Information from the childcare study by the National Institute of Child Health and Development has demonstrated application of the concept Hrdy labels as allomothers (1999). Allomothering is "shared mothering," common in both human and animal species. It is a variation in mothering that includes all persons who mother or help to mother the child, including (but not limited to) the mother's mate, extended family, peers, and neighbors. Allomothering helps to spread out the cost and responsibility of the care and nurturance of the child. In childcare, those responsible for the caring for the children would be classified as allomothers. Allomothering of any child, of course, varies with each mother-child dyad.
In our culture, there was a great deal of involvement of the extended family in the early 1900s. By midcentury, in the 1950s, this involvement narrowed as young parents and families became more mobile and often moved out of the areas where they had the greatest amount of support. Nearing the end of the twentieth century, we saw a move to this increased involvement of others, or allomothering. This trend continues today, with increased support from extended family immediately after birth and a large shift of the care of infants to allomothers in the form of childcare. Recent estimates are that 74% of children under 1 year of age are in childcare (National Research Council and Institute of Medicine, 2000).
Although empirical data from the National Child Care Study supports the consistent impact of the mother-child relationship on the child's later cognitive, language, and social-emotional development, the fact that there were no differences in child outcomes based on exclusive nonmaternal care and exclusive maternal care (NICHD, in press) provides us with support for complementary care of young children by allomothers. At the same time, it is worthy to note the consistent role the mothering relationship has with developmental outcomes. When mothers were sensitive, responsive and nonintrusive and the children experienced a secure attachment their development course was optimized.
We should support a national policy of federal and state government involvement with childcare, adding a feature to create ways to support the mother-child relationship through parent education and support. Interestingly, a consistent factor predicting maternal behavior, parent-child relationships, and child outcomes is the educational level of the mother. We need to understand more fully what educational level involves. Is it a marker for more support during the woman's development? Does having had more teachers provide more role models of nurturing behaviors? Does education provide more knowledge and strategies for learning and coping? Childcare services that are available and of good quality are important in the care of young children, given the high rate of maternal employment; but we must realize that for the best child outcomes encouraging the involvement of the parents' relationship with the child must be on the agenda.
The challenges we suggest for future research on mothering are directed toward seeing how women can be assisted before and during pregnancy to assume the maternal role and have the "child on their mind"; this is particularly important for women with less education and with mental health issues. In addition we need to know more about how to encourage parental involvement when parents use nonparental childcare resources. Work with the parents is not a part of most contemporary childcare. It was a tradition in former cooperative preschools, and we need to restructure parental involvement through the childcare resource for parents with working schedules. The research shows the value of maternal involvement regardless of childcare. Mothering is one of the most important roles in society. More attention and support need to be directed to the preparedness of women to take on their mothering role.
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