Childrearing, Culture and Mental Health
The "Contragenetic" or "Basic Distrust" Thesis (continued)
3. Social Settings Relevant to Parenting Behaviour which may Contribute to "Ecologically-Determined Maladjustment"
In pursuit of certain beliefs and values, Western societies have given insufficient attention to many variables of the social settings relevant to parenting behaviour. The important question "What qualities of the environment and social settings promote healthy and mutually satisfying parent-child relationships?" is seldom asked. Detailed consideration is beyond my scope here, but l suggest that the conditions which often prevail form an environment which is so biologically deviant that they may contribute to "ecologically-determined maladjustment" through adverse effects on parenting behaviour. For example, inadequacies in the following areas are common:
- The availability of companionship and support, as required, from an extended family group and neighbours.
- The availability of children or young people to assist the mother, and to play with her young children. (It appears that the natural setting for mothering behaviour includes access to other adults and children.)
- Opportunities for contact with the natural world.
- The extent to which a father's work permits contact with his family, or a mother's work allows her to care for her child at the same time. Related to these are the economic pressures which arise from a high cost of living and standard of material expectations in relation to earning capacity.
- Provision for help in the event of misfortune.
- Architectural and administrative conditions may affect sensitive aspects of maternal behaviour. For example, a Samoan hut in a natural setting, with no walls but a curtain, may be more conducive to mothering behaviour than a crisis-oriented maternity hospital, or a modern flat with no safe outside space for play.
Affluence may help to improve some of these variables, but so far this has not generally occurred. Many materially poorer and even non-literate societies have made better provision in many of these respects than most so-called affluent societies.