It’s a Different Family Life Than Your Mother’s – The Changing Composition of Families

“I wanted to open a window into the lives of new-tradition families, evaluate their mindsets, and depict that just because a family appears “untraditional” does not mean it is inauthentic, or without love and happiness. I wanted to give legitimacy to all of the decisions being made today, to say yes, you can take a risk and make a happy family, too. Different does not have to mean tragic; it can simply mean real, authentic and sui generis.”

–Rebecca Walker

Choosing and Building a Different Family Life

Feminist author Rebecca Walker is no stranger to controversy. Named as one of America’s 50 future leaders by Time magazine in 1994, she also has personal experience with a different family life than most. The child of an inter-racial marriage between esteemed African American author Alice Walker and Jewish attorney Mel Leventhal, she is singularly qualified to comment on the potential benefits of deviating from the norm. Her own forms of different family life include raising a stepson with a female partner as well as having a son of her own with her current male partner, Buddhist Choyin Rangdrol.

Even the title of her book, “One Big Happy Family: 18 Writers Talk about Polyamory, Open Adoption, Mixed Marriage, House Husbandry, Single Motherhood, and Other Realities of Truly Modern Love, doesn’t fit within the usual parameters. It used to be that only people wealthy enough to escape the potential social and economic consequences of nonconformity who could experiment with alternative lifestyles. However, with the new focus on the destructive effects of bullying, many have come to realize that society itself can also become a bully.

For example, for many years, one of the more humane reasons people claimed to be against interracial marriages was that the children of interracial couples would be bullied in school. The same was said of the children of same-sex couples. People are now much less willing to allow bullies the power to create and enforce social policies based on fear of their potentially violent reactions. The number of mixed marriages in the U.S. has risen steadily since 1967, when miscegenation laws were repealed. According to the Pew Research Center, in 2010, approximately 15% of all new marriages were interracial, more than double the 6.7% in 1980.

House Husbandry—When Role Reversal Creates a Different Family Life

Many financially successful men throughout history have stated that they could have never achieved that success without the supportive roles played by their wives. The same seems to be true of successful women. In fact, 30% of the 187 participants at one of Fortune’s recent Most Powerful Women in Business summits had househusbands. The increase in the number of househusbands has resulted in an increase of social acknowledgement of the difficulty and importance of home-making. While men were once ridiculed and stigmatized for playing what was viewed as a less important supportive role, stay-at-home fathers are helping to change that.

Polyamory: A Different Family Life With More Than One Partner

Polyamory is still far less socially accepted than other kinds of different family life. People often imagine sex triangles in which children are exposed to inappropriate behavior. However, according to many people who have written about their polyamorous relationships, there is a much larger focus on communication than on sex. There has already been some research on the effects of polyamorous relationships on children.

According to two studies, potential benefits to children include more individual time with an adult and the opportunity to develop more interests. More research is currently being conducted. Because monogamy, like heterosexuality, is the societal default, there are as many myths surrounding polyamory as there once were surrounding homosexuality. Now that societal defaults are being challenged, more people, and social scientists, are investigating other types of relationships as well.

Single Motherhood—Another Different Family Life

According to some recent statistics, in the U.S., the U.K. and New Zealand, approximately 25% of children live in single parent households. Most of the time, that single parent is the mother. In the U.S. in 2002, only 15.6% of fathers were primary custodial parents. 31.2% of custodial mothers had never been married, while 43.7% were divorced. Single motherhood is chosen by some, but not by the majority. One of the most difficult aspects of single motherhood is having only a single income. It is estimated that today, up to 40% of single mothers in the U.S. live in poverty.

Other challenges include balancing parenting with a career and enlisting help when necessary. Despite the challenges, single motherhood also has benefits. Marriages require a lot of time and effort, and that time and effort is well spent by single mothers providing a higher level of care for themselves and their children. Greater consistency is also possible when there aren’t two parents with different parenting styles, and children are never exposed to heated arguments.

Whether you’re a single, married, adoptive, interracial or polyamorous mother, the rewards of parenting are the same. Experiencing the wonder of the world through the eyes of a child and the special bond created by being needed transcends all else.


instinctive mothers

Instinctive Mothers : Are They Really Better? Overcoming the Social Stigma of Choice

Does instinctive motherhood or instinctive mothers actually exist?

Instinct has been defined as a behavior that is irresistible, automatic, and triggered by something in the environment. Further, it occurs at a particular developmental stage in all individuals of a species, requires no training, and can’t be modified. Clearly, motherhood is much more than just instinctive. If mothers believed it required no training, child care experts and parenting books wouldn’t exist. While there may be aspects of motherhood which are instinctual, many women resist becoming mothers.

For centuries women, however ineffectively, have utilized family planning methods. According to ancient records, those methods have included spermicide in the form of a lemon half and herbally induced abortions. Since contraceptives were invented and have become widely available, women now have the luxury of choosing not only when, but if, they want to have a child. However, women who choose not to have children are often stigmatized, and even labelled with some pretty insulting adjectives.

Manifestations of Social Stigma—Name-calling and Guilt

Selfish, Shallow, and Self-Absorbed are among those adjectives. It’s also the title of a book, Selfish, Shallow, and Self-Absorbed“, of essays by 16 different writers, both male and female, about choosing not to become a parent. It uses humor to counter the societal accusations of selfishness often directed towards women who choose something other than motherhood for personal fulfillment. Although some mixed reviews exist on the book, they also attempt to dispel some of the myths surrounding motherhood, such as that women have a biological need to reproduce and that nothing else in life is as meaningful as having children.

Beyond the concept of the instinctive mother, motherhood is both a social expectation and a familial one. Women are often pressured by parents who are anxious to become grandparents, or siblings who want to become aunts and uncles, to become mothers. This pressure can be even more difficult to resist than a biological drive.

Biology and Choice

Today, many psychologists now believe that rather than all women being born instinctive mothers, their desire to be mothers may be a response to their social circumstances. For example, contact with babies alters hormone levels. Caring for younger siblings or babysitting for neighbors may serve as an environmental trigger. A host of other things, such as constant physical safety and material security can also serve as such triggers. The quality of the relationship with her own mother may also help determine a woman’s level of desire to become a mother.

Evidence is mounting that what was once believed to be an instinctive mother is actually motherhood as the result of a conscious choice. Further evidence shows that the more educated a woman is, the more likely she is not to choose motherhood. According to a recent article, in the 70’s only one in ten women remained childless throughout their lives. By 2010 that number had doubled to one in five. Among college educated women, it was one in four.

Reasons More Women Aren’t Choosing Motherhood

Aside from the availability of more effective birth control methods, one of the most compelling reasons more women are choosing not to become mothers is that there just isn’t enough social support. Rising costs have resulted in most families requiring a second income. That means that most mothers also have a paid job. This industrial economic shift took place before any supportive social systems were developed and put into place to accommodate the new parenting realities associated with industrialized society. The instinctive mother is becoming replaced by the adaptive mother.

One of those realities is that the important and time-consuming activities associated with the vocation of motherhood are unpaid. While they didn’t receive a wage, stay-at-home mothers did receive room and board in exchange for homemaking and child care.

Increasingly difficult economic conditions have resulted in women having to forego not just luxuries to stay at home with their children, but necessities. One of the environmental stimuli that triggers the hormonal element of the instinctive mother, economic security, is now often absent.

Some Famous Women Removing the Stigma of Childlessness

Popular actress Helen Mirren was once quoted as saying

“I have no maternal instinct whatsoever”

and is among those who have spoken openly about the stigma women who choose not to have children still face. For example, Julia Gillard, the prime minister of Australia was described as “barren” in the press. Such a word is pejorative in nature and conveys a sense of physical inadequacy as well as dry lifelessness.

Whether male political figures are fathers is rarely even discussed. Other women under the constant eye of public scrutiny who have chosen not to have children include Angela Merkel, the Chancellor of Germany, and talk show host, author, and actress Oprah Winfrey.

Motherhood was once one of the only ways that women could contribute to society in a meaningful way. Now that nearly every profession has opened to them, women have a number of ways to contribute their talents and abilities to the wider world.

Motherhood is an admirable vocation, and enriches the world with children, their laughter, and their new perspectives and ideas. Society must do more to support instinctive mothers who pass on the best our generation has to offer to the next. However, it must also so more to support those women who choose to become not mothers, but role models in the form of living examples of the power of choice.

instinctive mother
Breton Brother and Sister, William Bouguereau, 1871, Credit Line Catharine Lorillard Wolfe Collection, Bequest of Cathari
Attachment Based Therapy

Psychotherapist Help For Attachment Disorder Among Children

“Young children, who for whatever reason are deprived of the continuous care and attention of a mother or a substitute-mother, are not only temporarily disturbed by such deprivation, but may in some cases suffer long-term effects which persist.”

John Bowlby’s widely accepted attachment theory, which has since been expounded upon and refined by other child psychologists, provided the foundation for the development of attachment-based therapy for children. According to this theory, there are four types of attachments. The four types are secure attachment, anxious-ambivalent attachment, anxious-avoidant attachment, and disorganized attachment.

According to a psychotherapist, children whose primary caregivers are unable to respond to their needs can develop a condition known as reactive attachment disorder (RAD). Children with an anxious-ambivalent attachment display anger or helplessness in an effort to control the situation and keep the caregiver nearby. Those with anxious-avoidant attachment exhibit behavior designed to express a desire for closeness while reducing the risk of frustration resulting from expressing needs that remain unmet. Children with disorganized attachment may try to control crying.

Every parent’s desire is for their children to form a secure attachment. However, parents often face traumatic emotional events in their own lives which affect their ability to respond to their children’s needs. For example, one study showed that 56% of mothers who had experienced the death of a parent before they finished high school had children who were later diagnosed with disorganized attachments.

Despite our human imperfections and occasional inconsistencies, children are remarkably resilient, and reactive attachment disorder (RAD), one of the most extreme forms of attachment disorder, is relatively rare. The disorder usually manifests itself in either a display of excessive attempts to gain affection even from relative strangers, or a reluctance or inability to accept affection even from familiar adults, even when in distress. However, psychotherapists have reported success in treating it.

While such a disorder is cause for concern, there is also evidence that child-parent psychotherapy (CPP) can successfully treat the disorder. In this type of therapy, psychotherapists view the relationship between the child and the caregiver as the patient, rather than just the child. In five randomized trials conducted with low income families and families with a history of depression or domestic violence, it was demonstrated that children’s attachment security was increased, while avoidance, resistance and anger were reduced. The degree of empathy that caregivers were able to display also increased.

For successful treatment of an attachment disorder, psychotherapists use a combination of group sessions, video feedback and educational and therapeutic discussions over the course of 20 weeks. Caregivers are able to observe themselves and their children’s responses, then learn and practice healthier and more beneficial ways of interacting. As an exercise in sensitivity, for the first part of each session, the caregiver remains on the floor with the infant, observing and responding only to interactions initiated by the infant. The infant is then able to experience negotiating a relationship with the caregiver through expression of its needs.

Many psychotherapists have written books on the subject of attachment disorders as well as the best way to successfully treat them. Unfortunately, many people who are not trained psychotherapists have written about it as well. While they are a cause for concern, thankfully we have come a long way from believing that attachment disorders are a sure sign of future sociopathy. That fear led to some kinds of treatments that proved to do more harm than good. For example, some therapists held the opinion that attachment disorders were rooted in rage and advocated deliberately provoking the child in order to release it.

Critics of attachment-based therapy for children argue that theories that advocate the use of aggressive psychological, or even physical, means to provoke the child towards an emotional catharsis can cause more damage. Some therapies have utilized techniques that included repeated sessions of holding the child down or forcing them to engage in prolonged eye contact. Most of these techniques have since been discredited. Anthropologist and author Rachael Stryker studied the effects of such radical attachment therapy and published her findings in The Road to Evergreen: Adoption, Attachment Therapy, and the Promise of Family.

In reality, help is available for children of adoptive parents suffering from an attachment disorder. Any parent who has suffered a loss or trauma and is concerned about how their emotions may be affecting their children, which might be any parent at any time, can benefit from attachment–based therapy. Despite the pain of loss, the loving bond of relationships, and the joy they bring, can be restored.

Attachment Based Therapy


Authoritative Parenting —Please Do As I Ask, This Is Why I’m Asking..

“They monitor and impart clear standards for their children’s conduct. They are assertive, but not intrusive and restrictive. Their disciplinary methods are supportive, rather than punitive. They want their children to be assertive as well as socially responsible, and self-regulated as well as cooperative”.

Diane Baumrind, who was the first to define the authoritative parenting style, identified three distinct parenting styles. The styles were authoritarian, authoritative, and permissive. Later, a fourth, negligent parenting, was added to acknowledge that unfortunate reality. Although her ideas were introduced in the 1960’s, they remain relevant today.

Characteristics of Authoritative Parenting

According to Baumrind, authoritative parents are characterized by their emphasis on setting high standards while being responsive and nurturing.  Parental respect of their children as rational human beings on a journey towards eventual independence is also an important distinguishing feature.

One of the primary goals of any style of parenting is to achieve a balance between freedom and responsibility. Authoritative parents encourage verbal reasoning and even debate, set clear standards of good behavior and explain the consequences of bad behavior. They are also more likely to use a system of rewards, such as praise, for good behavior, than use punishments such as shaming or withdrawal of affection for misbehavior. This system of behavior management based on explaining not just the rules, but the reasons for them and the consequences for breaking them, has been called “inductive discipline”.

One comprehensive guide Authoritative parenting, written by Robert E. Larzelere received mixed reviews as being overly academic, but inspired other parenting books. Some of those books use the term “mindful discipline” , rather than “inductive discipline”, but both are similar and serve as the foundation of authoritative parenting.

All styles of parenting differ according to the country and culture in which they are practiced. For instance, a 1996 study that included parents from four different countries including China and Russia found that parents that would otherwise be considered authoritative in style didn’t consider their children’s input when making plans for the family. Otherwise authoritative Chinese parents also did not encourage their children to voice opinions that were not in agreement with their own. Despite some cultural differences, there was one consistent factor among all authoritative parents in all four countries. They all reasoned with their children.

Benefits and Difficulties of Authoritative Parenting

Evidence suggests that the process of inductive discipline used in authoritative parenting helps children develop empathy, resulting in their becoming more kind and helpful. It is also believed that it provides them with moral reasoning skills. Children with authoritative parents were shown to be more popular with, yet less easily influenced by, their peers.

Another positive aspect of this parenting style is that children experience a sense of security in knowing what is expected of them, even if those expectations are somewhat high. Feeling free to voice their opinions and ask questions helps them develop the negotiating skills that adulthood often requires, especially within the middle class. Parents basing their expectations on the age and abilities of the child results in less likelihood of failure and a greater sense of confidence and mastery. Responsibilities are added incrementally when mastery of the individual skills required to assume them have been acquired. Finally, a benefit for the parents is that their children will be more likely to obey them out of respect than out of fear.

One of the difficulties of this parenting style is that it can be time-consuming. In households with two working parents, finding the time to explain the potential long-term benefits of having a tidy room can be extremely challenging. Some children are more headstrong than others, so maintaining the goal of having children cooperate voluntarily rather than merely following orders can sometimes require an almost superhuman level of patience. Finally, the rules require frequent modification to accommodate changes in the children’s ages and abilities.

Although many experts have conducted studies that conclude that Authoritative parenting results in a number of positive outcomes, establishing the right balance of nurturing and discipline can be difficult. It can be even more difficult to maintain, since both children and adults continue to grow and needs continue to change.

Despite the difficulties, it seems that that consensus is that the rewards of contributing to raising thoughtful, confident, kind and helpful human beings is well worth the extra effort.


parenting styles

The Beginner’s Guide of Parenting Styles and Choosing One’s Influences

Even though there are potentially as many parental styles as there are parents, the societies in which we live exert such great influence, or counter-influence, that several parenting styles have been identified and described by experts.

One of the psychologists to first identify four distinctly different parental styles was Diana Baumrind. In the 1960’s she conducted a study of more than 100 children of pre-school age. Her methodology included naturalistic observation, and parent interviews. The results of the study enabled her to identify four of the most important aspects of parenting, which are discipline, nurturing, communication, and expectations. Using this criteria, as well as measuring the degree of parental demandingness and level of responsiveness to the child’s needs, Baumrind found that most parents demonstrated one of three parental styles.

Authoritarian Parenting Styles

The first of those styles is the authoritarian style, which she characterized as having high parental demandingness with low responsiveness to the child’s needs. This is manifested in harsh rigidity and in cases in which it is taken to the extreme, can become abusive.

Permissive Parenting Styles

The second is the permissive style, in which parents display a low level of demandingness and high responsiveness. In this style, rules are often inconsistently enforced, which can result in confusion and a lack of a sense of security as well as self-discipline.

Authoritative  Parenting Styles

The third is the authoritative style, which combines high demandingness with high responsiveness, and in which rules are firm yet not so rigid that there is no room for exceptions based on circumstances.

In the 1990’s, sociologist Annette Lareau and graduate students conducted a study of 88 families from various racial and economic backgrounds. She went on to conduct more in-depth observations of 12 of those families. The results of those observations inspired her 2003 book, “Unequal Childhoods“, which was updated in 2013. Her findings reveal that middle-class families have different parental styles than poor working-class families, regardless of race.

Parenting Styles and Class

Middle and upper middle class parents are more likely to adopt what she calls a Concerted cultivation style of parenting, while working class parents adopt “natural growth” parenting styles. Concerted cultivation is characterized by high parental expectations and involvement, as well as the purposeful development of talents and social skills. Communication is geared towards teaching children negotiation skills.

“Natural growth parenting” is characterized by less structured time and activities and a lower degree of parental involvement. In this style, communication is geared towards the goal of obedience rather than developing negotiation skills. Lareau contends that concerted cultivation creates and maintains the socioeconomic advantage of the middle class. Conversely, she asserts that natural growth parenting, largely the result of a lack of economic resources, serves to perpetuate economic disadvantage.

Parenting Styles and Attachment

A number of other parenting styles have been identified in the interim between the 60’s and the 90’s. For example, Attachment parenting” is characterized by measuring the success of the parent-child bond. According to this theory, there are four types of attachment:

  • secure,
  • insecure-avoidant,
  • insecure-resistant, and
  • disorganized.

Nurturant parenting” stresses allowing children to explore within a protected environment. This style would fall under Baumrind’s “authoritative” style, in which behavior is modeled by example.

Slow parenting is one of the parental styles that encourages less organization of children’s lives in favor of allowing them to enjoy childhood while exploring the world at their own pace. Developing the child’s decision-making abilities based on personal preferences and values rather than peer pressure is stressed in this parental style. Electronics are replaced with simpler toys to encourage the development of creativity and imagination.

Because of the increase in mental illness associated with political and economic inequalities resulting in stressful living conditions , several types of dysfunctional parenting have also been identified. Most of these fall under the umbrella of “Toxic parenting”. Despite their best intentions, parents often either repeat negative patterns from their own childhood, or attempt to over-compensate for them.

“Overparenting” is an example of one potential type of over-compensation. It has been identified, using terms such as “helicopter parent ” to describe parents that hover over their children to the extent that it interferes with their ability to act independently or deal with challenges on their own. Modern communication technology has only increased parents’ ability to monitor their childrens’ emails and activities.

Narcissistic parenting often involves parents competing with one another through their children. While parents can take pride in their children’s achievements, the danger lies in replacing unconditional love with performance-based acceptance. Narcissistic parents, who come to believe that the child exists for their benefit, are often threatened by their child’s growing independence. That can result in an unhealthy attachment.

Experts agree that the damage caused by toxic parenting, including reduced self-esteem, is often unconsciously passed on to the next generation. In this beautiful yet imperfect world, it’s doubtful that anyone alive has escaped at least some form of parental toxicity.

The good news is that through the equalizing magic of the internet, not even the most economically deprived parent must remain unconscious. More than in any previous generation, the support we need as parents is often right at our fingertips.

Head over to the article The Changing Definitions and Understanding of Motherhood that digs out how Motherhood was influenced by Politics or Economics.

parenting styles

Dr John Watson

On Dr John Watson -Psychology’s Bad Boy and Founder of Behaviorism- and the Impact of Controversial Child Rearing Beliefs

Dr John Watson was an influential American psychologist, and editor of the Psychological Review from 1910 to 1915. In a 1913 article titled “Psychology as the Behaviorist Views It”, he presented the foundations of his philosophy, which he termed “behaviorism”. He described psychology as

“a purely objective experimental branch of natural science. Its theoretical goal is the prediction and control of behavior.”

Child Rearing Beliefs of dr John Watson

Dr John Watson believed that nothing is instinctual, but that children develop through interaction with their environments, over which parents have complete control. He was one of the first to stand on the “new” side of the nature-nurture debate, namely the nurture side.

Children, he thought, are born with only three emotions which are not learned– fear, rage, and love. He believed that children naturally feared only two things, sudden noise and the loss of physical support, and that all other fears were the result of environmental conditioning. He believe that rage was a natural response to being physically restrained and that love was a conditioned response to being touched.

Although he wrote parenting columns for several magazines, he later said that he regretted having done so, as he did not feel that he knew “enough” to claim to be an expert on the subject of parenting. Despite the skeptical criticism of his interest in child psychology by some of his contemporaries in the field, the book quickly sold 100,000 copies.

In terms of the goal of controlling behavior, he viewed humans, and their conditioned responses, in much the same way as he viewed the animals upon which he conducted his experiments.

“The behaviorist, in his efforts to get a unitary scheme of animal response, recognizes no dividing line between man and brute.”

Charisma and Connections

Although Dr John Watson’s early academic performance was poor, his charisma and good looks, combined with his mother’s connections, made it possible for him to be admitted to Furman University. Making few friends while working his way through college, upon graduating he took a position in a one-room school in Greenville, South Carolina as both custodian and principal. While there, he wrote a successful appeal directly to the president of the University of Chicago for admittance into the PhD program.

There, he made many valuable connections, including James Rowland Angell and Jacques Loeb and became interested in the word of Ivan Pavlov. He graduated with a PhD in 1903. In 1908, almost immediately after accepting a position at Johns Hopkins University, he was promoted to chair of the psychology department.

Dr John Watson Ethics and Controversy

Dr John Watson is perhaps most well-known for his ethically controversial “Little Albert” experiment. In the experiment, a nine-month old baby was exposed to furry animals while demonstrating no fear. The baby was then exposed to the same animals while simultaneously having the fear response triggered by a loud sound. The results of the experiment showed that the baby formed an association between the sound and the furry animals. After such “conditioning” the baby then demonstrated fear when exposed to the same animals even when no accompanying sounds were present.

One of the points made by critics was that it was wrong to instill a phobia in a child, especially without removing it afterwards through a process of desensitization. Another ethical consideration was the use of a child too young to give informed consent. Further, the baby’s mother was thought to have been a wet-nurse at the hospital where the experiment was conducted, and was therefore in a position to be socially and financially coerced into giving permission for her child to be used in this way.

In 1920, Dr John Watson was asked to leave Johns Hopkins University as the result of a scandalous affair with Rosalie Rayner, his young assistant, who was also one of his students. His wife later used evidence of the affair to obtain a divorce, after which he married Ms. Rayner. Together, they wrote “Psychological Care of Infant and Child” which was published in 1928.

Dr John Watson: Advertising and Sexuality

Unable to find regular work in the academic world due to the scandal, through connections, he began working at the J. Walter Thompson advertising agency. He achieved great success in the advertising field as the result of using his knowledge of psychology to persuade consumers to buy products such as cigarettes and toothpaste, based on sex appeal. He worked in advertising until his retirement at age 65.

There are mixed reviews regarding the value of Dr John Watson’s contributions to psychology. For example, according to a survey published in the 2002 issue of the Review of General Psychology, he was ranked at #17 of the most cited psychologists of the century. However, his granddaughter, actress Mariette Hartley, has claimed to have suffered psychological damage as a result of having been raised according to his theories.

Impact of Dr John Watson on Motherhood Today

Watson established the psychological school of behaviorism and  recognized for the first time the importance of nurture in the nature versus nurture discussion. Through his behaviorist approach, Watson conducted research on child rearing, and indeed influenced our views on motherhood today. One of his (in)famous quotes on infants is

“Give me a dozen healthy infants, well-formed, and my own specified world to bring them up in and I’ll guarantee to take any one at random and train him to become any type of specialist I might select – doctor, lawyer, artist, merchant-chief and, yes, even beggar-man and thief, regardless of his talents, penchants, tendencies, abilities, vocations, and race of his ancestors. I am going beyond my facts and I admit it, but so have the advocates of the contrary and they have been doing it for many thousands of years.”

In his book, he warned against the inevitable dangers of a mother providing too much love and affection. Watson explained that love, along with everything else as the behaviorist saw the world, is conditioned. Dr John Watson believed that parents can shape a child’s behavior and development simply by a scheming control of all stimulus-response associations. Dr John Watson’s advice  has later been strongly criticized.

But … Dr John Watson’s views -controversially radical or not- garnered a lot of attention and were accepted as valuable in his time. A Review of General Psychology survey, published in 2002, ranked Dr John Watson as the 17th most cited psychologist of the 20th century.  This clearly shows how influential his beliefs still are. But many believe today that his experiments, as well as some of the uses to which he put the knowledge gained from them, were morally questionable at best.

Fortunately, as parents, we have the opportunity to use that knowledge to protect ourselves and our children from those who seek to profit by misusing it.

Dr John Watson
Waiting to see Doctor, December 1914
maternal and child health

Maternal and child health – A Histrionic, Crazy History of Women and Medical Care

On Experts in maternal and child health

Many throughout history have been considered “experts” in maternal and child health. Each of them have contributed to our understanding of how the human psyche, combined with culture, affect parenting. However, their often conflicting advice has caused some to question the value of adhering to cultural norms espoused by medical professionals when making parenting decisions. Author Lisa Appignanesi is of the opinion that

“Narrowing or medicalizing definitions too much limits the boundaries not only of so-called normality, but of human possibility.”

Her 2009 book, “Mad, Bad, and Sad: A History of Women and the Mind Doctors” provides an overview of the theories of maternal and child health care experts from 1800 to the present. The contents of the book were also transformed into an exhibition at the Freud Museum in London which ran from 10 October 2013 – 2 February 2014. The exhibition brought many of the fascinating case histories referred to in the book to life in the form of original documents, photographs, and paintings.

It is perhaps ironic that the book won a British Medical Association Award for contributing to the public’s understanding of science. According to a review of the book in the British Journal of Psychiatry,

“She implies that women (as reflectors of male-dominated society) are duped by mind doctors into beliefs about the consequences of their rotten lives, framing them as diagnoses in need of an ever-expanding lexicon of treatments.”

According to a review in The Independent, the author’s goal is

“to untwist the arguments about cures and causes for the madnesses that beset women (and men) today, from eating disorders to child abuse to depression in all its forms.”

Unlike many feminist writers, she does not base her arguments upon the premise of the existence of a conspiratorial patriarchy that subjugates women. She begins instead with the assumption that these influential professionals in the area of maternal and child health genuinely wanted to help the women they treated. She points to cases in which they succeeded in reducing their patients’ suffering, as well as to those in which they increased it.

This journey through the history of psychiatry takes readers from madhouses, where people were relegated for being problematic to society, to asylums, which focused more on the treatment of the individual. It also reveals the history of changing diagnoses, such as the diagnosis of “neurasthenia” to the modern-day diagnosis of “social anxiety”. Other diagnoses for which women are institutionalized and treated for in the book include

“frenzies, possessions, mania, melancholy, nerves, delusions, aberrant acts, dramatic tics, passionate loves and hates, sex, visual and auditory hallucinations, fears, phobias, fantasies, disturbances of sleep, dissociations, communion with spirits and imaginary friends, addictions, self-harm, self-starvation, depression”.

Insanity has historically been defined by comparing a subject’s behavior to what is considered “normal” within any social context. Rather than placing the blame for unjust institutionalization on an oppressive patriarchy, the author points out that women were, and are, often complicit in the creation and social enforcement of oppressive social norms. Girls throughout Western civilization are suffering from conditions like anorexia, PTSD, clinical depression and suicidal tendencies in greater numbers than ever before.

In a 2008 interview, Lisa partially attributed the rise in these disorders to the fact that in

“the West, the pursuit of happiness carries its own burden of guilt when you’re not happy, or experiencing dissatisfaction, because you haven’t attained the ideal of happiness. So it has played back on itself, and the pursuit of gladness drives people mad as well.”

Maternal and child health at top of the list

A high degree of maternal and child health is at the top of the list of criteria for achieving happiness. One of the concerns that prompted her to write the book was the fact that

“now we have over 950 pages of very specific diagnoses, which seem to handle every aspect of lived experience, and a lot of them seem to have pharmaceuticals attributed to their potential cure.”

Because of the rising incidences of these disorders, mothers are greatly in need of guidance and support. It may be, however, that they are more apt to find that guidance and support within their own ranks than within the psychiatric community. The book points out the extent to which, when it comes to overall maternal and child health, the psychiatric community has had a tendency to ignore social inequality and poverty as contributing factors to psychological disorders.

Increasingly, rather than the former social norm of competition, mothers are building their own cooperative support systems. Sometimes progress in raising the degree of maternal and child health means moving backwards, to the participation of a whole village in raising a child, rather than forward to the increasingly socially isolated nuclear family.

maternal and child health
Madame Cézanne (Hortense Fiquet, 1850–1922) in the Conservatory (and mother of their child), Paul Cézanne, 1891, Credit Line Bequest of Stephen C. Clark, 1960. I liked the picture and am not suggesting in any way she had mental health issues


educational psychologist

William James, A Far-Sighted Founding Father and Educational Psychologist, on Instincts and Stream of Consciousness

Inventing Psychology

Called the “father of American psychology”, William James was one of the most influential thinkers of the last century. His influence spanned generations through many of his students at Harvard University, where he spent the majority of his academic career.

Feminist Gertrude Stein, author W.E.B Du Bois, philosopher George Santayana and President Theodore Roosevelt were among some of his students who later became equally influential. Educated abroad and fluent in German and French, he was also the godson of Ralph Waldo Emerson.

He taught a variety of subjects including physiology, anatomy, and psychology. Perhaps the first pragmatist, and a founder of functional psychology, he developed the philosophical perspective of radical empiricism. His pragmatism was exemplified by his assertion that true beliefs are those that are most useful to those that believe them.

James’ form of empiricism was based on the reality that entirely objective analysis is not possible because life never stops. Rather, life perpetually provides more data to be incorporated, thereby constantly transforming our belief systems, making learning a never-ending process.

Principles of An Educational Psychologist

His writing, captured in the book “Writings 1902-1910” continue to inform those studying human behavior today. Chapter 24 of his classic book The Principles of Psychology is devoted to his theory of instincts.

“Every instinct is an impulse … sensation-impulses, perception-impulses, and idea-impulses… It is obvious that every act, in an animal with memory, must cease to be ‘blind’ after being once repeated , and must be accompanied with foresight of its ‘end’ just so far as that end may have fallen under the animal’s cognizance.”

For James, human emotion is tempered by prior experience and reason. He also classified emotions such as love and jealousy as instincts. Further, he believed that the following two principles could be applied to all human instincts.

  1. The principle of “the inhibition of instincts by habits”. He gives the following example of this principle at work:

    “when objects of a certain class elicit from an animal a certain sort of reaction, it often happens that the animal becomes partial to the first specimen of the class on which it has reacted, and will not afterward react on any other specimen”.

  2. The principle of “transitoriness” in which they are

    “implanted for the sake of giving rise to habits, and that, this purpose once accomplished, the instincts themselves, as such, have no raison d’être in the psychical economy, and consequently fade away”.

Influences and Opinions

Influenced by Charles Darwin’s theories, the educational psychologist believed that societies mutated over generations through acts of genius that successfully adapted to societal realities or that genius accidentally obtained positions of authority that enabled them to set examples or set behavioral social precedents. These acts might include the destruction of others who would potentially have set different precedents that would lead society in a different direction.

More respectful of genius than brute force, he joined the Anti-Imperialist League in 1898 to oppose U.S. foreign policy in the Philippines. His emphasis on the importance of diversity over duality strongly influenced American culture, and global art and literature as well. Author James Joyce became famous for incorporating “stream of consciousness” into his writing.

James and child development

James’ opinions as a educational psychologist, regarding child development remain relevant today in that James had a great deal of respect for the intellect of children.

“School children can enjoy abstractions, provided they be of the proper order; and it is a poor compliment to their rational appetite to think that anecdotes about little Tommies and little Jennies are the only kind of things their minds can digest.”

He believed that

“the native interests of children lie altogether in the sphere of sensation”

and recommended that children be taught kinesthetically, through objects and movement. According to him, the link between instincts, or emotions, and actions provided the best foundation for instruction.

Many of his theories were ahead of their time, in that many experts and educational psychologists today are in agreement with his opinion that optimum learning consists of doing rather than merely absorbing a rigid pre-determined collection of facts. His views on instincts were important here as well. He believed that teaching should entail helping children develop the power to control their “stream of consciousness”, and learn to sort, classify, observe and make meaningful associations while prioritizing conflicting emotions and information.

Perhaps as a result of rigid gender roles assigned by the division of labor, he believed that women had stronger parental emotions.

“Parental Love is an instinct stronger in woman than in man, at least in the early childhood of its object”.

However, rather than devaluing the role of motherhood, he spoke of a mother’s love as the height of nobility.

“…. the passionate devotion of a mother — in herself, perhaps — to a sick or dying child is perhaps the most simply beautiful moral spectacle that human life affords. Contemning every danger, triumphing over every difficulty, outlasting all fatigue, woman’s love is here invincibly superior to anything that man can show”.

In 1915 or 2015, learning to transform emotions into constructive habits remains one of the most important skills parents can model for their children.

educational psychologist

infant and baby care

Penelope Leach, Champion of Infant and Baby Care and Children’s Rights

“Whatever you are doing, however you are coping, if you listen to your child and to your own feelings, there will be something you can actually do to put things right or make the best of those that are wrong.”

While most people can probably agree with this statement from author Penelope Leach, her work on infant and baby care has been generating controversy for years. In a 1994 article in The Independent, she is referred to as both the “scourge of the guilty middle-class parent” and “Britain’s leading authority on child care”.

The Path to Authority

After graduating with honors from Newnham College in 1959, she earned her PhD in psychology from the London School of Economics in 1964. In addition to having held several prestigious positions in her field, she founded more than one organization herself, including The Association of Infant Mental Health and EPOCH, (End Physical Punishment of Children). Her philosophy regarding infant and baby care during and after divorce became a source of continuing public controversy. Leach, a child of divorce herself, became a passionate champion of infant and baby care and children’s rights, which many believed usurped parental authority.

Despite criticism, her steadfast belief that corporal punishment was detrimental to children’s mental and emotional health and development has since been supported by a number of scientific studies and is widely accepted as fact by nearly all infant and baby care experts today.

One of her primary goals was to reduce the degree of emotional suffering children experience through divorce by stressing the importance of parents recognizing their human rights throughout the process.

Influence on Infant and Baby Care Practices

The 2010 edition of her best-selling book on infant and baby care care, Your Baby and Child, originally published in 1977, is still selling today. In addition to proving it has staying power, it has also been translated into 28 languages, and millions of copies have been sold all over the world. Its popularity resulted in an award-winning cable television series of the same name, which she wrote and hosted.

Her stance has been described as “child-centered feminism“by Robert Manne, in that she recognized and acknowledged the difficulties women face when trying to combine motherhood with a career. However, her opinion that child, infant and baby care provided by family members was superior to that of paid professionals in a day care setting proved to be unpopular with working mothers, many of whom did not have the luxury of making that choice. Many feminists believed that her views hurt the cause of equal rights for women by inducing guilt in working mothers.

Child, Infant and Baby care and …. Fathers

Another area of controversy surrounding her book was the role of fathers in child, infant and baby care. She stressed the importance of the role of the primary care-giver, most often the mother. Her 2014 book, “Family Breakdown” received a great deal of criticism due to her claim that there was “undisputed evidence” that sleepovers with those not the child’s primary caregiver, including divorced fathers, could cause emotional damage in comparisons to regular nuclear families.

It was so controversial that a report disputing it, written by Professors Richard Warshak and Linda Nielsen and endorsed by 110 child care specialists, was published in the journal “Psychology, Public Policy and Law”.

In a recent article in the Guardian in which she is interviewed about “Family Breakdown” and the impact on infant and baby care, she answers critics who believe she doesn’t recognize the equal importance of fathers by saying:

“In the vast majority of cases, it’s the mother who is the primary attachment figure: young babies need a primary caregiver and being separated from that figure can cause them problems. If a father was the primary caregiver, I’d say the baby shouldn’t be staying overnight with the mother. But I believe fathers are just as important to a child’s life as mothers, though the timing is different. They tend to come into their own in the second year, rather than at birth, and children who have a close relationship with their fathers do better through life in every way.”

Current Contributions

Her current research at the Institute for the Study of Children, Families and Social Issues at the University of London reveals her continued dedication and commitment to replacing opinions with scientific evidence. She recently authored a chapter of the “Handbook of Child Wellbeing” entitled “Infant Rearing in the Context of Contemporary Neuroscience” and continues to serve as a visiting professor at the University of Winchester.

The ever-increasing number of post-divorce parents and their specific concerns for their children’s well-being is just one of the reasons for the continued popularity of her books on child, infant and baby care. Her strong advocacy for children’s rights is another.

Despite her critics, given the most recent divorce statistics and the fact that parents continue to be parents after divorce, her research will continue to be present for a long time to come.

infant and baby care

Separation Anxiety in Children

Does Separation Anxiety in Children actually exist?

Although there is disagreement among experts about the specifics of separation anxiety in children, they all agree that it is very real.

Separation anxiety in children: Opinions on the matter

Some say that it occurs most often during certain age periods, while others maintain that children of any age can experience it. Some refer to it as a “disorder”, while others say that it’s a normal developmental process. The duration of the distress is a factor in determining if a normal reaction to separation is cause for concern. According to the Child Mind Institute it’s classified as a disorder requiring treatment in up to 4% of children. Surprisingly, it is now believed that adults can also experience separation anxiety disorder.

According to Aaron Cooper, co-author of “I Just Want My Kids to Be Happy! Why You Shouldn’t Say It….”

“From the earliest years of life, we should want children to encounter ordinary adversity because it’s practice for building resilience.”

With the right guidance, experiencing the anxiety of separation can become a valuable lesson for children in how to deal with stress.

Some Facts on Separation anxiety in children

There are also a few scientific facts about stress that can be a factor in how your child handles stress. Researchers have discovered the human COMT gene. When we experience stress, our brains are flooded with dopamine. That dopamine affects the way our brains work, reducing our ability to reason, plan, recall facts, or solve problems. That’s one of the reasons that so many people do poorly on tests. The COMT gene clears the dopamine from the part of the prefrontal cortex responsible for our cognitive abilities.

Everyone has two COMT genes, receiving one from each parent. There are two types of COMT genes. One type clears dopamine very quickly, while the other type clears it more slowly. Fifty percent of people have one of each, but the other half have two of one type. Scientists classify those whose genes clear the dopamine quickly as “warriors” and those whose genes clear it slowly as “worriers”. These genes may be a factor in how often separation anxiety in children occurs. This information can be useful in determining strategies to help your child deal with stressful situations. For example, children with the fast-acting gene may perform better on tests but many need extra guidance to complete daily tasks. Those with the slow acting gene may be better at consistently completing homework but require relaxation exercises before tests.

Physical reactions to stress

The physical reactions to stress are the same for children as adults. Stress causes an accelerated heartbeat and breathing pattern, constricted blood vessels, and muscle tension. If the stress is prolonged, it can increase blood pressure, cause stomach and head aches and reduce immunity to other illnesses. At it’s most severe, a child may also experience nightmares, insomnia and depression. These symptoms can be manifested in tantrums.


While children don’t experience adult stresses like financial responsibilities, their lives are also often stressful. Some of those stressors include media, which often presents disturbing images, peer pressure or bullying at school, and pressure to do well in their classes. Children can also be stressed by over-scheduling by well-meaning parents trying to ensure that they have a sufficient number of stimulating activities. Because they are so dependent upon the adults around them, they are also highly sensitive to their worries and anxieties even if they aren’t expressed in words. Financial realities have resulted in a growing number of households with two working parents, with whole families experience a sense of loss with less time to spend together.

Fortunately, with the advent of social media, parents are no longer as isolated from one another and dependent upon the advice of experts as they once were. This article offers some great tips about how to deal with separation anxiety, both by experts and by parents offering tips that worked for them.

After all, nothing motivates one to become an expert on separation anxiety in children quite as quickly as the tiny tear-filled eyes of a child pleading for you not to go and needing desperately to know that you’ll always come back.

Separation Anxiety in Children