Perfect Motherhood: Science and Childrearing in America

Perfect Motherhood: Science and Childrearing in America

Perfect Motherhood: Science and Childrearing in America

Perfect Motherhood: Science and Childrearing in America

Synopsis

Parenting today is virtually synonymous with worry. We want to ensure that our children are healthy, that they get a good education, and that they grow up to be able to cope with the challenges of modern life. In our anxiety, we are keenly aware of our inability to know what is best for our children. When should we toilet train? What is the best way to encourage a fussy child to eat? How should we protect our children from disease and injury?

Before the nineteenth century, maternal instinct-a mother's "natural know-how"-was considered the only tool necessary for effective childrearing. Over the past two hundred years, however, science has entered the realm of motherhood in increasingly significant ways. In Perfect Motherhood, Rima D. Apple shows how the growing belief that mothers need to be savvy about the latest scientific directives has shifted the role of expert away from the mother and toward the professional establishment. Apple, however, argues that most women today are finding ways to negotiate among the abundance of scientific recommendations, their own knowledge, and the reality of their daily lives.

Excerpt

Parenting today is virtually synonymous with worry. We want to ensure that our children are healthy—physically, mentally, and emotionally. In our worry, we keenly feel our shortcomings, our inability to know what is best for our children. When is it right to toilet train? Will early toilet training scar the child psychologically? How can we encourage a fussy child to eat? Should the child be allowed to decide which foods to eat? How significant is thumb sucking? How can we protect our child from disease and injury? Should we let our child cry herself to sleep? We are not alone with our worries. Nor are we without recourse. Health-care practitioners, psychologists, and other health professionals and social scientists are ready to advise us on how to provide the best parenting possible in today's world. Bookstores are flooded with titles such as Nurturing Your Newborn: Young Parents' Guide to Baby's First Month; The Complete Parenting Book: Practical Help from Leading Experts; Becoming a Mother: From Birth to Six Months; Worried All the Time: Overparenting in an Age of Anxiety and How to Stop It; and the ever popular Dr. Spock's Baby and Child Care. There are magazines devoted to giving us advice on childrearing, as well as numerous columns in newspapers and commentators on radio and television. Type “parenting” into Google on the internet and you get over 19 million hits; type in “child care” and you get over 70 million; with “mothering,” you get about 948,000; with “motherhood,” 2,550,000. While many of these sites offer suggestions from other parents based on their own experiences, many more sites—professional, personal, and commercial—employ the “latest” scientific and medical research findings to validate their claims for solutions to the problems of childrearing.

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