Parenting Practices and Interventions among Marginalized Families in Appalachia: Building on Family Strengths

Article excerpt

Using an ecological framework, the various contexts for parenting among marginalized families in Appalachia are discussed. Appalachian parenting styles are thought to be functional adaptations to a rural and often socioeconomically depressed environment within this geographical region. Characteristics of parenting styles, parents themselves, and their children are reviewed. Further, attention is paid to how family life professionals respond to these characteristics. Finally, suggestions are made for how professionals may cooperate with parents through the offering of support, information, and skills that are culturally responsive.

In order to understand more comprehensively the parenting practices of low-income families who originate from rural areas of Central Appalachia, the larger historic, economic, cultural, and social heritage of this region must be considered. The broader ecological context experienced by Appalachian families is thought to involve the interaction of two major factors: (a) the socialcultural influences of urban America and (b) the lingering aspects of a rural folk culture. Recent ecological models of human development provide a basis for understanding how the parent-child socialization process within Appalachian families should be conceptualized in terms of complex social environments with diverse expectations (Bronfenbrenner, 1979).

Much of the recent scholarship on parent-child socialization focuses on the parent-child dyad as an intimate social system that is embedded in the surrounding social environment as opposed to the traditional preoccupation with the individual (Belsky, 1981, 1984; Elder, 1991; Ford & Lerner, 1995; Lerner, 1991). Parent-child socialization, according to this viewpoint, involves relationships with both near and more distant environments such as the physical surroundings, immediate social contexts (e.g., the family), economic conditions, educational institutions, socioeconomic circumstances, and elements of the cultural context. This larger social environment encompasses the parent-child relationship and is organized into multiple levels that (a) are interconnected, (b) are hierarchically organized, (c) vary in terms of proximity to the parent-child relationship, and (d) function to directly or indirectly shape the lives of children and their elders. Added to this complicated ecological model are the elements of time and history, with the result being that parent-child relations and the larger social context are subject simultaneously to forces that are unique to a given time period, yet are also products of previous eras.

Therefore, from an ecological perspective, the parent-child dyad is seen as a subsystem or component of larger social systems (Henry, 1994; Whitechurch & Constantine, 1993), and socialization within the parent-child relationship of Central Appalachia is thought to occur within the context of extended family systems that include grandparents, aunts, uncles, cousins, and other relatives. Members of these extended family systems often have their residential roots in common geographic areas of rural Appalachia that may be thought of as kinship communities. Moreover, these complicated family systems are best viewed in terms of Appalachia's distinctive ecological context that includes aspects of the local community, the schools, the workplace, religious institu tions, unique cultural patterns, economic circumstances, the media, and influences from urban America.

Using this ecological approach, we consider how the circumstances of marginalization are reflected in the childrearing practices and socialization patterns of Appalachian families. More specifically, we consider the effects of marginalization on parenting practices of those lower income families from rural areas of southern West Virginia, eastern Kentucky, eastern Tennessee, western North Carolina, and western South Carolina. Additional attention is devoted to Appalachians who have migrated outside the Appalachian region and currently reside in urban areas. …