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Parenting as Mother-offspring Parting

Koichi Negayama
Professor at Faculty of Human Sciences, Waseda University

Features of human parenting

My specialty is developmental ethology, which is a hybrid academic field of ethology and developmental psychology. In the developmental ethology, development is studied from the viewpoints of biological adaptation, evolution, and reproduction.

Regardless of whether plants or animals, living things have two different strategies for reproduction: having a large number of fragile immature babies and having a limited number of sturdy mature babies. A good example of the latter is mammals; a mother protects a little baby inside the body, and breast-feeds it after delivery. Most monkeys typically protect babies by holding in their forelimbs, and human beings, belonging to the same species as primates, have further enforced reproduction strategy by protecting children several-fold such as by goods, persons, and schemes besides parents.

This multifold child-raising system can be regarded as interface between mother's body and child's body. From another viewpoint, however, this system operates to separate a mother and a child physically. I think human child-raising system "protects children while separating them from mothers with goods, persons, and schemes", which is regarded as the basic feature of human parenting. The above interface considerably reflects the current cultural and social values, and further allows a mother to be repeatedly freed from parenting while raising children to recover one "individual". This is exactly the viewpoint of "mother-offspring parting."

Viewpoint of mother-offspring parting

An idea that parenting is equal to mother-offspring parting?leads to acceptance of significance of "antagonism" and "separation" in mother-child relationship which is often discussed from the viewpoints of love and interaction. For animals, antagonism is found as direct action such as mother's attack on children. For human beings, however, it is found as less direct action. Though mother's attack on children is sometimes associated with "mistreatment", antagonism discussed here is quite a "sound" one. We should remember such sound antagonism exists.

Sound antagonism facilitates a sense of independence in children. As the proverb says, too much water drowned the miller. Mothers' too much care can break children's sense of independence. Just like spreading too much water or fertilizer on plants is not always better, it is important to achieve a harmonious balance between affinity and antagonism. For example, birth is a kind of antagonism if it is regarded as escape from protection inside the body, and weaning means an end of the protection named "mother's milk." When a child is encouraged to walk by his or her mother and consequently can walk independently, the protection named "holding" becomes unnecessary. As found in these examples, change of physical relationship between mothers and children always lies behind children's independence. To focus on mother-offspring parting is to re-recognize the meanings of mother's and children's bodies in development of mother-child relationship.

What is viewed from the standpoint of mother-offspring parting?

Viewing from the standpoint of mother-offspring parting, we can find new noticeable aspects in development of children: "physical contact", "eating behavior" and "accidents." All of these activities represent the vitality of children, and at the same time have a great influence on children's lives.

When we consider mother-child relationship and behavioral development of children from the physical viewpoint, a concept of "resource" is effective. Resource is something that is given, taken, or rejected between mothers and children. Since resource is also applicable to many things around us, it helps associate mother's and children's bodies with surroundings. In other words, physical contact, eating behavior, and accidents are good themes for developmental ethology. Each of them receives public attention due to importance for today's children.

It is often said life in recent years becomes difficult to live for children. Children can encounter a lot of risks. Besides, children are treated as immature dependent of their parents over a prolonged period even after they are grown up due to the low birthrate and popularization of higher education. This is quite different from the mother-child relationship that has been maintained based on physical connection between mothers and children for a long period of human development.

Animals can manage to raise children without any parenting book or well-baby clinic mainly because they follow their natural instincts. Natural instincts can be called physical effects. Physical effects exist in children as well as parents. Further, it is believed physical effects of children are much stronger than those of parents. In many cases, animal parents are naturally guided to proper parenting by responding to demands evoked from children's bodies. We would like to review children's own identity. At the same time, we need to seek establishment of circumstance where children can freely demonstrate their identity and initiative, and harmonious coexistence of grownups and children in such a circumstance.

Koichi Negayama
Professor at Faculty of Human Sciences, Waseda University

In 1977, the author quitted the PhD. program at School of Letters, Osaka University. Following a research associate at Human Sciences, Osaka University, a lecturer at School of Letters, Mukogawa Women's University, and an associate professor at School of Human Environmental Sciences there, he was appointed an associate professor at School of Human Sciences, Waseda University in 1996, and promoted to the current position in 1998. His specialty is developmental ethology, and mainly studies behavioral development and mother-child relationship of human beings and animals from the viewpoint of "mother-offspring parting."

Main works
Parenting as mother-offspring parting (NHK books, 2006)
Development viewed from body (co-editor, Shin-yo-sha, 2003)
Frame of reference in developmental ethology (Kaneko Shobo, 2002)
Human sciences of maternity and paternity (editor, CORONA Publishing Co., Ltd., 2001)
Psychology for mother-offspring parting (co-editor, Fukumura Shuppan Inc., 1995)