Comparing households

from Annette Lareau’s Unequal Childhoods (just to give you some concrete examples of how her framework operates)

Garrett, Tyrec, Katie and Alexander–some comparisons/contrasts to ponder:

Parental involvement

  • Upper and middle-class ‘micromanagement’ of kids’ time, activity choices, attention shown to the kids, how much the household schedules (and by extension, everyday life) revolve around their activities and parents’ desire to provide them with enriching experiences
  • Working class–less interest in being involved as children get older–not because of a lack of caring or love, but the children are less likely to be the centers of attention, concern, and daily life in these families; kids’ activities seen as less consequential (it’s not about socialization in preparation for a transition to adulthood); getting kids organized for the mundane daily activities is time-consuming, and there is less money and less resources for indulging some of the structured, organized extracurriculars (lessons, sports, etc.).

Pace of life

Levels of pressure, structure … busy middle-class families (Garrett and Alexander) are often juggling work and social schedules to ferry kids to activities after school, on the weekends. Parents seem tired, but dedicated to providing these enriching experiences. Lareau notes that mothers in the study seemed more engaged and involved in the details of their children’s activities (in other words, didn’t just attend a soccer match, but knew the other kids, their parents, etc., not just in the stands and checking texts from work). For Katie and Tyrec, there is not the same rushing around and structuring of after-school time. It isn’t as though all kids don’t want the attention of their parents, but in the ‘natural growth’ households, children’s expectations are adjusted downward–they still like the attention of course, but are less likely to complain or react when they don’t get it.

  • Cultivation vs constraint … ‘Cultivation’ should give you a sense that there is some intentional approach to helping children learn to navigate the world of adults (e.g., when Alexander is encouraged to come up with a couple of questions for his doctor prior to an appointment), some belief that learning about competition of various kinds, or learning a skill deeply (like playing a musical instrument), have payoffs down the road in terms of managing the complexities of adulthood successfully. ‘Constraint’ doesn’t imply a lack of concern, but suggests that parents have more to managing a household to consider than providing their children with structured opportunities for enrichment or learning to interact confidently in a world of adults. There’s a greater expectation that kids can and will entertain themselves, which often manifests as hanging out with neighbor kids or visiting kin. In the ‘natural growth’ household kids are likely to watch more TV (even if the programming is not likely to reflect their own socioeconomic circumstances. Why? Because programming targets more affluent audiences, to attract advertisers willing to pay to expose those audiences to relatively expensive consumer goods and services. In other words, they are more likely to be watching the social world in which the ‘concerted cultivation’ kids navigate).

Other dimensions to ponder (flesh these out, use examples from the case chapters)

  • Financial considerations (e.g., Tyrec and football–it is not a given that Ms. Taylor can muster the fees needed to participate)
  • Organized activities … Garrett vs Katie, who sings in two choirs, while Garrett is involved in competitive club sports (which are in many ways prepping kids for the possibility of athletic scholarships in college), with the full support and attendance of his parents, vs Tyrec, who tried football after school, but lost interest.
  • Time budgets–how differently do poor/middle class parents spend their time? How is this affected by household budgets (transportation, shopping, necessary errands, health care, bank, etc.)? What kinds of commitments does ‘cultivation’ imply for parents?
  • Competing commitments in ‘cultivation’ household (siblings spending lots of time attending older ones’ events, practices, etc.)
  • Kids’ behavior around the house vs with peers (more overt conflicts in ‘cultivated’ households)
  • Gender differences in ‘natural’ households (boys can wander further)
  • Importance of other family members, extended and nuclear (and entangling alliances)
  • Interacting with adults (deference vs expecting to be heard)
  • Public assistance, the work of getting it
  • Food resources, monthly eating cycles
  • Homework assistance (how to ‘help’)?
  • Television watching–in ‘constrained’ households children’s time is less structured, less belief that parents need to provide creative stimulation
  • Poverty is work (housing issues, laundry, food, transportation, health care ….), chaos (the whole fiasco the Brindles endure with Jenna, her health, moving to Florida, eviction, etc.)
  • Mental health, depression
  • . . . . . the importance?

Some telling quotes:

“The fact that working-class and poor parents pay less attention to their children’s playtime activities does not mean that these parents don’t enjoy seeing their children have fun. But, as we saw with Tyrec Taylor, this pleasure does not necessarily prompt parents to feel that they ought to regularly provide their children with such experiences. Nor do working-class and poor parents seem to feel obligated to attend to or follow up on children’s displays of creativity. In general, children’s leisure activities are treated as pleasant but inconsequential and a separate world from those of adults (p. 83).”

In both working-class and poor families, parents seemed preoccupied by the amount of work involved in caring for children and by the effects of inadequate economic resources. In a somewhat different vein, the pleasures and obligations of rich and deep kinship ties also demanded adults’ attention. These factors combined to make parents keenly aware of constraints, and also to set constraints in children’s lives. Nevertheless, within those boundaries, children were allowed a great deal of latitude (especially in comparison to middle-class children). Parents appeared to believe that children would thrive naturally, without the benefit of special toys or lessons. These things might make children happy, but they were not, in these parents’ view, critical for children’s well-being. As a result, there was a separation between children’s and adults’ spheres (p. 102).”

“… in the routines of his daily life, Tyrec learned important life skills not available to Garrett. He and his friends found numerous ways of entertaining themselves, showing creativity and independence. This experience was extremely valuable, but it was also distinctly different from the more bureaucratic experience of organized activities that dominated Garrett’s life. Tyrec and his peers did not get training in the enactment of organizational rules. Nor …. did working-class and poor children receive the training observed in middle-class homes in how to pressure an organization to be responsive to a child’s individualized needs. In short, the leisure activities involved in concerted cultivation had the potential to offer more payoff in the world of institutions than did the spontaneous play involved in the accomplishment of natural growth (p. 81).”

”’neither the benefits nor the cost of the strategies I term concerted cultivation seem to be fully understood by parents. For example, the close fit between skills children learn in soccer games or at piano recitals and those they will eventually need in white-collar professional or technical positions goes unnoted. Similarly, that middle-class children have trouble adjusting to unstructured time and that they often find it difficult to forge deep, positive bonds with siblings are largely unrecognized costs of concerted cultivation. So too are the ways that one child’s schedule dominates family time, particularly at the expense of the schedules of younger siblings. …. . middle-class parents take for granted their obligation to develop their children’s talents through means including organized activities (p. 65).”