In an earlier post I put together a random bunch of family pictures from the '80s and early '90s showing how different the world has become in the past 20 years, as young people have been increasingly prevented by their parents from normal growth activities, and increasingly lost any interest on their own part in such activities. The latter seems to be children and teenagers learning that the environment they're growing up in is aimed against youth autonomy, so they come to internalize a "why bother?" attitude toward autonomy and maturity.
To give a better idea of how early the socialization process used to begin, I went through the old shoeboxes again and found some snapshots of what life in the infant stage was like not so long ago. The setting is some kind of daycare place on a naval base in San Diego, 1981, where the new mothers around the base would meet up to socialize with one another, and to get their infant children started early in the long socialization process. Looks like we're all around 6 months old -- old enough to crawl, and at least in parents' minds back then, old enough to get to know new people, both peers and unrelated adults.
You may have to click to enlarge in order to see some of the facial expressions.
You can't expect advanced social skills at such an early age, but it's more to just get them comfortable being physically around their peers and interacting with them. Delay that for too long, and it's too late -- they're socially awkward for life, like most Millennials. The left baby is looking up at their mother, and the middle one is lost in their own world, but at least the right one is attending to the middle one. That's more other-mindedness than you would see among adolescent and young-adult Millennials today, where they're all staring down at their own separate devices. It would be very rare for one of them in a group of three to be giving the look to the less social two, like, "Hey c'mon, let's do something fun already."
Another shot showing how hands-off the mothers are around the group of three playing near each other. No way that today the mother on the left would allow her baby to wander off of their blanket and play so close to two total stranger babies and their stranger mothers. She'd swoop in all embarrassed and apologetic for allowing her baby to disturb the cocoon of another nuclear family unit. "Oh, I'm so sorry for interrupting you guys -- you know how kids can just sneak away like that!"
There must have been a guest speaker for a brief moment, as none of the other pictures show them all focusing on the same point. Notice how even when their attention is directed elsewhere, they don't feel the need to grip on tight to their babies. That'll only encourage skirt-clinging throughout life. But they're not cold and aloof either, just letting us be ourselves. That's me on the right in the red shirt, while my mother was taking the pictures.
The woman on the right doesn't have a kid with her. When I asked about who these women were, my mother didn't point her out as the teacher or leader or anything like that, so I'm guessing she was a mother who didn't bring her kid that day. Maybe it was sick, staying with a visiting relative, or had grown too old, or had not been born yet. Whatever the reason, she still wanted to show up to socialize with the other mothers, who were glad to have her around.
After we were old enough to crawl and walk around on the playground, the mothers turned us loose and sat in their own grown-up area to socialize with one another, while we interacted in our own little world. A major source of the "frazzled mother" syndrome of the '90s and 21st century is the social isolation of adults from one another. You'd go crazy, too, if you were that isolated.
Back in the '80s, it was common for nearly a dozen mothers to hang out with each other for several hours every day. These pictures are not of a one-off gathering. That kind of support and connectedness prevents overblown anxiety from building up in the first place. Aside from that, they got lots of feedback from the environment about whether what they were doing was right or wrong, harmful or not, and so on.
When you're isolated, you have no clue what the effect of your parenting is because you have no variation to pick out a correlation from. (Other than conducting your own experiments, but most mothers are afraid to experiment too much.) When you're part of a group where N = 12, you can put things in perspective. Like, "Oh, I guess it doesn't matter if I do X in order to achieve Y, since everyone else here isn't doing X, or maybe is doing the opposite of X, and still achieving Y." Or if you're wracked with self-doubt about "Can I be the only one who...?" -- you'll find out right away based on how the others in the group act. Maybe you are the only nutty mother who does X, but at least you'll know for certain and not be unsettled by nagging doubts anymore.
As a result, notice how normal the women's facial expressions are in these pictures -- not lit up with fake excitement, not paralyzed by stress and anxiety, and not concealing the stress with a nervous "don't judge me, I'm really not a horrible mother" kind of smile. Often the women are looking not at their own child but someone else's -- and not in that envious way, like "Oh, so that supermom and her super-baby think they're going to make the rest of us look stupid and feel bad, are they? Fucking bitch." Folks back then were just genuinely curious about other people, no matter what age.
Also notice how non-competitive they are with their possessions. There's no designer diaper bags, no baby yoga mats, no "baby genius" toys, no mini-sized adult clothing (leggings, jeans, cargo shorts, etc.), and no "mommy's still got it" clothing. Everyone's stuff looks like it could have come from the Goodwill store because folks weren't so hung up on materialism in the '80s (one of the most vile lies about the era). And you'd never see that carpet pattern or color scheme in today's design-conscious daycare centers. Back then, it had a decent pattern and didn't call attention to itself, so why bother hiring a design consultant for carpeting at a daycare?
Inequality had been increasing since the mid-'70s, but you couldn't tell from looking. You were somewhat aware that the rich were getting richer, and that the little guy was having a tougher time making ends meet, but ostentation as part of a larger competition was pretty subdued in the '80s. Glamour and excess were more pro-social, part of the carnival atmosphere. Pitch in with your fair part to spread the good cheer all around -- not to rub it in someone else's face that you can afford X, and they can only afford Y.
The previous era of frazzled mothers and culture wars over the role of mothers in society was the mid-century, when inequality was low and falling, the opposite of the Millennial-era pattern of frazzled mothers and rising inequality. So, inequality is unrelated to competitiveness among mothers, or among women with vs. without children. It's related more to the cocooning vs. outgoing cycle that mostly lies on top of the rising-crime vs. falling-crime cycle. It's not keeping up with the Joneses, but social isolation and suspicion of non-nuclear outsiders that locks mothers into a domestic prison of constant self-doubt, anxiety, smothering parenting, listlessness, and OCD routines as an attempt to give more purpose to their lives.
agnostic - reckon there's any diachronic work that compares child-parent "attachment styles" and find changes between studies then and now? like a meta-analysis. it would interesting to see if there are any frequency changes in behaviors.ReplyDelete
Everyone's stuff looks like it could have come from the Goodwill store because folks weren't so hung up on materialism in the '80s (one of the most vile lies about the era).
People tend to say this comparing the '80s to the '60s-'70s and the '30s-'50s, and people in the '80s probably were more competitive and hung up on possessions (even if more outgoing generally as well).
culture wars over the role of mothers in society was the mid-century, when inequality was low and falling
I can see this typifying the 30s-50s, beause they really did go from low female employment and high birth rates to high female employment and low birth rates over that time. It really is a big change.
But I don't really see it in the Millenial era. Pretty much everyone is with the program on the role of mothers. Where's the culture war? Status competition between parents is not the same as a culture war at all.
"Clinging to mother's skirts" is overstating it. Even for those who want to go out into the social climate, there's nothing to go into. God knows I've tried since discovering your blog.ReplyDelete
Nice photos. Yellow color filter?ReplyDelete
"Nice photos. Yellow color filter?"ReplyDelete
Beats me. They look like that in the original photographs, so it was either the ambient lighting or something in the camera that's changed since then.
I have noticed that in the one room in our house that was remodeled during the '80s (judging from the tile pattern), the light above the medicine cabinet makes your appearance in the mirror below look like it has a golden glow to it.
So maybe the ordinary type of lighting back then was ambery/glowy rather than harsh bright white like today.
Although I think you still see the same tint when the pictures are outdoors in natural light... did the camera companies build their products to capture the image with a golden tint to it? Like they knew it would look better in a photo album for it to look slightly grainy/blurry and with a glowing light, more like a projected movie image rather than live on-the-scene TV video footage.
Now people don't want something that looks like it's meant to be nostalgic sometime in the future. They want it to look harsh and too-realistic.
"any diachronic work that compares child-parent "attachment styles" and find changes between studies then and now? like a meta-analysis."ReplyDelete
Not that I know of for academic studies. You'd have to be careful there to make sure your population is roughly the same over the time periods.
There was something to that "narcissism epidemic" idea, but it had it beginning in the early '80s IIRC -- way too early. But that's about when the higher ed bubble started inflating, so you have a whole new population of undergrads, below the traditional "college material" types from before.
I think it's more productive to look for traces of attachment styles in pop culture and track that over time. That way we can tell what truly resonated with folks over time.
Sometime ago I wrote a post on what happened to girls wanting to play with baby-nurturing dolls. Those commercials were constantly on kids' TV in the '80s and early '90s. That's a sign that girls had less avoidant attachment styles back then.
There was a study doing a content analysis of advice in Parents Magazine from, I think, the mid-'50s through whenever the study was done... mid-late '80s, I think. The upshot was that in the '50s and early '60s, it was still the Benjamin Spock era -- over-exaggerate the importance of the mother's parenting style in how the kid turns out. Later on in the '80s, they were letting mothers know that they don't have so much influence over their kid's destiny.
And there was something about the type of parenting style they advised -- more engineering-based in the '50s and early '60s, stemming from the belief that the mother's parenting had so much influence. Then by the '80s, the mother's role was seen to be less of an engineer, programming it just the right way, and more of a discoverer and observer, trying to figure out who this new person is, and how to best welcome them into the household and enjoy their company. The mother as hostess or social liaison.
Obviously since the '90s the pendulum has swung back toward "the nurture assumption" of the mid-century, but the article couldn't see the future.
"people in the '80s probably were more competitive and hung up on possessions"ReplyDelete
I don't see that in anyone's home movies, pictures, or any area of pop culture. In fact, the hit music groups parodied or denounced materialism (Madonna, the Pet Shop Boys, among others), and glorified the common man (all of heartland rock, which is a strictly '80s genre, without counterparts from the '50s).
The theme of charity pervades the era, most notably in the mega benefit concert Live Aid -- aka, Woodstock with a conscience.
Black music groups weren't bragging about how much bling they had, not even rappers. One of the most famous early rap songs, "The Message," says that it's a fool's game for a ghetto kid to let his reach exceed his grasp in the hopes of driving big cars, spending twenties and tens.
People turn to material things for meaning when they lack social connections and community belonging. They didn't need to obsess over things in the '80s. That's more of a '50s thing, which everyone noted at the time ("consumerism," "mass society"). Getting the right car, the right set of kitchen appliances, welcoming the television set into the household like a new god.
There's even a cover of the Saturday Evening Post showing a newlywed couple looking up and seeing their dreams take shape in the night stars -- all of material possessions that they're hoping to acquire.
"Pretty much everyone is with the program on the role of mothers. Where's the culture war?"ReplyDelete
The vocal minority who keep lamenting the onward charge of helicopter parents. The tension is taken for granted enough that newspapers (websites) put up amusing articles showing the extremes of helicopter parenting all the time, like the one about the 15 year-old girl getting kicked out of camp for kissing a boy.
Then there are more grassroots things like people forwarding emails or linking to websites about how dangerous things used to be when we were growing up, and how sissified everything has become.
The culture war during the mid-century was similar, in that it was a vocal minority railing against the dominant trend of smothering mothers.
Here's that Saturday Evening Post cover on consumerism, from 1959:ReplyDelete
It's acknowledging the problem and giving folks a gentle nudge away from consumerism through the use of humor. But in the '80s, such a theme would only be handled through parody or mockery.
Sometime ago I wrote a post on what happened to girls wanting to play with baby-nurturing dolls. Those commercials were constantly on kids' TV in the '80s and early '90s. That's a sign that girls had less avoidant attachment styles back then.ReplyDelete
I suspect that the closer to the peak of a crime wave is born the stronger parental instincts and this leads to a higher fertility rate as adults. I recently looked into cohort fertility rate trends and found that after dropping for all 19th century cohorts there were three trend reversals in the 20th century the first being roughly 1906 when fertility started raising to a peak 1933 then falling until the late 50s when it started raising again, these years all match up with when crime trends reversed. Women born between 1955 and 1960 had fertility rate of about 2, women born between 1961 and 1965 2.06, women born between 1966 and 1970 2.1(and it will likely end up slightly higher), the projection for 1970 to 1975 is 2.2 and based on the trends in over 35 birth rates that will be met if not surpassed. The projections are less certain but woman born in the late 70s will probably have a higher fertility rate still.
There is no reason to think that women born in the 80s won’t continue the trend, polls of millennials (these polls always include people born the early 80s as millennials) have consistently shown that they place more value on parenting than prior cohorts did at the same age. Starting in 2001 polls on ideal family size have started showing the people under 30 have larger ideal size than older people while in the past they showed younger people had a smaller ideal family size. Given all this is reasonable to conclude that women born in the 80s will end up with a higher fertility than those born in the 70s.
Another interesting note is that after adjusting for different child mortality rates (using a very rough calculation since I couldn’t find detailed data) women born in the 1970s will have a very similar fertility rate to those born between 1910 and 1920.
I can provide sources if needed but I don’t want to get caught in a spam trap.
"Whatever the reason, she still wanted to show up to socialize with the other mothers, who were glad to have her around."ReplyDelete
Right, and nowadays, they wouldn't let her in because of suspicion. Hear about the guy who was turned away from the Lego factory because he didn't have a kid with him(he was with his adult daughter)?
People turn to material things for meaning when they lack social connections and community belonging. They didn't need to obsess over things in the '80s. That's more of a '50s thing, which everyone noted at the time ("consumerism," "mass society"). Getting the right car, the right set of kitchen appliances, welcoming the television set into the household like a new god.ReplyDelete
I don't know. I haven't ever noticed the least socially connected and "outgoing" people I know being the strongly most interested in acquiring new stuff. I don't know if self rated extraverts have ever tended to be the least consumerist and materialist. The 1950s was an era of new affluence for the common man and low inequality and so new possessions for the common man, but was it an era of obsessing about stuff?
The 1980s seems relatively materialist compared to earlier ages, but less today, even if they seem more vigorously alive and extroverted compared to earlier eras - but perhaps I get too much of my sense of how materialism was changing from Philip K Dick and John Carpenter films (who are interested in portraying an ever sleazier and more materialistic society).
Looking at ngrams (which are obviously an imperfect proxy for public interest and consciousness) for "consumerism" and "consumer society" start to pick up from 0 at around 70s-80s.
"Mass society" mainly grows during the 1960s-70s but does drop during the 1980s. You could view this as a backlash.
"Materialism" is slightly a more frequent term and peaks 1960, but I wonder if that isn't because of "historical materialism" and peak communism?
"Shopping" shows really linear growth to the present day, but takes off around the "annus mirabilis" of 1963. "Money" and "rich" tend to stay constant or decline over time with a slight peak for money during the Depression era. "Corporate" begins to grow during the 1960s and never slows down its rate of growth.
(Interestingly, in terms of religion, it seems , "God", "holy", "faith", "religion", "church", "worship", "prayer", "pray" show almost perfect correlation in frequency change in ngrams. "Evangelical", "heaven", "angel", "soul" and "hell" are similar as well, with slight time lags.
Modest rise from 1800-1840 then a huge fall to the 1920s and then a pretty even rate subsequent to that.
Its interesting to me that this apparent fall in religious expression in writing can be dated roughly to the 1840-1920 period).
That woman without a kid looks pretty good :PReplyDelete