Academic journal article Journal of Marriage and Family

In Defense of Parental Investment

Academic journal article Journal of Marriage and Family

In Defense of Parental Investment

Article excerpt

In commenting on "Parents' Socioemotional Investment in Children" by Bradley, WhitesideMansell, Brisby, and Caldwell (1997), Sharon Hays (1998) argues that the measure, Parental Investment in the Child Questionnaire (PIC), is based on untenable assumptions about family life. Hays contends that PIC prescribes for mothers a level of devotion to childrearing that is unrealistic and unfair. The argument against PIC also derives from an analysis of attachment theory that concludes that the theory is suffused with cultural and gender bias. A number of the basic points made by Hays are well taken. To the extent that PIC is ill fitted to the actual conditions faced by families and is entrapped by an ideology that imposes unfair demands on mothers, then its goal to assist the well-being of children is accordingly compromised-not to mention its unintended harm for women engaged in the dual tasks of caring for children and earning a living. That said, there are difficulties with the arguments presented by Hays that reflect misunderstandings of the rationale for PIC and the measurement of attitudes. Moreover, Hays presents too narrow a view of the current context of family life and what it means for parenting. It is not my intention to offer a pointcounterpoint line of defense for PIC. Rather, I will attempt to clear up the misunderstandings, hoping to arrive at a kind of rapprochement. Even so, I will argue that parents' socioemotional investment in children is a cornerstone of family life and that it operates to facilitate the long-term well-being of all members of the family.


Central to Hays's (1998) concerns about PIC is its connection to the "fundamentally gendered assumptions" of attachment theory. Apropos to this claim is a quote from Bretherton (1992), an eminent attachment researcher:

Some feminist theorists have interpreted attachment theory as supporting the traditional view of women as primary caregivers. . . This is not strictly justified because attachment theory does not specify that caregiving must be done by mothers or be restricted to females. . . Most central to healthy development, according to attachment theory, is infants' need for a committed caregiving relationship with one or a few adult figures. Although the majority of attachment studies have focused on mothers because mothers most often fill this role, we have evidence that infants can be attached to a hierarchy of figures, including fathers, grandparents, and siblings as well as to day care providers. (p. 770)

Ainsworth recently restated what is most central to the construction of attachment relationships: "the presence of the caregiving figure" (Ainsworth & Marvin, 1995, p. 41). Research on fathers and alternate caregivers as attachment figures, although not nearly as voluminous as research on mothers, has grown exponentially during the last decade. That research points to the conclusion that the roles and the significance of each attachment figure appear related to the actual pattern of care that each provides to a child (Waters, Vaughn, Posada, & Kondo-Ikemura,1995).

The criticisms of attachment theory presented by Hays (1998) are based largely on the attachment literature published prior to 1980. Bowlby's (1958) early work focused mostly-though not exclusively-on mothers. However, the attachment literature has evolved dramatically over the past two decades. Perhaps the signal exemplars of this evolution are two monographs published by the Society for Research in Child Development (Bretherton & Waters, 1985; Waters et al., 1995). Useful in this regard is Bretherton's introduction to the 1985 monograph in which she discusses the movement from "attachment in the narrow sense" to a broader view of the attachment system with its connection to relationships throughout life. One line from that introduction is particularly revealing: "Certain basic things must happen in the parent-child relationship and . …

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