical perfection was highly valued. Babies that were born with any kind of physical abnormality or perceived frailty were often abandoned and left to die. Sometimes such babies were rescued by slavers and later sold for a profit. The male head of the household had the right to either accept or reject an infant based on its gender and physical condition, as well as other criteria such as questions of legitimacy and economic considerations.

Baby care history in ancient Mayan culture included the practice of child slavery. Some children were born into slavery, while others were sold by their parents. Orphaned children were often purchased for use in religious sacrifices. Mayan babies were nursed by their mothers three times a day until they were old enough to walk. To keep them safe, toddlers were often placed in holes in the ground that served the same purpose as that of modern playpens.

Child Advocates in Ancient Civilization

There were a few child advocates throughout baby care history, such as the philosopher Quintilian who spoke out against corporal punishment, saying

“… it is a disgrace and a punishment for slaves… if a boy’s disposition be so abject as not to be amended by reproof, he will be hardened, like the worst of slaves, even to stripes; and lastly, because, if one who regularly exacts his tasks be with him, there will not be the least need of any such chastisement.”

Slavery was such an integral part of ancient societies that even most philosophers did not speak out against it.

Baby Care History in Greece

In ancient Greek society, the philosopher Plato spoke out against the family structure, saying that collective child rearing made for a stronger society. He was also against the harsh punishment of children and was quoted as saying

“Do not train a child to learn by force or harshness; but direct them to it by what amuses their minds, so that you may be better able to discover with accuracy the peculiar bent of the genius of each.”

Christianity, which taught that children were gifts from heaven, was a welcome development in baby care history, especially for children. Roman emperors who had converted to Christianity imposed penalties for abandoning children and limited the practice of child slavery. However, it took three hundred years of Christianity to end child slavery, which had been practiced for 600 years. Sadly, the history of baby care contains very little care for babies. Happily, future accounts of modern baby care history will be far less bleak.

Draped Reclining Mother and Baby, sculpture by Henry Moore at the NY Botanical Garden, picture by Peter Rivera, Flickr CC
92.W Statuette of the (pregnant) Goddess Taweret, 332–30bc, Upper Egypt Credit Line Purchase, Edward S. Harkness Gift, 1926

How to Raise Children: Insights from Plato, Quintilian and others

One article on 19th and 20th century baby care history presents much of the conflicting advice from child care experts over the last 100 years. According to the article, such advice is a conglomeration of pseudoscience, authoritative statements, and often unreasonable demands of mothers.

In one example, Dr. George H. Napheys, author of The Physical Life of Woman, cites a study by child care “expert” Dr. Henry Kennedy. According to the results of the study, parents that care about their infant’s health will ensure that their babies always sleep with their heads pointing north. Apparently, this was a form of the Chinese practice of feng shui before it became popular in the Western world.Disturbingly enough, many parenting manuals throughout baby care history, many “experts” in the 19th century used the world “eugenics”, before Hitler demonstrated the end result of that concept. Reading some of the popular parenting “advice” of the 19th century may well make modern parents wonder how any children survived baby care history with even a modicum of mental health.

In 1916, Drs. William and Lena Sadler, in their publication The Mother and her Child advised parents to

“Handle the baby as little as possible. Turn it occasionally from side to side, feed it, change it, keep it warm, and let it alone; crying is absolutely essential to the development of good strong lungs. A baby should cry vigorously several times each day.”

To most modern parents, this seems insensitive at best and abusive at worst. However, lest these parents be judged too harshly, some statistics of the time may be relevant. For example, according to the CDC, in 1900, anywhere from 10% to 30% of American babies died before they reached their first birthday. Many deaths were due to tainted drinking water or from unpasteurized cow’s milk.
Such a high death rate was one reason that American mothers were all too ready to take the advice of medical professionals, especially obstetricians and pediatricians. While the baby care history of experts contains some who were genuinely concerned for the welfare of parents and children, it is also true that once a few of these professionals had gained wealth and fame for their contributions to the child care field, others eagerly entered the arena.

Another reason for their success was that many people in American had moved west in search of employment opportunities. That meant that new parents were unable to utilize the wisdom and experience of the previous generation. Further, with smaller “nuclear” families, many new parents had very little experience with seeing others care for infants.

In her book Raising America: Experts, Parents, and a Century of Advice About Children, author Ann Hulbert sheds light on the personal lives of some of these child care “experts”. Among those highlighted in the book are L.Emmet Holt, who wrote The Care and Feeding of Children in 1894, Arnold Gessel, and Benjamin Spock, who published the wildly popular The Common Sense Book of Baby and Child Care in 1946.

Since those books were published, baby care history has evolved into a more child-centered, rather than parent-centered, focus. Discipline has also come to mean teaching self-control rather than focusing on external punishment. You can hear an audio interview with NPR with Ann Hulbert in which her purpose, of pointing out the contradictory nature of expert advice over the years, is evident in her responses to real parents who call in to ask for advice.

In one review the book is described as a “chronological guided tour through the various psychological and sociological schools that have at one time or another held sway over the last century, pointing out the “inconsistent, often quickly obsolescent, counsel peddled to the public” and relating changing mores to other social shifts.” Like other types of history, baby care history is often not written by mothers themselves, but by those who benefit directly or indirectly from the still largely unpaid labor of mothers.

In a world in which child care advice “professionals” are all too ready to profit from the anxiety of new mothers, who are often deprived of the wisdom of mothers and grandmothers, in their desire to best care for their children, a voice which urges mothers to rely on themselves and one another is welcome. Her book helps parents differentiate between the often contradictory advice offered by experts, as well as dispelling some of the myths that have been widely propagated throughout years of such advice.

In some very important ways, she is in agreement with Dr. Spock, in that she believes that most mothers are better than they think they are, and the best support that mothers have is one another. The baby care history of the future will likely be written far less by experts, and more by mothers themselves.

baby care history
Statuette of the (pregnant) Goddess Taweret, 332–30bc, Upper Egypt Credit Line Purchase, Edward S. Harkness Gift, 1926
mother and child portraits

On Mother and Child Portraits: A Future Foretold

Importance Of Mother And Child Portraits

Author and historian Juliet Heslewood studied the history of art at London University and earned an MA in English Literature at Toulouse. She led study tours of art and architecture in France for over 30 years. Her book entitled The History of Western Painting: A Young Person’s Guide was translated into 12 languages. For modern parents and posterity, she has assembled a collection of mother and child portraits in her book titled Child: Portraits by 40 Great Artists, which received several positive reviews.

A review in the Telegraph offers several examples of some of the most emotionally moving mother and child portraits featured in the book. Through these exquisite paintings, she helps illustrate the social changes in the view of childhood throughout modern history. Among the examples highlighted are those of Victorian painter George Dunlop Leslie, whose mother and child portraits can be compared to those of Lucian Freud, who painted a hundred years later.

Leslie’s frequent paintings of children successfully portray the attitudes and realities of English girlhood during that historical period. Viewers may learn as much about the social mores of the time as about how Victorian parents wished their children to be viewed. Painter John Everett Millais, a founder of the pre-Raphaelite movement, deviated from the Victorian style in what many considered a subversive manner. In his painting of his wife Effie, she is depicted asleep, with her hat off.

The advent of photography reveals another of the customs of the time. In one photograph of what appears to be two girls with their long hair in braids facing one another, it is revealed that one is actually a boy. In that era, boys didn’t have their hair cut until the age of ten, unlike modern times, in which a boys and girls are differentiated by the length of their hair at at a very young age.

One artist’s portrait of himself and his young daughter illustrates the difference in relationships between children and their fathers and those of their mothers. In much of mother and child portrait art, mothers are depicted educating and caring for their children, while in Carl Larsson’s Brita and Me, he is depicted playing joyfully with his daughter, even while working. This is in keeping with the division of labor in modern parenting in which women are the primary caretakers and the father’s role was viewed primarily as financially supporting and playing with the children. This view has since been challenged.

A modern exhibition of mother and child portrait art brought together the works of esteemed photographer Diane Arbus and painter Alice Neel whose contrasting styles reflect their views on the nature of childhood. The popular exhibit featured Arbus’s work from the 1960s and several of Neel’s paintings done from the late 1940s through the early 1980s.

Viewers were able to compare the differences between the conventions of mother and child portrait art in photography to those of painting. The power of personality, both of the subjects and the artists is illustrated in the works of these artists who are renowned for their skill in depicting children. Similarly, both artists, rather than simplifying children, portrayed them in their full complexity as unique individuals and future adults. Although both are considered expressionists, each has a distinctly original style. Another similarity between them was that both included twins in their collection of mother and child portraits.

Despite the similarities, Neel’s work was more optimistic and her subjects portrayed as colorful and self-aware. Many of her mother and child portraits are painted indoors, and their lives colored by their warm domestic surroundings. Arbus’s depictions of mother and child portrait art tend to be more bleak, perhaps made more so by the lack of color in black and white photography. Further, much of her mother and child portrait art was photographed outdoors suggesting both a greater vulnerability and a lack of protection.

Although the two artists have different outlooks, their portrayals of children in mother and child portrait art reveal the extent to which children are affected by the world of adults. Despite the concept of childhood, and the attempts of parents to create a separate and protected world for them, the works of these artists reveal the perhaps unrealistic desire to shield children from the realities of adulthood.

There have been mother and child portraits in art since artistic expression was confined to the walls of caves. Whatever technological advances are made, the sacred relationship between mother and child will likely continue to be portrayed in mother and child portraits throughout future history. However, we may hope that, like Carl Larsson’s portrait of himself with his young daughter, that artistic tradition may one day expand to include the equally important role of father and child. The children of the world deserve no less than both parents being equally involved, and therefore honored by art, for their roles in creating the future for us all.

mother and child portraits
Alice in Wonderland by George Dunlop Leslie, Public domain, via Wikimedia Commons
On Good Intentions & Bad Outcomes of the Anxieties of Modern Parents

On Good Intentions & Bad Outcomes of the Anxieties of Modern Parents

“The components of anxiety, stress, fear, and anger do not exist independently of you in the world. They simply do not exist in the physical world, even though we talk about them as if they do.”

–Wayne Dyer

New Reasons for Anxiety in the Modern Period of Baby Care History

The 2004 book “Anxious Parents: A History of Modern Child-Rearing in America” by author, professor and historian Peter N. Stearns looks at the baby care history of the 20th century. He points to several factors that increased parental anxiety, including mobility, urbanization and smaller nuclear families. Many parents no longer have the advice and support of extended family that they did in the past. Another factor was the shifting societal view of children as being fragile and vulnerable, rather than resilient, as they had been considered to be in earlier generations.

A review of the book talks about the five main topics of the book, which are the degree of vulnerability of children, discipline, education, work outside the home, and entertainment. Parenting manuals from from earlier periods in baby care history were apt to focus on the importance of obedience and parents’ setting a good example, as well as information about health and gender roles. Rather than being written by experts in child psychology, they were often written by members of the clergy.

Today, parenting manuals cover nearly as many topics as there are diagnoses of mental and emotional illnesses in the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM) Many emotional states that were once considered normal within the human continuum of experience are now considered to be mental disorders. Each edition of the DSM has increased the number of disorders, and today lists more than at any other period in baby care history. In 1952, it listed only 106, increasing to 265 by 1980 to 297 in the most current issue. Due to complaints about the ever-increasing number of “disorders”, has led to a new practice of creating subtypes of disorders.

According to an article in Slate magazine, a study compared societal levels of neuroticism, associated with anxiety, from 1963 to those of 1993 and found that Americans showed higher anxiety levels in 1993. Ironically, some of the increased anxiety parents experience is related to their fear that making parenting mistakes will result in a future diagnosis of a mental or emotional disorder. Other modern causes for anxiety include the discovery that germs cause disease and that the majority of fatal accidents occur in the home.

Reasons for Educational Anxiety in Today’s Chapter in Baby Care History

One impact of increased parental anxiety was an increase in parental involvement in education, leading to the development of the term “helicopter parents“, coined in 1969. While parental involvement in children’s educations can be positive, Stearn believes that excessive hovering, especially with adolescents, may increase their need to differentiate themselves from their parents and interfere with the natural process of emotional separation.

The U.S. has the largest percentage of home-schooled children in the developed world. Many attribute their reasons for home-schooling to their desire to have greater control over their children’s influences. For many parents, teaching children to do chores at home is more important for both future life skills and character development than completing hours of academic homework.

Others are concerned about what they view as declining educational standards in public schools. For example, in 1968, less than half of high school grades were A’s and B’s. However, since the focus shifted from academic achievement to self-esteem, the number of A’s and B’s rose steadily, and by 1994, 32% of high school students received A’s. Grades have continued to rise despite the fact that by 2002, 25% of all children in one Virginia public school system were designated as having special needs. Additionally, children in U.S. schools use 90% of Ritalin prescribed world-wide.

The Role of Entertainment in Today’s Chapter in Baby Care History

For the first time in baby care history, one of parents’ worries is that their children are bored. Boredom may in fact be a symptom of childhood depression linked to the constant availability of mass media entertainment. This entertainment is sponsored by advertisers that deliberately create feelings of dissatisfaction in order to sell more products.

A review in Salon magazine sums up many of Stearn’s most salient points regarding the reasons for an increase in parental anxiety during this period in baby care history. It also points out that modern mass media, dependent upon sensationalism to capture ratings, often exaggerates the dangers of modern life. Stearn’s book provides parents with the valuable service of presenting actual statistics regarding actual incidences of things that the media sensationalizes, such as child abductions, school violence, and abusive nannies. The review also gives him credit for superior research, as well as including a list of the most widely read child rearing manuals throughout baby care history beginning in the 1920s.

It seems that this book may give some parents some much-needed perspective and perhaps some relief from the anxieties of parenting in the modern world.

baby care history

mother and child portrait

Expressing the Essence of Motherhood Through the Portrait

“When you start with a portrait and search for a pure form, a clear volume, through successive eliminations, you arrive inevitably at the egg. Likewise, starting with the egg and following the same process in reverse, one finishes with the portrait”.

–Pablo Picasso

Importance Of Mother and Child Portrait.

The importance of the relationship between mother and child has been expressed in art throughout history. In the book Mother: Portraits by 40 Great Artists Juliet Heslewood has assembled a collection of art which expresses the essence of motherhood through the mother and child portrait.

In addition to being a favorite subject of artists, the relationship between mother and child has been considered sacred by many religions. Examples of art utilizing this theme date back as far as the 13th century B.C. The artistic form of the mother and child portrait enjoyed an increase in popularity with the advent of Christianity, which gave rise to Madonna art, which depicted the sacred relationship between the virgin Mary and the Christ child. The popularity of the mother and child portrait continues to this day. Mother and child portrait art even has its own Wikimedia page.

Portraits by artists of their own mothers are common. Being a new father himself at the time, between 1921 and 1923, Pablo Picasso painted a dozen works that focused on the mother and child portrait. Other artists who have painted portraits of their mothers include Rembrandt, in 1629, Cezzane in 1897, Whistler in 1871, Andy Warhol in 1971, and Tracy Emin in 1994. Artist Mary Cassat painted mother and child portrait series that celebrated the role of women in their children’s lives.

In the past, only wealthy families could afford to commission the services of an artist. Today, it is possible to commission an artist for a family portrait for as little as $500.00. There are also websites like A Stroke of Genius, and the American Society of Portrait Artists which provide contact information for mothers who may want to commission a mother and child portrait of their own. Rather than the family of subjects having to pose for long hours as they did in the past, today’s artists are able to work from photographs.
In the Victorian era in America, shortly after the invention of photography, the mother and child portrait often didn’t include the mother. Instead, the mother’s task was to hold the child still to avoid the photo being blurred while excluding herself from the portrait. In many of these “family” portraits, the mother’s head is completely covered, and only her hands are visible.

Photographer Linda Fregni Nagler assembled a collection of over a thousand such “family” portraits into a book titled The Hidden Mother. While sociologists cannot be sure of the reason for this phenomenon, one possibility is that mothers felt they were not valuable enough to even appear in photographs, but existed entirely to be of service to their husbands and children. Happily, after 1900, mother and child portrait art included mothers.

With today’s technology, anyone with a smart phone can create a family portrait. For those with little experience with photography, there are many articles that offer tips and tricks. Rather than posing stiffly and smiling, as most people did for family portraits in the past, portraits that reflect the personalities and favorite activities are becoming more popular. Many include family pets some even include family members’ favorite musical instruments.

Modern family portrait photographer Steve Wrubel specializes in what he calls “story pictures“. He creates a series of photographs that reflect “how a family or individual lives in this exact moment”. In portraits of the past, personality could only be reflected by expression, clothing and background. Today’s portraits can involve lighting, props, and elements of fantasy as well as reality.

While customs, social mores, and forms of artistic expression may change, creating family portraits that demonstrate and celebrate the special relationship between mother and child will likely endure until the end of time.

mother and child portrait
The Artist’s Mother Seated at a Table, Rembrandt van Rijn, 1631
history of baby care

A Timely 1934 Manifesto for Reclaiming Our Human Liberties by Childcare Reform

The History of Baby Care in the U like this.S.

In the U.S. the history of baby care is largely a history of the economically disadvantaged. By the end of the 19th century, the child care system was largely subsidized by wealthy philanthropists. It consisted of a range of provisions for minorities, immigrants and the working poor, who were often stigmatized by it’s being based on charitable donations. Because it was dependent upon voluntary donations, services were often inconsistent. The system proved to be a weak foundation upon which to build an enduring network of quality child care needed by working women.

One of the earliest examples in the history of baby care was the National Federation of Day Nurseries, established in 1898, which was the first nationwide organization devoted to the issue of quality childcare for working mothers. This was inspired by a model day nursery created by Josephine Jewell Dodge as a social exhibit at the 1893 World’s Columbian Exhibition in Chicago.

The next development in the history of baby care was the U.S. Children’s Bureau, founded in 1912 with the goal of creating public policy to support mothers who wanted to stay home with their children. It was successful in that by 1930, most states had passed laws granting some form of mothers’ pensions. However, rather than addressing the need for child care, it attempted to reduce that need instead. It was soon discovered that the pensions were inadequate to support children and that many, often as the result of racial discrimination, were deemed ineligible to receive them.

In 1933, nearly 3,000 schools that enrolled 64,000 children in 43 states were started, being consolidated into 1,900 schools with a capacity for approximately 75,000 children. As WWII approached and women began working in the defense industry, the government created a program in which one child care worker was required for every ten women defense workers. While 2 million child care workers were needed to serve 19 million defense workers under this system, there were still only the 3000 child care centers with the capacity to care for only 130,000 children.

As a result, poor working mothers were often forced to leave their children alone or utilize inferior child care. Stories of tragedies that often befell these children were used to castigate working women as selfish, especially after the war when men returning were in need of jobs. Congress passed two welfare reform bills in 1962 and 1965, linking federal support to policies that required poor and low-income women to enter training programs and work outside the home.

In the 1980s, public expenditures for low-income families were reduced and tax incentives for higher income families were almost doubled. With its history of baby care lacking in developing a strong child care infrastructure for working mothers, the United States continues to compare poorly with other advanced industrial nations. France, Sweden, and Denmark all offer free or subsidized care to children over three and also provide paid parental leave.

The History of Baby Care in Sweden

In Sweden, which ranks in the top ten in the world for child care, the history of baby care has been very different. In response to falling birthrates in Sweden, sociologist Alva Myrdal and her husband, an economist, published a book titled Crisis in the Population Question. The primary purpose of the book was to present social reforms that would encourage couples to have more children without decreasing their personal liberties, especially those of women. The authors pointed out the danger that without reform Sweden “would at the end of the 1970s have almost twice as many elderly people in relation to individuals in the working ages now”.

In addition to encouraging people to have more children, the authors also proposed substantial changes in the prevailing patriarchal family system, in which fathers worked and women remained at home to care for the children, through a process of social engineering. This book, and its Nobel-prize winning authors, had a vast influence on the present system of daycare for preschool children that was introduced in the 1970s. By 1975, approximately 100,000 children aged one through five were enrolled in the system. By 2005, that number had increased to 420,000, representing 90% of children in that age group.

One of the reasons the system in Sweden is so successful is decentralization. Taxes totaling approximately 20% of individual personal income from 290 separate municipalities fund preschools, schools, and social services. Wealthier municipalities help subsidize poorer ones through a system of tax equalization. The costs of quality child care in Sweden are comparable to those of the United States. In the U.S. the cost per child in 1992 was $12,356, while the cost per child in Sweden was $10,000.

The internet has made it possible to study the history of baby care in many countries and for cultures to learn from one another in their mutual goal of providing all children with the best care possible. Hopefully in the next century, the history of baby care in our century will be little more than a list of continuous improvements that have resulted in a world full of happy, healthy children.

history of baby care
Wartime shipyard Government-subsidized Kaiser West Coast Shipyards nursery schools, which enrolled more than 7,000 offspr

On Father’s Day and Holiday’s Sentimental Attempts to Domesticate Manliness

Special Day Honoring Fatherhood

Father’s Day celebrated its 100th Anniversary in the U.S. in 2010. In 1909, Sonora Smart-Dodd of Spokane, Washington, being one of six children being raised by a single father, wanted to honor him. She suggested to her local churches that June 5th, her father’s birthday, be a day in which parishioners honored fatherhood. The pastors of the churches approved the idea of a special day honoring fatherhood, but needed more time to prepare sermons on the topic. That was why the first Father’s Day observance took place on June 19th, 1909.

Several people had suggested a holiday honoring fatherhood before that and had attempted to gain public support for the idea. One of those people was Grace Golden Clayton. While in mourning from losing her father in a mining disaster that took the lives of 361 men, she asked her local pastor to honor those men. The pastor agreed, both for her and on behalf of the approximately 1000 children the disaster left fatherless. Her request resulted in the first public celebration honoring fatherhood taking place on July 5th, 1908 in Fairmont, West Virginia.

President Calvin Coolidge recognized Father’s Day in 1924, and in 1966, President Lyndon B. Johnson signed an official proclamation of recognition of Father’s Day and made a request that flags be flown on all government buildings that day in honor of fatherhood. Father’s Day wasn’t made a national holiday until 1972, by President Richard Nixon.

Today, Father’s Day is celebrated by over 50 countries.

In the U.S., it is customary for fathers to receive a tie as a gift. In other countries, Father’s Day may be celebrated on a different day and with different traditions and gifts.

For many countries, religious traditions are interwoven into the holiday. For example, in Brazil, Father’s Day is celebrated on August 2nd, in honor of Saint Joachim, the patron saint of fathers and grandfathers.

In other countries, in addition to honoring fatherhood, the holiday also honors men’s role in society, including their military service, with parades on Father’s Day.

In Germany, on the 40th day of Easter, men celebrate Father’s Day by loading wagons with beer and hauling them to the woods. Just as women are often relieved from their mothering duties on Mother’s Day, so German fathers are relieved of theirs during their celebration.

Australia’s Father’s Day celebration on the first Sunday of September consists of special meals, outings, and stories about inspirational men and how their actions have benefited children. Gifts of adventurous experiences, such as parachuting, are also gaining popularity.

While Father’s Day being declared a holiday was meant to publicly honor fatherhood and the important role men play in society, not all men have felt honored. According to one article, many men were offended by the idea of receiving gifts and flowers like women did on Mother’s Day. In his book “American Masculinities: A Historical Encyclopedia“, historian Timothy Marr says that men

“scoffed at the holiday’s sentimental attempts to domesticate manliness with flowers and gift-giving, or they derided the proliferation of such holidays as a commercial gimmick to sell more products — often paid for by the father himself.”

In the U.S. and many other countries, Father’s Day does in fact increase sales figures. In 2009 Father’s Day, U.S. consumers spent an average of $90.89 on gifts in honor of fatherhood. By 2014, that figure had increased to $115.57, with an estimated total spending for Father’s Day a whopping 12.7 billion dollars. Those gifts ranged from simple cards to family outings, electronics and golf lessons. According to the retail federation, in 2009 Americans spent $749 million dollars on 93 million Hallmark Father’s Day cards alone. Hallmark has been printing Father’s Day cards since the 1920s.

Despite the fact that many lament the commercialization of Father’s Day, money spent is a symbol of the value of fathers to their children and society. However, the gift that father’s treasure most is the very real time, attention, appreciation and affection given them by their children, not just on Father’s Day, but throughout the year.


familiy life stories

How the Social Construct of Motherhood is Deeply Shaped by Literature

“Literature is mostly about having sex and not much about having children; life’s the other way around.”

–David Lodge

Prior to the 21st Century, literature was dominated by the male perspective. Female writers, in order to be published, have often had to adopt male pen names. This practice has been both common and necessary throughout literary history and despite progress in women’s rights, continues to this day. Just as 19th century writer George Sand was actually Amantine-Lucile-Aurore Dupin, 21st century writer Robert Galbraith is actually Joanne, or J.K., Rowling.

Consequently, the perspective of women and children has been vastly under-represented in literature.

An article on motherhood in literature points out that the topic has often been portrayed in a negative light by male authors. Novels such as “Madame Bovary” and “Anna Karenina” have served to present society’s definition of a “good mother” versus a “bad mother”. Female protagonists that were deemed bad mothers in these family life stories were usually punished, often by death. At the very least, they were socially shunned and relegated to poverty and obscurity.

Even today, mothers in the family life stories of literature are still judged according to modern social criteria. A recent BBC article celebrating motherhood in literature compiled a list of the best, as well as the worst, mothers in literature. One writer contributed their own list of the ten worst mothers in literature.

Feminists such as Nancy Chodorow have written about the extent to which women’s personal identities have been formed as a response to the social construct of motherhood. Others have pointed out that that most mothers in fiction are objects of their husbands’ or daughters’ narratives, rather than having narratives of their own.

Feminist literary critic Luce Irigaray argues that under a system of patriarchy, mother/daughter relationships are often transformed into rivalries. In such rivalries, the daughter emerges the victor, while her mother’s personhood is subsumed by the role she plays as a mother. Alison Fell presented an analysis of motherhood in the works of French female writers like Simone de Beauvoir, while Adalgisa Giorgio‘s work examines motherhood in 20th century Western European literature.

Family life stories in literature

Family life stories in literature in which women were portrayed as achieving moral goodness through motherhood, such as the mother in “Little Women” were far more common than the portrayal of women who rebelled against male authority. For example, in Anne Brontë’s second novel, “The Tenant of Wildfell Hall“, written under the male pseudonym Acton Bell, the heroine escapes her alcoholic husband to protect her son.

This novel dared to suggest that sometimes being a good mother meant challenging the patriarchy and breaking the law. At the time the novel was published, 1848, women were permitted no way to legally exist independently, and fleeing a marriage with a child was viewed as the crime of kidnapping. The novel was so controversial that after the author’s death, her sister Charlotte prevented it from being republished. However, in 1913, women’s suffragist May Sinclair said that

“the slamming of Helen’s bedroom door against her husband reverberated throughout Victorian England.”

Happily, a greater number of family life stories told from the perspective of women and children are being published and gaining a wider audience than at any other time in history. Diana Secker Tesdell, who has edited a number of Everyman’s Pocket Classic anthologies, has assembled a collection of family life stories that feature motherhood. “Stories of Motherhood” features some of the finest and most well-known female writers of this century including Willa Cather, Elizabeth Bowen, Amy Tan and Alice Munro . However, it also features some lesser known writers, such as Colm Tóibín and Anita Desai.

One review in the Guardian praised the collection, but pointed out that with the exception of one author, all the writers featured are from the United States. Despite this criticism, family life stories from a number of different ethnic cultures within the larger culture are vividly portrayed. This collection contributes the valuable perspective of mothers caring for infants such as Lydia Davis’s “What You Learn About the Baby” as well as the perspective of children, as in Ernest Gaines’s story “The Sky Is Gray“.

In life, as in literature, children represent both continuity and change, the past as well as progress. Their parents’ actions serve to illuminate the path towards posterity. By presenting family life stories in which mothers are portrayed not as good or bad, but as fully human, modern literature is helping to reshape destiny towards a more humane future.

familiy life stories
Daughter of Niobe (one of the 14 children killed) bent by terror, Niobe room in Uffizi gallery