My view: Will I be a good mom? Understanding social classes' hidden advantages

By Merrili Gardner

For the Deseret News

Published: Tuesday, April 29 2014 12:00 a.m. MDT

After two years of marriage, my husband and I found out a little one would be joining our family. We had been talking about starting a family and were thrilled when the test was positive. After a couple of months, however, reality began to sink in.

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After two years of marriage, my husband and I found out a little one would be joining our family. We had been talking about starting a family and were thrilled when the test was positive. After a couple of months, however, reality began to sink in. How am I going to raise a child? Am I qualified enough? What would make me qualified? Do I really know what I got myself into?

I am the youngest of four children in my family. My “motherly” training that older siblings have to younger siblings or nieces and nephews has been limited, to say the least. In fact, my interactions with babies and young children throughout my life have been almost nonexistent. It would appear from my background that I am not a “qualified” candidate to become a parent. I have no training from experience or from classes. I essentially have no idea what I am doing or what I am supposed to do to raise a child.

Many mothers feel the same way I do. There’s even a common phrase in English that says “Kids don’t come with a set of instructions.” How can future mothers like me find answers? Much has been said about parenting by authors of varying authority, suggesting various “best practices” and methods. Yet there are theories that suggest advantages are found in sets of parents based solely on their social class.

Annette Lareau, president of the American Sociological Association, has done extensive studies on parenting and social class. She argues that social class affects the way one parents. According to Lareau, child-rearing strategies are influenced by life experiences and resources, occupational conditions and educational background. This results in an often unrecognized advantage provided to the children of these parents, such as the opportunities for extracurricular activities, tutoring, higher expectations of education/career paths, etc.

This advantage is often taken for granted. Middle-class parents provide advantage while not fully articulating what they are doing to give it. All the same, recognized or not, these middle-class parents are teaching their child skills that will provide long-term benefits. It becomes a pattern that is passed on.

For example, middle-class mothers often exemplify an intensity in parenting that does not exist among lower-class parents. Rather than assuming the answers to improved parenting/education/performance lie in added education to lower-class parents, perhaps we can find solutions around the understanding how the social status of parents is affecting the performance of their children in education and beyond.

Paul Kingston and other researchers question Lareau and her contemporaries, arguing that social class does not determine parenting styles. Their arguments are focused on the influence of the parents’ formal education. The more education a parent has, the more advantage the parent gives to children. In this sense, education has broad meaning, whether formal or experiential. Education is present in all levels of social class. Based on this theory, educational divides between classes would be solved by better parenting education programs.

Where does that leave me and other future parents with little or no exposure to infants? Lareau’s theories give me the confidence that I can and will succeed, if only from the cultural expectations placed upon me by my surroundings. Coming from a middle-class family, being a college graduate, and having a husband with a steady, full-time job gives me (and any mother in similar circumstances) an advantage when it comes to parenting. These “hidden advantages” give me an edge whether I am able to recognize it or not. I will naturally pass on advantage to my child, despite my lack of formal or experiential parenting education. Perhaps we can better understand the future of all children by viewing social problems in education and development through the lens of Lareau’s theory.

Merrili Gardner is a student at Brigham Young University, graduating with a BS in sociology in April 2014. She is looking forward to being a mom when her first child is born in June.

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