Book Reviews -- Mothers and Their Children: A Feminist Sociology of Childrearing by Jane Ribbens

Article excerpt

Mothers and Their Children: A Feminist Sociology of Childrearing. Jane Ribbens. London: Sage. 1994. 236 pp. Hardcover ISBN 0-8039-8834-6. $65.00 cloth, $22.95 paper.

Jane Ribbens leaves you with no choice, in this thoughtful and provocative book, but to reevaluate your understanding of maternal caregiving. She makes a compelling case that our understanding of mothering must be re-examined due to long-standing biases in our theoretical suppositions and research procedures. She shows how much of what we consider to be good parenting comes from experts from the middle and upper classes who do not appreciate how their judgments are based on class-centric notions. Even when "objective" empirical methods are used, researchers have been insensitive to parents' understanding of their own behaviors because their methods require them to remain outsiders.

Ribbens interviewed 24 White women (and some of their husbands and mothers) living in middle-income households in southeastern England. All women had a 7-year-old eldest child at the time of the first interview. Six women were selected for intensive follow-up, and fascinating portraits of these women are provided in the central two chapters. Ribbens uses these portraits to present a typology of parenting that is grounded in the mothers' own understanding of their experiences. A critical message of this book is that much of maternal behavior comes from women's underlying philosophies about family, individuality, and the nature of childhood. She shows us how vastly different parenting practices seem logical once the underlying philosophy is understood.

In addition to seeking to empower women, Ribben aspires to bring the study of family life to the center of sociology. …