Mothers and fathers contribute directly to the nature and the development of their infants by passing on their biological characteristics. Modern behavior genetics argues that a host of different characteristics of offspring—height and weight, intelligence and personality—reflects inheritance to a substantial degree (e.g., Plomin, 1999).
At the same time, all prominent theories of development put experience in the world as either the principal source of individual growth or as a major contributing component (Dixon and Lerner, 1999; Wachs, 2000). Studies of children with genetic backgrounds that differ from those of their nurturing families provide one means of evaluating the impacts of heredity and experience on infant development (e.g., Ho, 1987; Plomin, 1989; Plomin and DeFries, 1985). In (ideal) natural experiments of adoption, the child shares genes but not environment with biological parents, and the child shares environment but not genes with adoptive parents. Studies of l-year-old infants, their biological parents, and their adoptive parents under these circumstances show that development of communicative competence and cognitive abilities relates to the general intelligence (IQ) of biological mothers and also to the behaviors of adoptive mothers (imitating and responding contingently to infant vocalization). These results point to direct roles for both genetics and experience in parenting infants (e.g., Hardy-Brown, 1983; Hardy-Brown and Plomin, 1985). Thus evidence for heritability effects neither negates nor diminishes equally compelling evidence for the direct effects of parenting (Collins, Maccoby, Steinberg, Hetherington, and Bornstein, 2000). To cite the most obvious example, genes contribute to making siblings alike, but (as we all recognize) siblings are normally very different from one another, and it is widely held that siblings' different experiences (the "nonshared environment") in growing up contribute to making them distinctive individuals (Dunn and Plomin, 1991). Even within the same family and home setting, parents (and other factors) help to create distinctive and effective environments for their children (Stoolmiller, 1999; Turkheimer and Waldron, 2000).
Empirical research attests to the short- and the long-term influences of parent-provided experiences in infant development. Mothers who speak more, prompt more, and respond more during the first year of their infants' lives have 6-month-old infants to 4-year-old children who score higher in standardized evaluations of language and cognition (e.g., Bornstein, 1985; Bornstein and Tamis-LeMonda, 1989; Bornstein, Tamis-LeMonda, and Haynes, 1999; Nicely, Tamis-LeMonda, and Bornstein, 1999). Even features of the parent-outfitted physical environment appear to influence infant development directly (Wachs and Chan, 1986): New toys and changing room decorations influence child language acquisition in and of themselves and independent of parental language.
Indirect effects are more subtle and less noticeable than direct effects, but perhaps no less meaningful. One primary type of indirect effect is marital support and communication. Conflicts and disagreements between parental partners increase with the birth of a first baby, marital satisfaction decreases from pregnancy to early childhood, and parents' attitudes about themselves and their marriages during this transition influence the quality of their interactions with their infants and, in turn, their infants' development (Cowan and Cowan, 1992). Effective coparenting bodes well for infant development (McHale, Khazan, Rotman, DeCourcey, and McConnell, in Vol. 3 of this Handbook), and mothers who report supportive relationships with "secondary parents" (lovers or grandparents) are more competent and sensitively responsive to their infants than are women who lack such relationships (Grych, in Vol. 4 of this Handbook).
In the extreme, conflict between spouses may reduce the availability of an important source of support in infantrearing, namely one's partner. Short of that, parents embroiled in marital conflict may have difficulty attending to the sometimes subtle signals infants use to communicate their needs. Infants in these homes may learn that their caregivers are unreliable sources of information or assistance in stressful situations. For example, year-old infants are less likely to look to their maritally dissatisfied fathers for information or clarification in the face of stress or ambiguity than are infants of maritally satisfied fathers (Parke, in Vol. 3 of this Handbook). In one study, the influence of the husband-wife relationship on mother-infant interaction in a feeding context was assessed (Pedersen, 1975). Ratings were made of the quality of mother-infant interaction during home observations when infants were 4 weeks of age. Feeding competence referred to the appropriateness of the mother in managing and pacing feeding without disrupting the baby and to her displays of sensitivity to the baby's needs for either stimulation of feeding or brief rest periods during the course of feeding. In addition, the husband-wife relationship was assessed by interview. Neonatal assessments (Brazelton, 1973) were also available. When fathers were more supportive of mothers, evaluating maternal skills more positively, mothers were more competent in feeding babies. (Of course, competent mothers could elicit more positive evaluations from their husbands.) The reverse held for marital discord. High tension and conflict in the marriage were associated with more inept feeding on the part of the mother. The marital relationship also predicted the status and the well-being of the infant as assessed by Brazelton scores. With an alert baby, the father evaluated the mother more positively; with a motorically mature baby, the marriage was characterized by less tension and conflict.
Research shows both direct and indirect effects of parenting on infants. In addition, both parents' beliefs and behaviors matter.
When their infants are only 1 month of age, 99% of mothers believe that babies can express interest, 95% joy, 84% anger, 75% surprise, 58% fear, and 34% sadness (Johnson, Emde, Pennbrook, Stenberg, and Davis, 1982). These judgments may reflect infants' expressive capacities, or contextual cues, or mothers' subjective inferences. In response to specific questions, mothers describe infants' vocal and facial expressions, along with their gestures and arm movements, as the bases of their judgments (Papousek and Papousek, in Vol. 2 of this Handbook). Because mothers commonly respond differently to different emotional messages they perceive in their infants, they have frequent opportunities to have their inferences fine-tuned or corrected, depending on how their babies respond in turn. There is therefore good reason to invest confidence in maternal beliefs about infants.
Parents' beliefs—their ideas, knowledge, values, goals, and attitudes—hold a consistently popular place in the study of parent-infant relationships (e.g., Goodnow, in Vol. 3 of this Handbook; Holden and Buck, in Vol. 3 of this Handbook; Sigel and McGillicuddy-De Lisi, in Vol. 3 of this Handbook). Parental beliefs are conceived to serve many functions; they may generate and shape parental behaviors, mediate the effectiveness of parenting, or help to organize parenting (Darling and Steinberg, 1993; Maccoby and Martin, 1983; Murphey, 1992; Teti and Candelaria, in Vol. 4 of this Handbook). Thus, how parents see themselves vis-a-vis infants generally can lead to their expressing one or another kind of affect, thinking, or behavior in childrearing. Mothers who feel efficacious and competent in their role as parents are more responsive (Parks and Smeriglio, 1986; Schellenbach, Whitman, and Borkowski, 1992), more empathetic, less punitive, and more appropriate in their developmental expectations (East and Felice, 1996). How parents construe infancy in general functions in the same way: Those who believe that they can or cannot affect infant personality or intelligence modify their parenting accordingly. Mothers who feel effective vis-a-vis their infants are motivated to engage in further interactions that in turn provide them with additional opportunities to understand and interact positively and appropriately with their infants (Teti, O'Connell, and Reiner, 1996). How parents see their own infants has its specific consequences too: Mothers who regard their infants as being difficult are less likely to pay attention or respond to their infants' overtures, and their inattentiveness and nonresponsiveness can then foster temperamental difficulties and cognitive shortcomings (Putnam et al., in Vol. 1 of this Handbook). In observing and understanding infantrearing beliefs, we may come to better understand how and why parents behave in the ways they do.
Significantly, parents in different cultures harbor different beliefs about their own parenting as well as about their infants (e.g., Bornstein et al., 1995; Goodnow, in Vol. 3 of this Handbook). Parents may then act on culturally defined beliefs as much or more than on what their senses tell them about their babies. Parents in Samoa think of young children as having an angry and willful character, and, independent of what children might actually say, parents consensually report that their children's first word is tae—Samoan for "shit" (Ochs, 1988). Parents who believe that they can or cannot affect their infants' temperament, intelligence, whathaveyou, tend to modify their parenting accordingly. Parents in Mexico promote play in infants as a forum for the expression of interpersonal sensitivity, whereas parents in the United States are prone to attach greater cognitive value to play (Farver, 1993). The ways in which parents (choose to) interact with their infants appear to relate to parents' general belief systems.
Are parents' beliefs about infants accurate? From their long-term, intimate experience with them, parents surely know their own infants better than anyone else does. For that reason, parents (or other close caregivers) have long been thought to provide valid reports about their infants (Thomas, Chess, Birch, Hertzig, and Korn, 1963). However, parental report invites problems of bias owing, for example, to parents' subjective viewpoint, personality disposition, unique experiences, and other factors. One study compared maternal and observer ratings of manifest infant activity (reaching, kicking, and other explicit motor behaviors) when infants were by themselves, when with mother, and when with an observer (Bornstein, Gaughran, and Segu, 1991). Mother-observer assessments agreed, but only moderately (see, too, Hagekull, Bohlin, and Lindhagen, 1984). Different observers have different amounts of information about baby, and they also carry with them unique perspectives that have been shaped by different prior experiences; both information level and perspective influence judgments of infants.
Are parents' beliefs about their own behaviors accurate and valid? Some maternal behaviors correspond to maternal beliefs: for example, mothers' behaviors toward their infants and their beliefs about childrearing practices (Wachs and Camli, 1991) and mothers' infant caregiving competence and beliefs about their parenting effectiveness (Teti and Gelfand, 1991). Harwood, Miller, and Irizarry (1995) found that European American mothers underscore the importance of values such as independence, assertiveness, and creativity when asked to describe an ideal child, whereas Puerto Rican mothers underscore the importance of obedience and respect for others. In line with these values, U.S. mothers have been observed to foster independence in infants; for example, during naturalistic mother-infant interactions during feeding, U.S. mothers encourage their infants to feed themselves at 8 months of age. In contrast, Puerto Rican mothers hold their infants closely on their laps during mealtimes and take control of feeding them meals from start to finish. However, coordinate relations between parents' beliefs and behaviors have more often proven elusive (Miller, 1988), with many researchers finding no relations between mothers' activities with their infants and their professed parenting attitudes (e.g., Cote and Bornstein, 2000; McGillicuddy-DeLisi, 1992).
More salient in the phenomenology of the infant are actual experiences that mother and father provide; behaviors are perhaps more direct expressions of parenting. Before children are old enough to enter formal or even informal social situations, like play groups and school, most of their worldly experience stems directly from interactions they have within the family. In that context (at least in Western cultures), their two adult caregiving figures are responsible for determining most, if not all, of their experiences. A small number of domains of parenting interactions have been identified as common "cores" of parental care (Bornstein, 1989a; LeVine, 1988). They have been studied for their variation, stability, continuity, and covariation, as well as for their correspondence with and prediction of infant development.
Domains of parenting infants. In infrahuman primates, the majority of maternal behaviors consist simply of biologically requisite feeding, grooming, protection, and the like (Bard, in Vol. 2 of this Handbook). The contents of parent-infant interactions are more dynamic, varied, and discretionary in human beings. Moreover, there is initially asymmetry in parent and child contributions to interactions and control: Postinfancy, children play more active and anticipatory roles in interaction, whereas initial responsibility for adaptation in child development lies unambiguously with the parent (Barnard and Solchany, in Vol. 3 of this Handbook).
Four superordinate categories of human parental caregiving (and reciprocally for the infant, experiences) have been identified: They are nurturant, social, didactic, and material. These categories apply to the infancy period and to normal caregiving. Not all forms of parenting or parenting domains appropriate for older children (for example, punishment) are accounted for in this taxonomy. Although these modes of caregiving are conceptually and operationally distinct, in practice, caregiver-infant interaction is intricate and multidimensional, and infant caregivers regularly engage in combinations of them. Together, however, these modes are perhaps universal, even if their instantiations or emphases (in terms of frequency or duration) vary across cultures. For their part, human infants are reared in, influenced by, and adapt to a social and physical ecology commonly characterized by this taxonomy and its elements.
(1) Nurturant caregiving meets the physical requirements of the infant. Infant mortality is a perennial parenting concern (LeVine, 1988; UNICEF, 1993), and parents centrally are responsible for promoting infants' wellness and preventing their illness from the moment of conception—or even earlier. Parents in virtually all higher species nurture their very young, providing sustenance, protection, supervision, grooming, and the like. Parents shield infants from risks and stressors. Nurturance is prerequisite to infants' survival and well-being; reciprocally, seeing a child to reproductive age enhances parents' probability of passing on their genes (Bjorklund, Yunger, and Pellegrini, in Vol. 2 of this Handbook).
(2) Social caregiving includes the variety of visual, verbal, affective, and physical behaviors parents use in engaging infants in interpersonal exchanges (kissing, tactile comforting, smiling, vocalizing, and playful face-to-face contact). Parental displays of warmth and physical expressions of affection toward their offspring peak in infancy. Social caregiving includes the regulation of infant affect as well as the management and monitoring of infant social relationships with others, including relatives, nonfamilial caregivers, and peers.
(3) Didactic caregiving consists of the variety of strategies parents use in stimulating infants to engage and understand the environment outside the dyad. Didactics include focusing the baby's attention on properties, objects, or events in the baby's surrounding; introducing, mediating, and interpreting the external world; describing and demonstrating; as well as provoking or providing opportunities to observe, to imitate, and to learn. Normally, didactics increase over the course of infancy.
(4) Material caregiving includes those ways in which parents provision and organize their infant's physical world. Adults are responsible for the number and variety of inanimate objects (toys, books) available to the infant, the level of ambient stimulation, the limits on physical freedom, and the overall physical dimensions of babies' experiences.
Four significant developmental characteristics distinguish these domains of parenting infants. The first has to do with variation among parents. Adults differ considerably in their caregiving behaviors, even when they come from the same culture and from socioeconomically homogeneous groups. For example, the language that parents use to address their infants varies enormously. One study reported that, even when from a relatively homogeneous group in terms of education and socioeconomic status (SES), some mothers talked to their 4-month-old infants during as little as 3% and some during as much as 97% of a home observation (Bornstein and Ruddy, 1984). Thus the range in amount of language that washes over babies is virtually as large as it can be. This is not to say that there are not also systematic group differences by SES or culture; there are (see the subsection on SES).
The second feature has to do with consistency in parenting infants. Stability connotes evidence of consistency in the relative ranks of individuals in a group over time and continuity evidence of consistency in the absolute level of group performance; the two are independent, but both add meaning to infants' experiences (Holden and Miller, 1999). One study examined activities of mothers toward their firstborn infants between the time babies were 2 and 5 months of age (Bornstein and Tamis-LeMonda, 1990). Two kinds of mothers' encouraging attention, two kinds of speech, and maternal bids to social play in relation to infants' exploration and vocalization were recorded. Table 1.1 provides a conceptual summary of some findings, distinguishing activities that are stable and unstable as well as those that are continuous and discontinuous. Notable is the fact that every cell in the table is represented with a significant parenting activity. Some are stable and continuous as infants age (e.g., total maternal speech to baby). Others are stable and discontinuous, showing either a general developmental increase (e.g., didactic stimulation) or a decrease (e.g., the singsong tones of "child-directed" speech). Some activities are unstable and continuous (e.g., social play), whereas others are unstable and discontinuous, showing either a general developmental increase (e.g., the normal conversational tones of "adult-directed" speech) or a decrease (e.g., social stimulation). Maternal behavior toward firstborn and secondborn children when each child was 1 and 2 years of age shows similarly moderate to high stability in maternal affectionate verbal responsiveness and controlling behavior (Dunn, Plomin, and Daniels, 1985, 1986). Summarizing across a wide variety of samples, time intervals, and types of home assessments, Gottfried (1984) and Holden and Miller (1999)
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