Variations in Parenting (page 2)
Teachers meeting very young infants in child care are often fascinated by the quick pace of change and development they are able to observe. Sometimes it seems as though a baby is changing before your very eyes. The huge changes the parents are experiencing in themselves is not always as obvious, but they are equally profound and teachers can be very helpful as people make the transition to parenthood.
Our common biological and evolutionary heritage and our cultural variations, although each a huge factor in parenting, barely begin to describe the many influences on how people act as parents. An ecological approach to parenting describes a number of factors that account for the variation we find across families and that have a significant influence on how the family forms and functions (Susman-Stillman, Appleyard, & Siebenbruner, 2003). These factors include attitudes, early experiences, and current circumstances, as follows:
- The family’s attitudes toward family membership and marriage
- The impact of childhood family and attachment experience
- The impact of economic opportunity
- The impact of the parents’ relationship
- The mother’s influence on paternal involvement
- The influence of a single parent’s other adult relationships
- Economics as a factor affecting parent-child interactions
The family’s attitudes toward family membership and marriage.
Studies show that women respect marriage and have a positive attitude toward it, but often delay it. When they have had unstable and abusive relationships with men, they choose to delay marriage until they are economically self-sufficient and have raised their own young children. They see this delay as providing them with more power and control in the marriage, balancing their desires for a partner who can make their lives better against their fears of domestic violence and unfaithful partners (Edin, 2000; Fitchen, 1995).
The impact of childhood family and attachment experience.
The structure of one’s own family growing up seems to have less impact on choosing marriage than perceptions of marital happiness and day-to-day family life (Golombok, 2000). While the translation of early attachment relationships into marital relationships has not been widely studied, it appears that when both adults had secure relationships as children, they report less ambivalence about their marriage and more competence in parenting (Volling, Notaro, & Larsen, 1998).
The impact of economic opportunity.
The relative economic opportunities of the two adults affect their relationship and their willingness to marry. If a woman sees the man as having the potential to raise her economic state, she is more likely to marry. If her economic status seems more secure if she is single, she is more likely to want to live separately or cohabit, rather than marry (Edin 2000).
The impact of the parents’ relationship.
The ability of the adults to negotiate conflict and maintain positive feelings between them increases their ability to attend to their young children and meet their needs (Gable, Belsky, & Crnic, 1992). Fathers in satisfying, stable marriages are more involved with their children and feel greater competence and satisfaction as fathers (Yeung, Sandberg, Davis-Kean, & Hofferth, 2001). Marital satisfaction often declines during the years with a young child in the home; it can be a strain even for loving couples who choose to have a family. Couples who had consistently unhappy marriages seem least able to provide nurturing parenting (Kerig, Cowan, & Cowan, 1993).
The mother’s influence on paternal involvement.
The mother’s positive attitude toward the father and her support of the father’s involvement are important factors in both married and unmarried families (Carlson & McLanahan, 2002). Mothers draw fathers into involvement with their children by having child-centered conversations, encouraging fathers to take on caregiving tasks, and having a harmonious mother-father relationship (Coley & Chase-Lansdale, 1999).
The influence of a single parent’s other adult relationships.
Single parents and their children benefit when the parents have other helpful adult relationships. Strong social networks of friends and/or family can increase the success of single parents in their ability to maintain strong, positive relationships with their children. Single parents are often able to meet their own needs through friendships or support groups (Olson & Haynes, 1993). However, extended families without resources, or with additional difficulties of their own, can intrude on the parent-infant relationship and be an impediment (Fitchen, 1995).
Economics as a factor affecting parent-child interactions.
Economics may have more impact on children’s socioemotional development than does family structure (Kesner & McKenry, 2001). Fathers with fewer economic resources tend to have less involvement with their children (Coley & Chase-Lansdale, 1999). Fathers who are employed, in higher socioeconomic levels and with good jobs, tend to be more involved with their children, but work schedules can interfere with consistent parenting opportunities (Yeung et al., 2001).
The foregoing description of personal history, attitudes and beliefs, social environment, and economic resources describes some of the impact these factors may have on parenting. Past relationships, current relationships, economic resources, and social resources may each affect whether adults choose to marry to raise a family, choose to live within extended families, or choose highly alternative family structures. What is clear, however, is that becoming a parent has a huge and completely unique impact on each person.
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