Thursday, June 17, 2010

Gifted Givers

This week I will blog on a fine family sociology conference I am attending at Princeton.

Many programs aimed at preventing unmarried motherhood try to convince women, especially poor women with little education, that they could maximize their individual profits if they just prevented babies. This is an argument that works with many richer, more educated women and men, such as those who make up such policies.

Helen Alvare argues that such policies fail because they fail to understand what these women want. They are not trying to be individual profit maximizers. They are trying to be "gifted givers." The love and care they give to their children are a gift to the children themselves, and to the community as a whole. Giving that love is something these moms are good at. Being good mothers, according to the standards of their community, is something that any mother can understand. Facing up to the responsibilities of motherhood, even without a husband, is an honorable way to face their community.


Black Sea said...

"Giving that love is something these moms are good at."

Good in what sense? In comparison to other people, other mothers, their own offsprings' fathers? Or good relative to their other abilities? Do they suspect that, as compared to anything else that they might do with their lives, they are more likely to be "good" at child-rearing? Are they opting for motherhood because they sense that there isn't much demand or reward for anything else that they could do?

Gruntled said...

Motherhood is a pretty high calling. They think they are up to its challenges, and thus will reap its rewards. For family-oriented women, motherhood is not the only choice left, but the first choice.

Black Sea said...

From your description, we're talking primarily about "poor women with little education." I wonder about the extent to which they're realistically appraising the challenges, frustrations, and rewards of parenthood, particularly single parenthood. The bottom line is that either this type of family structure is, generally speaking, as good as a two-parent family, or it isn't. I wonder how much data supports the former contention, and how much the latter. The women described here may in fact want to be "gifted givers," but it may also be true that they would be in a much better position to do so in a two-parent family.

Gruntled said...

Agreed. The poor single mothers in Promises I Can Keep are also children when they become mothers, so they really have little clue about what they are getting in to. Nonetheless, I think Alvare is on to something in seeing that they are trying to do something positive with their lives (however naively they go about it), rather than simply falling into having kids through stupidity or laziness.

Mary Jo said...

So if this is the real reason they're having babies, and we still want to prevent them, we need to give them an alternative outlet for their love, rather than just tell them they can maximize profits by putting off motherhood? That seems logical and positive: telling them what to do, rather than what not to do.

But what alternative outlet is there? There are few things that can make a girl feel loved and needed like a baby can (as well as getting some attention from others in her life). All I can think of is Big Brothers/Big Sisters, and, while worthwhile, it seems a poor substitute. After all, you don't get to have a "little sister shower."

Gruntled said...

Alvare described one of the few teen pregnancy prevention programs that works. In it they talk to the girls about how their fertility is a gift, not just to the baby and to themselves, but to their families and communities. This can get them to think of giving this gift more seriously.