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What Is Parenthood?

Contemporary Debates about the Family

Linda C. McClain

Publication Year: 2013

Extraordinary changes in patterns of family life—and family law—have dramatically altered the boundaries of parenthood and opened up numerous questions and debates. What is parenthood and why does it matter? How should society define, regulate, and support it? Is parenthood separable from marriage—or couplehood—when society seeks to foster children’s well-being? What is the better model of parenthood from the perspective of child outcomes? Intense disagreements over the definition and future of marriage often rest upon conflicting convictions about parenthood. What Is Parenthood? asks bold and direct questions about parenthood in contemporary society, and it brings together a stellar interdisciplinary group of scholars with widely varying perspectives to investigate them. Editors Linda C. McClain and Daniel Cere facilitate a dynamic conversation between scholars from several disciplines about competing models of parenthood and a sweeping array of topics, including single parenthood, adoption, donor-created families, gay and lesbian parents, transnational parenthood, parentchild attachment, and gender difference and parenthood.

Published by: NYU Press


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pp. vii-viii

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pp. 1-16

Extraordinary changes in patterns of family life — and family law — have dramatically altered the boundaries of parenthood and opened up numerous questions and debates. What is parenthood and why does it matter? How should society define, regulate, and support it? Despite this uncertainty, however, the intense focus on the definition and future of marriage diverts attention from parenthood. Further, demographic reports suggesting a shift away from marriage and toward alternative family forms keep...

Part I: What Is Parenthood? Proposing Two Models

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1. Toward an Integrative Account of Parenthood

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pp. 19-40

Attachment theory and evolutionary kinship theory offer powerful and comprehensive theoretical accounts of the complex domain of human parenthood. Attachment theory emerged as a contribution to evolutionary psychology, but these trajectories of research had drifted apart. In recent years there have been efforts to reconnect these fertile explanatory approaches. This chapter discusses developments in these fields, what they suggest about the complex nexus of kin relationships and primal...

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2. A Diversity Approach to Parenthood in Family Life and Family Law

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pp. 41-62

What is parenthood? How should we frame the competing models? Red versus blue (by analogy to red and blue states)?1 “Traditional” versus “nontraditional”? Conservative versus liberal? Religious versus secular? Rural versus urban? Natural versus socially constructed? Simple answers are elusive. Indeed, “The definition of parentage — and with it the determination of which adults receive legal recognition in children’s...

Part II: Institutions: Is Parenthood Separable from Marriage (or Couplehood) When It Comes to Fostering Child Well-Being?

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3. Uncoupling Marriage and Parenting

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pp. 65-84

The genesis of this book lies in the American culture wars over family values. The root question posed to the authors in this part concerns institutions: Can parenthood be separated from marriage and couplehood? I was invited to make a case against the view that the modern nuclear family, composed of a married, heterosexual couple and their biological (or adopted) offspring, is the best family environment for promoting child well-being, and I promise not to disappoint. However, I want to begin with...

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4. The Anthropological Case for the Integrative Model

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pp. 85-102

Every viable society nurtures its children. In virtually all cases, the preferred form of bringing a child into the world and raising it is to provide a child with an acknowledged mother and father.

These fairly simple declarations have long been accepted fact among social scientists acquainted with the ethnographic record. Beginning in the 1980s, however, some anthropologists, influenced by postmodernism, began to express radical doubts about the very possibility...

Part III: Rights: What Rights Are at Stake? How Should the Rights of Adults and Children Shape the Law of Parenthood?

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5. Legal Parenthood, Natural and Legal Rights, and the Best Interests of the Child: An Integrative View

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pp. 105-123

The question to which I respond is this: How should contemporary family law define who is a parent in light of the rights of the parent, the rights of children, and the best interests of the child? Overall, modern human rights thinking, as it pertains either to children or adults, stands largely devoid of critical grounding. The historically most influential tradition conveying human rights to the modern world — the natural rights and natural law traditions of Aristotelian and Stoic philosophy, Roman law, and the early Roman Catholic...

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6. Family Diversity and the Rights of Parenthood

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pp. 124-144

The rapid expansion of nontraditional living arrangements has made the definition of family a flash point in public discourse. In recent years, that debate has moved beyond a focus on the meaning or availability of marriage, civil unions, and other adult relationships to include innovations in defining parenthood. As a small but growing number of states have recognized nontraditional caregivers as parents, even without the benefit of preexisting formal legal ties to the children in their care, judges, legislators, and commentators have debated whether legal notions...

Part IV: Child Outcomes and Forms of Parenthood: Does One Model Produce, on Average, Better Outcomes for Children? For Society?

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7. A Case for Integrated Parenthood

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pp. 147-170

This chapter makes a case for the integrative model of the family and of parenthood. More specifically, it argues for supporting the formal, legally recognized statuses of husband/wife and parent/child. In general, children do better in both the short and long term if they live with married parents and if they are biological or adopted children of these parents. Children are particularly affected by the stability and permanence of their relationships, although they are famously...

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8. Developmental Outcomes for Children Raised by Lesbian and Gay Parents

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pp. 171-190

In recent decades we have seen an increasing diversity of family structures in which children grow up. Whether or not differences in family structure make a difference to parenting and child development has been a hotly contested debate in family policy. In his analysis of sociodemographic trends in the United States, sociologist Andrew Cherlin argued first that remarriage was an “incomplete institution,”1 and second that marriage itself has become deinstitutionalized.2 Key elements in Cherlin’s arguments...

Part V: Attachment: (How Much) Does Biology Matter?

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9. Biological and Psychological Dimensions of Integrative Attachments

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pp. 193-213

John Bowlby’s experiences with institutionalized orphans, severely deprived of maternal care, convinced him that prevailing theories were inadequate to explain the developmental sequelae he observed.1 The leading explanation of the origins of the infant’s relationship with primary caregivers maintained that the bond was a by-product of association of mothers with feeding.2 However, serious short- and long-term socioemotional problems of children raised in institutions convinced him that substitute,...

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10. Parenting Matters: An Attachment Perspective

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pp. 214-234

This chapter examines how parenting has been defined and studied by attachment theory and research. Further, it describes reliable and valid attachment research tools that may assist public policy makers and judges with decision-making processes regarding parent custody, child protection, and the prevention of child abuse. In the frame of reference provided by John Bowlby’s landmark trilogy, Attachment, Separation, and Loss,1 parents are attachment figures on whom children depend as (1) a secure base...

Part VI: Gender Equality, Gender Difference, and Parenthood: Are There Gender Differences in Parenting? Should Difference Make a Difference?

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11. Gender and Parentage: Family Law’s Equality Project in Our Empirical Age

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pp. 237-256

This chapter joins the conversation about the place of gender in the law of parentage, an issue that looms large in today’s “culture war,”1 including the continuing battle in the United States over same-sex marriage. Here, in addressing not only the question, What is parenthood?, but also Who is a parent?,2 I make the case for a legal regime based on the diversity model. This approach, which embraces gender equality, supports recognition of a diverse range of parent-child relationships, without...

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12. Can Parenting Be Equal? Rethinking Equality and Gender Differences in Parenting

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pp. 257-276

Over the past thirty years, researchers in many countries have pointed to massive, gendered transformations in paid and unpaid work and parenting. Across most Western countries, we have seen more and more breadwinning mothers, stay-at-home fathers, and gay and lesbian parent households. These large demographic and social shifts have engendered equally massive discussions about what a family is, what parenthood is or...

Part VII: Globalization and Parenthood: How Do Family Immigration and Transnational Parenting Shape Parenthood? How Should They Inform Debates over Parenthood?

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13. Transnationalism of the Heart: Familyhood across Borders

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pp. 279-298

Global migration is transforming the shape of families as increasingly “familyhood” is experienced and conducted by hundreds of millions of families across national borders. In this chapter, we review the prominence of transnational familyhood and its implications for the meaning of family life in an age of mass migration. We consider what it means to be a parent, a child, or even a “family unit” in transnational circumstances of global migration. Is the biological parent who sends remittances more...

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14. Transnational Mothering and Models of Parenthood: Ideological and Intergenerational Challenges in Filipina Migrant Families

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pp. 299-318

An estimated 3,000 workers emigrate from the Philippines every day.1 As of 2007, there were 8,726,520 Filipinos who live and work outside the Philippines.2 In the last twenty years, the majority of Filipino migrant workers have been women. From 2000 to 2006, they accounted for more than 70 percent of annually deployed migrant workers.3 Most of them are employed as care and domestic workers in private households, for instance, constituting 69 percent of those deployed as guest workers from the Philippines in 2006.4 Indicating the institutionalization of migration...

Part VIII: Now What? Given Current Indicators, Can the “Toothpaste Go Back in the Tube”? Should It?

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15. Of Human Bonding: Integrating the Needs and Desires of Women, Men, and the Children Their Unions Produce

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pp. 321-339

Social scientists have now had the opportunity to study the positive and negative consequences of widespread family change for more than two decades. In this chapter, I will argue that the weight of the evidence supports the idea that the integration of the mother-child bond, the fatherchild bond, and the sexual bond between women and men through the institution of marriage is on average good for children, women, and men. I then offer a critical response to June Carbone and Naomi Cahn’s “responsible parenthood” proposal (elaborated in the next...

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16. The Other Side of the Demographic Revolution: Social Policy and Responsible Parenthood

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pp. 340-360

At the core of the family values debate is a central irony. In the more liberal (and “blue”) regions of the United States where public institutions make little effort to preach traditional sexual values, the traditional twoparent marital family is alive and well. Teen birthrates have dropped dramatically, divorce rates have fallen, and children enjoy greater material and emotional resources than they did in earlier eras....

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pp. 361-372

In this epilogue, each of us will offer some reflections on this book’s investigation of critical questions about parenthood....

About the Contributors

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pp. 373-376


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pp. 377-392

E-ISBN-13: 9780814724484
E-ISBN-10: 0814729150

Page Count: 400
Publication Year: 2013