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The Human Nature Review Human Nature Review  2002 Volume 2: 518-522 ( 21 November )
URL of this document http://human-nature.com/nibbs/02/bornstein.html

Book Review

Handbook of Parenting, 
2nd Edition, Volumes 1-5 
edited by Marc H. Bornstein
2002. Mahwah N.J.: Lawrence Erlbaum Associates

Reviewed by Roy Sugarman PhD, Senior Clinical Neuropsychologist, Glenside Campus/RAH, Clinical Lecturer, Dept of Psychiatry, Adelaide University, P O Box 17, Fullarton SA 5063, Australia.

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Vol 1: Children and Parenting - 14 chapters, 418 pages, separate author and subject index: 146 pages; Vol 2: Biology and Ecology of Parenting - 12 chapters, 345 pages, separate author and subject index: 146 pages; Vol 3: Being and Becoming a Parent20 chapters, 563 pages, separate author and subject index: 146 pages; Vol 4: Social Conditions and Applied Parenting - 15 chapters, 389 pages, separate author and subject index: 146 pages; Vol 5: Practical Issues in Parenting - 19 chapters, 487 pages, separate author and subject index: 146 pages.

Marc Bornstein’s monumental second edition makes up more an encyclopaedia of parenting rather than a mere handbook, but like a good handbook should, and as you can see from the voluminous author and subject index, repeated across all five volumes and directing you from one to the other, this is a set of glorious hardcover books that must grace the shelves of any serious researcher/practitioner.

Children now DO come with a manual, and the purchase of any of the thematic volumes will stand you well, but all five, at about $160 per volume, is probably worth maxing out the credit card for a substantial while. If nothing else, the presence of such a reference work on your shelves will cower colleagues and patient parents alike into a sense of your wide mastery of the subject. More importantly, to one-up your neighbouring practitioner, it includes chapters on parenting non-humans and other mammals as well, just in case someone dumps a prosimian, new or old world monkey on your doorstep.

Volume one covers the parenting of children and older people alike. Covering the parenting of infants, toddlers, adolescents, as well as parenting in middle childhood and parent-child relationships in adulthood and later years, the book moves on in its second part to issues between siblings and genders from the parent’s perspectives, and then to issues in parenting twins, genetics, temperament, adoption, fostering. More important chapters follow on pre-term and retarded children, as well as on aggressive or socially withdrawn children. In particular, given the vast paucity of information on what occurs when adults cannot compete socially, the chapter on how children compensate with social withdrawal or aggression is a wonderful template for how studies in adults could look, since a study I did in 1999 demonstrated that such conditions occur in virtually every psychopathological presentation, and are vitally linked to the formation of executive functions in children. (The phenomenology of social withdrawal after traumatic brain injury. Spanish Journal of Neuropsychology (Revista Espanola de Neuropsicologia), Vol 1(4), 83- 112). Also valuable are the contributions of the chapter on mental retardation, with its listing of future directions in studying families of children with MR. The first volume clearly sets the tone that this handbook as a whole is directed at the serious research/practitioner, rather than the average person looking to see if they should whack their child’s butt or not. In fact, under punishment and discipline, there is nothing but research, and few answers for the casual parent, but much for the serious student at the highest levels. Most impressive are the contributions to self-efficacy and self-esteem, and cultural references to Israel, Italy and other countries, making this a truly international view. Of course, attachment issues in personality and aggression come up in all volumes, and often, and every theory possible is represented in this and other topics.

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Volume two begins with the evolution of parenting and evolutionary approaches to child rearing, the hormonal bases of parenting in mammals generally, and the psychobiology of maternal behaviour in nonhuman mammals as well as human mammals in a separate chapter. ‘Primate parenting’, despite its terse title is a very interesting exposé, if one can use such a word here, of all aspects of the parenting of new and old world monkeys, and the prosimians. This last group of parents leave their kids unattended for up to 12 hours, and mark them by scent (?!!!) so they can identify them (“they all look alike to me”). I shall not try that on my brood. More importantly, their skills were learned by exposure to infants while they were still sub-adult. This and much other fascinating and useful information comes out of this volume often and well, and with little fanfare or bumf, which is nice when reading. Intuitive parenting follows, covering those aspects which are hardwired to us, such as greeting our offspring with a certain posture or tone, or indeed, the instinctual response (learned?) in talking to our pre-verbals with raised voice and silly expression, all of which turn out to be necessary for normal development or at least correct procedural teaching of dialogue or social interaction. The second part to this volume concentrates on the social ecology of parenting. Here, the context created by the maternal and dual earner capacities of the family, the effect of culture, socio-economic status and environment are studied, as well as the history of parenting in the ancient Mediterranean world. This last chapter is a wonder of a text, with inferences drawn from all over the park, not least of course the bible, and presents a fascinating walk in that park, as well as among the ancient Greeks and Romans. An exposition of developmental systems perspectives comprises a somewhat alternative view to complete the volume. My favourite was the article on other cultures, with inevitably the interaction and role definitions between genders taking up much of the quotations, with some emphasis on Benedict and Mead, Harkness and Bornstein, Le Vine, Super and Whiting. Surprisingly, in the chapter on environment, ‘toys’ occupies only half a page, since there is a paucity of research into how toys and children actually interact.

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Volume three predictably has the most chapters. Here, the parent dominates in part one, with chapters on mothering, fathers, co-parenting, single- and grand-parenting, as well as non-parent and sibling parenting. Adolescent parenthood, as well as gay and lesbian parenting, occupy and provide important status given their novelty in the literature, with a larger focus on parenting in divorced and remarried families. Novel of course, is the chapter on parenting when contemporary reproductive technologies are the source of the offspring. The homosexual group, of which 20% of lesbians and 10% of gays are parents, largely from broken heterosexual marriages or liaisons, creates a number of over a million homosexual parents in the USA today, with perhaps two million children in such families. Stereotyping is impossible, and there is much diversity of situation here, as everywhere else. Research, especially for the court setting is emphasised as necessary and critical. Low self esteem, and of course, low self-efficacy are problems for IVF moms and dads, but the chapter overall is likely to calm the fears of most involved in that process, on the increase because of the delays now seen with women in the workplace conceiving later with some increase in infertility. The Australian medical bodies are now suggesting women at the age of 16 should conceive, or store their own eggs, for later use, giving them the genetic edge. There is some indication that IVF parents may be calmer, more mature, and parent better than otherwise. Donor insemination has its own problems, and these are thoroughly discussed by the well-known Susan Golombok. Part two here covers the transitional period to parenting in stages, and looks at the impact of personality, knowledge, expectations, monitoring and knowledge. A dynamic beliefs systems model is explored in one chapter, and parental attributions and attitudes in childrearing are explored. Inevitably, psychoanalysis and parenthood are examined by poking through the murky waters of parent pasts, and how they both contribute and obscure the self in relation to the demands of parenting in the here and now.

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Volume four is dominated, as its subtitle suggests, by the different socio-cultural backgrounds into which a child can be born. Ethnic and minority parenting, Latino, African American, Asian and impoverished communities are examined for their impact on parenting. In particular, the chapters on Latino and Asian families in the USA are fascinating, in that they allow for the expression of their home cultures in the context in which they are examined, the USA today, and of course such communities can be compared to the country of origin communities from time to time. A stand-alone chapter on the effect of social networks finishes off this first part of volume four. The second part focuses on applied parenting issues. Chapters evaluate the aspects of competence and deprivation of parents, marital relationships and conflict, as well as a broader look at psychopathology in parents. Parenting with a sensory or physical rather than mental disability is next, as well as the effects of substance abuse. Child maltreatment and parental education are evaluated in a less dramatic fashion to close off the volume. The substance abuse issues are of course wide, and involve co morbidity of mental illness, and the issues of self-medication in these conditions. A more interesting perspective is that on the characteristics of families of origin and multigenerational substance abuse. Characterisations of mothers as overprotective and fathers as ineffectual and weak rear their heads again, with poorer caring and raised overprotection indexes common. What the chapter emphases is that perceptions of parents by their children are coloured more by substance abuse than by personality characteristics: we have the same problem in our unit, with professionals often ascribing character labels to behaviours that emerge in the presence of substance use. In this way, the psychological profiles are interesting, but may simply reflect the effects of the drug use, states, not necessarily enduring traits. But whatever the aetiology, the outcomes for the effects on parenting are the same. A very useful section on direct assessments of parenting attitudes and behaviours follows, and with that models of parenting and substance abuse are interesting. Under the maltreatment heading, the chapter takes a developmental perspective, which is useful too, along with a section on both classical and modern research, as do other chapters in the book, enhancing interest for some so inclined.

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Volume five, in its first section, targets practical issues and parenting, and in this way would be the most popular choice if one were to just purchase one volume. In a way this is fine, but in other ways the contribution of the other volumes weaves a comprehensive background fabric against which much of the chapters here are best visualised and understood. These 13 chapters do stand alone, however, but Bornstein obviously had more in mind than just catering to popular desires. This volume closes off what was intended clearly as a tour de force in serious parenting, rather than a pickup book in the library or kindergarten shelves. The ethics of parenting, which starts off this volume, sets the serious tone for what is not simply a shelf filler for parents along with Dr Green or others. Ethical care giving is also responsible, with the freedom to have children tempered with the statue of responsibility on the other side of the water (to paraphrase Victor Frankl). The phrase over involved is not used here, there are accolades for the highly invested parent. The remarkable achievement of native and immigrant Asian children for instance is attributed to the high investment levels of parents fuelled by a Confucian belief that original nature is uniform, and that phenotypic differences in children arise from the way their childhood information processing is constructed by their parent and teachers. Based on the idea of parental responsibility in the maturation of children, the chapter explores the rights of children against the normative background of reciprocity and complementarity, and made it my favourite chapter of the entire series. Rights are after all complimentary, not identical, and this colours the levels of commitment and investment in a parenting system. “Children’s right to protection, support, and nurturance are greater, and their right to self-determination correspondingly less than their parents. Liberty is recognised as a good but not as the primary good.” (page 8). Parenting and attachment, as a chapter is obligatory, and so it is here, focussing on parental sensitivity and emotional availability. As with so much here, so sadly, the authors will conclude how much is yet to be learned, despite the maturity of the subject. So it is with much of the book chapters, despite the vitally important nature of the subject matter overall, most conclude that we still simply do not know. This is a sad indictment, almost like saying the world is full of childless parenting experts, or divorced marital therapists, and knowing that in the entire study of how personality presents in pathology, we yet can conclude with no surety how to grow a good one, a perfect one, subjectively and objectively. In the search for parsimony, another chapter reviews bi-directional effects, causal models, and recent developments in all of the above, in order to point to the application rather than misapplication of empirical models in future studies of effective parenting outcomes. And then there are cultural considerations……not here of course. With special consideration for executive functions as I mentioned above, a chapter here looks at the development of self-regulation, but using a social-contextual framework rather than an evolutionary model, such as Russell Barkley might have used, but nevertheless Piaget is invoked, and that is a good thing, but he is not in the references, which is bad. However, the next chapter talks on prosocial and moral development, the following on parental socialisation and value systems, and yet another on how parents can maximise children’s cognitive abilities. Piaget doesn’t get a mention here either, but Robert Sternberg does, and does so with his characteristic helpful style, very practical and down to earth in application. Once you have got them along the road, you can read the next chapter, which tells how to deal with talented children. The inevitable ‘importance of play’ chapter follows, as do chapters on everyday stresses, peer relationships and health promotion, counter-pointed with the care of sick children. All in all these chapters are what parents buy these books for, the style is less stiff and formal as opposed to the chapters in other volumes, and creativity is rife, but still heavily peppered with references. Part two of this final volume is devoted to social institutions that interact with parenting structures, such as a multimedia society, choosing childcare, family school and community partnerships, doctors, the law and public policy. The chapter on doctors is written for doctors, not parents, and useful to us all. The others are of some interest, and the chapter on the media particularly so. It is estimated that children 2-18 utilise non-school media equipment for about 5-6 hours a day, and often simultaneously more than one medium or technology.

Overall, I cannot say I read every word, but certainly every second word or so, dipping in and out of the five volumes in bits and pieces, at different time of day, and in different settings, making commuting interesting even if I did get some understanding smirks from women strap-hanging. Men had even wider smirks, but more asked me what the value was, than did women. Parents coming into my practice were interested, but daunted and validated at the same time by the size of the volumes, eight inches across my shelf.

I am very proud to have had contact with Bornstein’s labour of love, for what he has given birth to in producing his second child is superb, a must, diminished by cost and sheer volume, will there be a paperback? It won’t look nearly as impressive. But for those who specialise in paediatrics, there is not anything like it out there, and if finance permits, how does a child specialist justify not having this, when parenting is so much of what the phenotype presents? If nothing else, the vast and multi-factorial study of parenting has its bible, all Pentateuch in hard cover from Erlbaum, who despite their faults, produce some books that just have to be out there, like Victor Nell’s authoritative work in cross-cultural Neuropsychology, another bible.

The quote of the book should be, perhaps paraphrasing another parent neuropsychologist, if parenting were so simple anyone could do it, we would all be so wise we wouldn’t need them so much.

Computer-generated translation of this page French français German deutsch Spanish español Portuguese português Italian italiano Russian Russian JapaneseJapanese Chinese (Traditional) Chinese (Traditional)Arabic Arabic― also try this alternative fast translation service.

© Roy Sugarman.


Sugarman, R. (2002). Review of Handbook of Parenting, 2nd Edition, Volumes 1-5 edited by Marc H. Bornstein. Human Nature Review. 2: 518-522.

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