Developmental Stability and Continuity in Maternal Activities in Infancy
Developmental Continuity No
Stability Yes Increase Decrease
Stable Speecha Didactic stimulation Child-directed speech
Unstable Social play Adult-directed speech Social stimulation aFor example, across early infancy, mothers speak to their infants approximately the same amount in total (continuity), and those mothers who speak more when their infants are younger speak more when their infants are older, just as those mothers who speak less when their infants are younger speak less when their infants are older (stability).
determined that parent-provided experiences tend to be stable during infancy. Klein (1988) likewise found that Israeli mothers are stable in the amounts of learning experiences they provide in different situations of caregiving between middle infancy and toddlerhood.
Individual parents do not vary much in their activities from day to day, but parenting activities change over longer periods and in response to children's development. The ratio of positive to negative phrases that mothers make in reference to their infants increases across the first postpartum year, and there is a corresponding reduction in time devoted to caregiving activities (Fleming, Ruble, Flett, and Van Wagner, 1990). Sensitive parents also tailor their behaviors to match their infants' developmental progress (Adamson and Bakeman, 1984; Carew, 1980), for example by speaking more and providing more didactic experiences as infants age (Bornstein and Tamis-LeMonda, 1990; Bornstein, Tal, et al., 1992; Klein, 1988). Indeed, parents are sensitive to both infant age and, more especially, to infant capacity or performance (Bellinger, 1980): The mean length of mothers' utterances tends to match the mean length of utterances of their 1V2 to 3V2-year-old children (McLaughlin, White, McDevitt, and Raskin, 1983).
The fourth characteristic of these different categories of parenting has to do with their relative independence of these categories from one another. Classical authorities, including notably psychoanalysts and ethologists, once conceptualized maternal behavior as a more or less unitary construct— variously denoted as "good," "sensitive," "warm," or "adequate"—despite the wide range of activities mothers naturally engage in with infants (e.g., Ainsworth et al., 1978; Mahler et al., 1975; Rohner, 1985; Winnicott, 1957). In other words, the thinking was that parents behave in consistent ways across domains of interaction, time, and context. Alternatively, domains of parenting infants might constitute coherent, but distinctive, constructs (Bornstein, 1989a, 1995). Mothers who engage in more face-to-face play are not necessarily or automatically those who engage in didactics more, and this independence is characteristic of U.S. American as well as English, French, and Japanese mothers (Bornstein, Azuma, Tamis-LeMonda, and Ogino, 1990; Bornstein and Tamis-LeMonda, 1990; Bornstein, Tamis-LeMonda, Pecheux, and Rahn, 1991; Bornstein, Toda, Azuma, Tamis-LeMonda, and Ogino, 1990; Dunn, 1977). In other words, individual mothers emphasize particular activities with their infants.
Mutual responsiveness. Infant caregiving is further differentiated by responsibility and lead. In Western industrialized cultures, parents are generally acknowledged to take principal responsibility for structuring their exchanges with babies: They engage infants in early game play (e.g., Hodapp, Goldfield, and Boyatzis, 1984) as well as in turn taking in verbal interchange (e.g., Vandell and Wilson, 1987). Frequently, then, thinking about parent-infant relationships highlights parents as agents of infant socialization with infants conceived of as passive recipients. To a considerable degree, however, parenting infants is a two-way street. Surely infants cry to be fed and changed, and when they wake they are ready to play. Thus parents' initiatives are proactive; often, however, they are reactive and thence interactive. Infants appear to be sensitive to contingencies between their own actions and the reactions of others, and such contingencies are a hallmark of responsive parenting (Gergely and Watson, 1999).
Responsiveness is a major component of parenting infants (Ainsworth et al., 1978; Bornstein, 1989d). Although responsiveness takes many guises, parents who respond promptly, reliably, and appropriately to their babies' signals give babies a good message from the start. They tell their children that they can trust their parents to be there for them. They give their children a sense of control and of self. A baby cries, a mother comes—the baby already feels she or he has an effect on the world. A baby whose parent has been unresponsive is frequently angry because the parent's inaccessibility may be painful and frustrating; furthermore, because of uncertainty about the parent's responsiveness, the infant may grow apprehensive and readily upset by stressful situations (Rubin and Burgess, in Vol. 1 of this Handbook).
Infants deliberately search for and use others' (parents') emotional (facial, vocal, gestural) expressions to help clarify and evaluate uncertain and novel events, a phenomenon called social referencing (Campos and Stenberg, 1981; Feinman, 1982; Feinman and Lewis, 1983). Between 9 and 12 months of age, infants look to mothers and fathers for emotional cues and are influenced by both positive and negative adult expressions (Dickstein and Parke, 1988; Hirshberg and Svejda, 1990). Indeed, in such situations infants may position themselves so they can keep their mother's face in view (Sorce and Emde, 1981). That negative qualities of caregivers' emotional expressions—distress, disgust, fear, anger—influence infant behavior seems sensible, given that the important message in a parent's emotional expressions is that the event is (or is not) dangerous or threatening to the baby. Infants not only play less with unusual toys when their mothers show disgust instead of pleasure, but when the same toys are presented a few minutes later infants show the same responses, even though mothers may no longer pose an emotional expression but are instead silent and neutral (Hornik, Risenhoover, and Gunnar, 1987). Infants are immediately and long-term affected by mothers' lapsing into a "still-face" (Cohn, Campbell, and Ross, 1991), and infants of depressed mothers show inferior social referencing skills, perhaps because their mothers provide less frequent or certain facial and vocal cues and fewer modeling responses (Field, 1995).
Responsiveness has been observed as a typical characteristic of parenting in mothers in different parts of the world (Bornstein, Tamis-Lemonda, et al., 1992). Some types of responsiveness are similar, and some vary relative to divergent cultural goals of parenting. Mothers in different cultures do not vary substantially in responding to infant vocal distress or nondistress. Responsiveness to distress, for example, is thought to have evolved an adaptive significance for eliciting and maintaining proximity and care (Bowlby, 1969). However, mothers respond variously in more discretionary interactions, as in determining which infant attentional behaviors to respond to and how to respond to them. In line with cultural expectations, Japanese mothers emphasize emotional exchange within the dyad in responsive interactions with their babies, whereas U.S. American mothers promote language and emphasize the material world outside the dyad (Bornstein, Tamis-Lemonda, etal., 1992).
Parenting infants gone awry. Before we leave a consideration of how parents behave toward infants, some reality testing is in order. In everyday life, parenting infants does not always go well and right. Infanticide was practiced historically (French, in Vol. 2 of this Handbook), but thankfully it is very rare (although not unknown) today (Hrdy, 1999). Nonetheless, the local 10 o'clock news too often leads with a horrific telecast of some diabolical story about infant maltreatment or abandonment. Short of outright pathology, numerous other risks alter postnatal parenting and compromise the innocent infant (Carnegie Corporation of New York, 1994): More than one fourth of births in the United States are to unmarried mothers; more than one fourth of children under 3 years of age live below the federal poverty level; one in three victims of physical abuse is a baby; large numbers of women giving birth test positive for cocaine use at the time of delivery; fewer than one half of American 2-year-old children are fully immunized. Some parents are simply distressed and so supervise their infants less attentively and consequently know their infants less well (Crouter and Head, in Vol. 3 of this Handbook). Transient as well as ongoing pathology affects parenting. Depressed mothers demonstrate a style of interaction marked by intrusiveness, anger, irritation, and rough handling of their infants, a style to which infants respond with gaze aversion and avoidance (Field, 1995). Mothers who have abused drugs often fail simply to attend to elementary parenting responsibilities (Mayes and Bornstein, 1995; Mayes and Truman, in Vol. 4 of this Handbook). No matter if they are kissed publicly before every election as the ultimate demonstration of political caring, infants have always and in every society suffered physical and psychological neglect and abuse.
These descriptions of the characteristics of parenting beg the question: How do parental beliefs and behaviors develop? After brief interludes that compare maternal and paternal parenting and discuss mechanisms of parenting effects on infants, we return to explore the multiple forces that shape the parenting of infants.
Mothers' and Fathers' Parenting of Infants
Mothers normally play the principal part in infant development (Barnard and Solchany, in Vol. 3 of this Handbook), even if historically fathers' social and legal claims and responsibilities on children were pre-eminent (French, in Vol. 2 of this Handbook). Cross-cultural surveys attest to the primacy of biological mothers' caregiving (e.g., Leiderman, Tulkin, and Rosenfeld, 1977), and theorists, researchers, and clinicians have often focused on mothering in recognition of this fact. Western industrialized nations have witnessed increases in the amount of time fathers spend with their children; in reality, however, fathers typically assume little or no responsibility for infantcare and rearing, and fathers are primarily helpers (Cabrera, Tamis-LeMonda, Bradley, Hofferth, and Lamb, 2000). On average, mothers spend between 65% and 80% more time than fathers do in direct one-to-one interaction with their infants (Parke, in Vol. 3 of this Handbook), and mothers spend more time with babies than do fathers whether in the United States (Kotelchuck, 1976), Britain (Jackson, 1987), Australia (Russell, 1983), or France or Belgium (Szalai, 1972). Mothers also interact with and take care of babies and toddlers more than fathers do (Belsky, Gilstrap, and Rovine, 1984; Collins and Russell, 1991; Greenbaum and Landau, 1982; Montemayor, 1982; Russell and Russell, 1987). Fathers may withdraw from their infants when they are unhappily married; mothers typically do not (e.g., Kerig, Cowan, and Cowan, 1993).
Fathers are neither inept nor uninterested in infant caregiving, however. When feeding infants, for example, both fathers and mothers respond to infants' cues, either with social bids or by adjusting the pace of the feeding (Parke and Sawin, 1980). Mothers and fathers alike touch and look more closely at an infant after the infant has vocalized, and both equally increase their rates of speech to baby following baby vocalization (Parke and Sawin, 1975).
Mothers and fathers interact with and care for infants in complementary ways; that is, they tend to divide the labor of caregiving and engage infants by emphasizing different types of interactions. When in face-to-face play with their V2- to 6-month-old babies, for example, mothers tend to be rhythmic and containing, whereas fathers provide staccato bursts of both physical and social stimulation (Yogman, 1982). Mothers are more likely to hold their infants in the course of caregiving, whereas fathers are more likely to do so when playing with babies or in response to infants' requests to be held. When mother-infant and father-infant play were contrasted developmentally (Power, 1985), both mothers and fathers followed interactional rules of sharing attentional focus on a toy with baby; however, mothers tended to follow the baby's focus of interest, whereas fathers tended to establish the attentional focus themselves. In research involving both traditional American families (Belsky et al., 1984) and traditional and nontraditional (father as primary caregiver) Swedish families (Lamb, Frodi, Frodi, and Hwang, 1982), parental gender was found to exert a greater influence in these respects than, say, parental role or employment status: Mothers are more likely to kiss, hug, talk to, smile at, tend, and hold infants than fathers are, regardless of degree of involvement in caregiving. In general, then, mothers are associated with caregiving, whereas fathers are identified with playful interactions (Clarke-Stewart, 1980).
Mothers and fathers are both sensitive to infant language status, but, here too, they appear to play complementary roles with regard to the quality and the quantity of speech they direct to infants (Rondal, 1980). On the one hand, maternal and paternal speech to infants displays the same well-known simplification processes. On the other, mothers are more "in tune" with their infants' linguistic abilities: Maternal utterance length relates to child utterance length; paternal utterance length does not. Fathers' speech is lexically more diverse than mothers' speech, and it is also shorter, corrects children's speech less often, and places more verbal demands on the child; it thereby "pulls" for higher levels of performance (McLaughlin et al., 1983; Rondal, 1980). Despite the low quantity of interaction and variant style, however, infants become as attached to their fathers as they do to their mothers.
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