Comparing Black, Hispanic, and White Mothers with a National Standard of Parenting

Article excerpt

Parenting practices are typically studied in relation to particular subcultures. The prevailing assumption is that identifying attributes of subcultures can foster preservation of valued characteristics, guide acculturation, and promote inter-group respect. On the other hand, this narrow focus excludes the benefits that could emerge from comparisons if data from subcultures are combined to reveal common expectations and behaviors of parents across the society. When subcultures are explored independently, shortcomings are overlooked because there is no external standard for contrast. The parents' environment can become their normative reference and might be accepted without questioning whether it supports success in the broader society. Using a larger lens to view how parents perform could present a more accurate impression of their strengths and learning needs (Baker & LeTendre, 2006; Diller, 2007).

Construction of a National Standard

Significant demographic shifts are anticipated. By 2050 the Hispanic proportion of the national population will increase from the current 12% to 24% (U.S. Census Bureau, 2004). Such changes should be accompanied by parent awareness of normative expectations for bringing up children. In an interdependent society, everyone has some stake in the well-being of other people's children and every family should fulfill their unique responsibility for providing appropriate education in the home. Efforts toward conceptualizing a national standard for expectations of parent behavior must take into account the observation that, for the past two generations, middle class White parents have been portrayed as exemplars to prevent children from becoming disadvantaged. However, during the Internet era, since youth from every background can more readily be exposed to risk, no particular parent group is identified as a model for all to follow.

Representative sampling offers a more respectful basis for parents to determine how they, as individuals and as members of ethnic groups, accord with or depart from a national standard of expectation for parent behavior. Previous steps to explore building a national standard for parent success as perceived by two generations resulted in mother and adolsecent norms regarding maternal strengths and learning needs (Strom, Strom, Strom, Shen, & Beckert, 2004). Selected aspects of parent behavior were examined for Blacks, Hispanics, and Whites that together comprise 95% of the total national population (U.S. Census Bureau, 2006). A weighing method corresponding with the current ethnic proportions was applied to establish a standard for comparative reference. While the data were drawn from different ethnic groups, the purpose was to examine them collectively to formulate a composite image of mothers of adolescents.

This strategy assures that combining the views of these groups to create a national reference standard produces a more accurate representation of American mothers than is currently available. The trial standard also makes it possible to compare the strengths and shortcomings of each ethnic group in comparison with the national standard. In this way, ethnically diverse mothers can find out the aspects of parenting in which they excel and recognize domains where they should focus on learning. Such an approach can also support a more equitable allocation of financial and other community resources by giving priority to the subgroups and individuals that present the greatest need (Rose, 2006).

Sources for Evaluating Parent Success

Self-impressions. Communities have traditionally made known the criteria that parents relied on for self-evaluation (Putnam, 2000; 2004). However, as society has evolved, many parents now find themselves lacking community standards as a basis for guiding their behavior. As a result, some turn to professionals on television and radio or to authors of self-help books to define success and suggest how to assess progress. …