Social scientists' interest in parenting has lagged far behind their attention to other aspects of human development. Early in the twentieth century, professional efforts were child focused, progressing from infant schools to nursery schools to child study centers to work like that of Arnold Gesell to chart the entire course of children's physical and social growth. Few professional people noticed parents, an exception being the U. S. Children's Bureau, which published handbooks devoted to the practical aspects of parenting such as feeding, toilet training, and the stern advice that mothers should not play with their infants so they learn regulation and self-sufficiency (Kessen, in press). By the second half of the century, researchers were immersed in discovering ways to increase children's intelligence. Yet the only notice parents (read: mothers) received in the scientific literature was blame for all types of psychopathology and other deviant child outcomes. Then, in 1965, the first Head Start centers opened their doors to economically disadvantaged preschool-age children and invited their mothers in to assume key roles in the children's preschool education. Years later, the importance of fathers in children's lives was discovered.
Eventually, attention to the critical roles parents play in every facet of child development became more and more common in a host of professional disciplines ranging from education to health care to social work. The literature blossomed so quickly that, when Marc Bornstein decided to synthesize it in 1996, the first edition of this Handbook of Parenting filled four thick volumes. The contents amazed and inspired workers, who for the first time realized the breadth of theory and research being conducted in fields far removed from their own. Yet even as readers began to familiarize themselves with this virtual knowledge base on parenting, critics of the view that parents have a profound influence on early development garnered publicity (Bruer, 1999; Harris, 1998). On the heels of and in symbolic rebuttal to such views, this second edition of the Handbook fills five thick volumes.
There are two major reasons why professional interest in parenting has gained such rapid momentum. One was the massive effort by a committee of the National Research Council and the Institute of Medicine to evaluate the entire science of early childhood development. The conclusions, published in a book titled From Neurons to Neighborhoods (Shonkoff and Phillips, 2000), focused on the importance of early experiences—particularly early relationships—in every type of developmental task. This authoritative work presented clear proof that early parent–child interactions relate to academic, behavioral, socioemotional, and most other outcomes. The scientists were careful to emphasize that human development is a continuous, lifelong process. Although the earliest years have prominence, all stages of growth are critical and are affected by what occurs within the child and in the child's environment. The committee underscored that, although there is ample scientific evidence that “early environments matter and nurturing relationships are essential, ” this knowledge