Flat-gradient Nurturance versus Steep-gradient Nurturance
an article by our site
Steep-gradient nurturance is an historically aberrant childcare style where mostly one person (female) cares for a family's kids in an isolated nuclear family that pretty much kept to itself with neighbors being seen as people to gossip with or borrow a cup of sugar from. It was invented in the 1950s in the United States due to the forces of mobility, paternalism, sexism, individualism, and self-sufficiency obsession. Steep-gradient nurturance in which the mother got a bit of respite by use of a nanny, neighbor or babysitter was still mostly steep-gradient nurturance—with a single caregiver in a context of isolation.
Steep-gradient nurturance is when a single caregiver tries to be kids' sole resource in a context of isolation
Flat-gradient nurturance, on the other hand, is an historically normal childcare style where several people care for a family's kids so the caregiving duty is spread among a small group. It operated either in extended families with a group of adults (parents, relatives, nannies, etc.) present, or in groups of cooperating families with quite a few adults participating in childcare. In no case were families isolated, as people recognized the critical value of community to empower their lives to work acceptably.
Diffusion of nurturance: the amount children are nurtured by one, two or many caregivers. A culture in which the mother is the main or sole nurturer for her kids is said to have an inadequate diffusion of nuturance, and also a steep gradient of nurturance, since a graph of how much time the people in an environment were nurturing the kids every day would have a steep incline when it got to the mother's times. A culture in which the mother nurtures her children as one of many nurturers, providing the children with an enriched environment with regards to quantity of people available to care for them, is said to have an adequate diffusion of nurturance, and also a flat gradient of nurturance, since the graph of various people's nurturance times with regards to a given child would all be quantitatively similar. If the environment also provides the young CHOICES relative to who will nurture them at any given time, this is an excellent growth and maturity support, since responsibility, identity, and being are fostered by such an arrangement.
A good metaphor for seeing clearly the superiority of flat-gradient nurturing over steep-gradient nurturing is to think of nurturing being delivered as warm fuzzies in wheelbarrows. In a steep-gradient scene, pushing the wheelbarrow up the steep gradient of the diffusion of nurturance graph is difficult, and if the incline is steep enough, impossible. But pushing the wheelbarrow along a flat gradient is relatively effortless and quite preferable.
Just think of nurturing being delivered as warm fuzzies in wheelbarrows—level is easy but slopes are hard
The world's most predictable failure is the attempt to be either all things to all people or all things to one or a few people. Believe it or not, the very idea that one would even consider trying such a thing comes not from our natural human instincts for nurturing and love, but from our (and a few other) culture's current habit of bringing up its young in isolated, resourceless families, so that they grow up believing that this state of relational resourcelessness is how it "should be." Many past and present cultures would laugh at such unrealistic and invalidated ambitions. Besides, such an overwhelming burden is unnecessary.
What remained when most social tasks were exteriorized in the 1950s was the isolated ‘nuclear family,’ held together less by the functions its members performed as a unit than by fragile psychological bonds that are all too easily snapped
The steep-gradient-nurturance parenting in American culture has far-reaching effects and implications. Children are taught to attempt to fill all their social needs in one place, and to put all their eggs in one basket (the daycare phenomenon has helped alleviate this problem slightly, but it doesn't have any effect on the way children are raised when they ARE at home, which is still the majority of the time).
U.S. kids are foolishly taught to try to fill all their social needs in one place—to put all their eggs in one basket
Even though the mother-child bonding during the first six months of life (mother or some other person who makes themselves usually available and who forms a secure and loving bond with the infant) is essential for the baby's healthy psychological well-being, it needs to be recognized that once this psychological and social foundation is laid, exclusive mother-child parenting is fraught with pitfalls and dangers of all types. Among these are overdependence, smothering, overwhelming, mystification, stifling, inadequate need fulfillment, and instilling the psychological predispositions for win-lose character development in which the child learns to be manipulative, devious, suspicious, possessive, unrealistic, uncooperative, combative, mean, obsessed with sibling rivalry and/or oedipal motivations, opportunistic, overcompetitive, merciless, unsympathetic, envious, angry, and motivated by negative power. In addition to all these negative potentials for the child's character, there are many pitfalls for the mother, psychologically, socially, and experientially.
It should already have started to become clear why infidelity is so likely a phenomenon (the majority of the American people eventually indulge in it). A mother is hardly likely to adequately fill ALL the needs of any child. By setting herself up as virtually the child's only resource—which so often happens, if only by default—the child's emotions in her direction can often reach the desperation and obsession level. He becomes so obsessed with her that he resents not only the father but his siblings as well, because they often "take away" his only resource, his only security, his only path to survival, joy, or need-satisfaction. Note that such oedipal motivations can be avoided by avoiding steep-gradient nurturance, thereby undermining the reason that children learn to be manipulative, devious, suspicious, possessive, unrealistic, uncooperative, combative, mean, obsessed with sibling rivalry and/or oedipal motivations, opportunistic, overcompetitive, merciless, unsympathetic, envious, angry, and motivated by negative power.
Sibling rivalry emotions are ugly—and unnecessary
In a flat-gradient situation, when one resource is busy, another is right there filling needs so baby feels very secure and also feels that the world is a wonderful place. This baby grows into a person motivated by positive power—a person who forms happy, successful relationships with realistic expectations.
On the other hand, the steep-gradient situation produces an insecure, impatient, nervous baby motivated by negative power and possessiveness—sewing the seeds for future relationship dysfunction. This baby feels the world is a hostile, win-lose place where you cannot truly trust or count on anyone.
41% of first marriages in the U.S. end in divorce, but MCs preclude most such possibilities due to the need-filling situation of lots of nurturing friends
This common but regrettable steep-gradient-nurturance symptom means, of course, that children will have unrealistic expectations towards their mothers which will never be satisfied and that, as they grow up, they will transfer these expectations to others. No spouse can possibly live up to these expectations—any more than the mother ever did. So eyes wander in marriages, and eventually so do sexual desires, hearts and minds. As in The Adjusted American and countless other texts about parenting in our culture, the adult "child," who never really did get over his overattachment to his mother, begins his hopeless quest for someone who will fill his unfilled need for a perfect mother. See The Peter Pan Syndrome, Earthwalk, and The Way We Really Are.
You may be wondering about how one can raise competitive, successful winners if we don't utilize steep-gradient nurturance. Interesting thought! The answer is that both steep-gradient-nurturance and flat-gradient-nurturance can produce a "successful winner," but only the flat-gradient-nurturance type of nurturing that also includes caregivers that truly love the child is likely to produce an autonomous person who is self-actualized, has truly high self-esteem, and is a true winner in how he feels about himself, how he nurtures others, and how he treats others in general. He wins, not to see others lose because of his immature sibling rivalry emotions, but because whatever he won at was experienced as enjoyable and a skill worth perfecting. He experiences BE-ing based joy, not deficiency-based joy where he is obsessed with one-upmanship. (Like Donald Trump's board game Trump, which states "it's not whether you win or lose, but whether you win!" which is a way of saying that there is no intrinsic joy in doing or playing anything, there's only real joy if you kick someone's ass. This win-lose context is a perfect example of the hollowness of most steep-gradient-nurturance-raised people, who are run by oedipal and sibling rivalry emotions that drive them to succeed by climbing over the corpses of rivals, and in the process completely missing the point to life.)
Anyway, although it is possible for steep-gradient-nurturance to produce an autonomous person who is self-actualized and has truly high self-esteem, it will be in spite of his upbringing, not because of it.
Obedience is a reasonable goal with dog training but is a bad goal for childraising
Alfie Kohn, in Unconditional Parenting, asks us to consider the question of whether people will be driven to succeed if they're always getting unconditional love. His answer: "Let's hope not!" is a breath of fresh air in the stifling staleness of misguided but commonly accepted parenting practices. “Driven” is a code word for rewards and punishments, the core of behaviorism. It works great with animals, but not so good with people, with whom it often seems to be a resounding success until the side-effects present themselves. “Success”—but at what price? In Kohn’s view, such side-effects represent failure, not success. Besides, behaviorist-certified methodologies often fail even to get the desired result with humans and even some animals, whose inner spiritedness and lifewish fortunately cause them to take a rebellious path rather than an obedient path. (Good for them!)
How can we protect a mother's integrity in a steep-gradient-nurturance situation? Mothers are only human, not superhuman, and sometimes they have to go to work as well as nurture at home—which is the historical norm as well as the present and future norm. (This reality was addressed historically by flattening the gradient of nurturance.)
During steep-gradient-nurturance (the opposite of the historical norm), sometimes a mother feels nurturing but other times she (usually but not always it's a "she") doesn't—in fact, she either needs to be alone or to be nurtured herself. And yet she is the sole person available for her kids. So she fakes it. She pretends. She "tries." She pastes on a phony smile and pseudo-nurtures her kids.
But kids are sensitive and can feel they are not being nurtured. They are being lied to. They are being deceived. So they cry and act out. They have no other way of crying "foul." But the mother stoically keeps up the plastic smile and the pacification attempts.
This is bad for both mother and kids. The mother loses integrity as she unconciously perceives that she's a phony. She feels like a bad person and a bad mother. She's failing her kids and her self-esteem takes a dive.
TV is a fine caretaker—right? WRONG!
Then she lowers her nurturing standards: The kids just need a caretaker—like a sheepherder her main job is keeping them warm, safe, fed, and clothed, and a TV is a fine caretaker—right? She rationalizes to herself that the crying and acting out is just kids being kids. But she is repressing the obvious fact that children are emotional creatures that need an intimate loving emotional connection from their nurturers, no matter who they are. If she cannot do this but she really does love her kids, she needs to find someone who can do it. Or the kids will suffer the consequences and feel bad about themselves.
Confused mothers often lower their nurturing standards until they act as mere sheepherders whose job is keeping them warm, safe, fed, and clothed, forgetting that kids are emotional creatures
So the answer to how we can protect a mother's integrity in a steep-gradient-nurturance situation is: we can't. The bad effects on mother and child are inevitable. Both lose self-esteem as the mother sees herself as a phony failure that even starts disliking herself for the negative feelings she has towards her kids for demanding more than she can give, while the kids see that they're not getting their needs filled and feel it must be their fault—they must be bad or at least undeserving.
We've all seen the stoic martyr face on a struggling mother who is hating herself and hating her kids but pretending just the opposite. She'd tried to give more than she had to give but instead of seeing what a dumb idea it is to pretend to be SuperMom and do what she cannot do, she hardens up inside, repressing her true feelings and desperately forcing herself to "believe" the phony ones.
The mom that tries to do and be all needs to get some friends and share childcare tasks with them, which will make her, her friends', and her kids' lives happier and less stressful
Wiser mothers create babysitting co-ops instead of maiming their psyches and convincing themselves that the phony act they've been putting on is really who they are. But if she's had the misfortune to be surrounded by other mothers doing the same psychological damage to themselves as she does, her chances of experiencing the co-op insight are slim. Worse yet, if she's had the extreme misfortune of being in an environment of paternalism, fundamentalism or both, her chances of experiencing the co-op insight are nil. She'll get guilt trips laid on her for even the thought of sharing childcare.
As you can see, steep-gradient-nurturance situations are merciless and destructive and unhealthy. They're intrinsically win-lose and produce people to whom relationships and intimacy are predestined to fail.
From the 1800s to the mid-1900s, new inventions and machines slowly transformed the U.S. It went from rural to urban and suburban, from non-mobile to mobile, from agricultural to industrial, from First Wave to Second Wave, from ethically-led to materialistic consumer, from village to city, from rooted in place to job and land and community to opportunistic, ambitious, and upwardly mobile and after the brass ring at any cost.
An overriding goal became the experiencing of greater ease and efficiency and comfort and convenience. This is a natural part of progress, and the more these things were achieved, the more life improved for the masses. That is, until this new mechanical and scientific progress convinced many to take unnatural shortcuts. It's overgeneralization to expect that the reductionism implicit in science could apply appropriately to ALL sciences—even social science. And yet, that is what happened: social reductionism.
Automobiles allowed people to go the store and back without ever seeing a single neighbor
One after another, the reasons for cooperation with neighbors and community seemed to disappear. Automobiles allowed people to go the store and back without ever seeing a single neighbor. The act of getting produce and other items in the past often involved a certain amount of many things like bartering, sharing, trading, giving, favors, and division of labor (the specialization of cooperating individuals who perform specific tasks and roles), where various people tend to and hitch and unhitch horses and wagons, communicate with neighbors about the trip and cooperate about transportation, buy or barter for various goods, process some of the goods (lumber into furniture, wheat into bread, sugar and fruit into pies, etc.), and even let the fruits of this processing go to all those involved in the acquisition of this produce and other items.
The answer, then, to Why Was Steep-Gradient Nurturance Created? is this: Modernization caused unintentional isolation and disconnection which unintentionally created steep-gradient-nurturance. No one planned these things. Nor did anyone celebrate their arrival. They just happened. And there was also the fact that when men entered the service to fight against Germany and Japan in WWII, women took the jobs they vacated (except for the woman who became nurses to help the wounded soldiers). Once the war was won, men reclaimed their jobs and the women went back home to domestic life. Many men were wounded or had PTSD, making them less then ideal candidates for childraising. And authoritarian, patriarchal values claiming that women's place is in the home justified the women being bumped from their jobs when the war was over. And so did the ethic of fairness—these guys had just risked their lives to save us from Hitler, so surely it is only fair to return their jobs to them when they returned. This "women's rightful place is in the home as housewives and mothers" value became overemphasized to the point where it seemed only natural to assign women to the role of permanent nurturers and housewives in a context of resourceless isolation. This was sociologically and psychologically foolish and ignorant, but no one knew any better.
This 'women's rightful place is in the home as housewives and mothers' value became way overemphasized
Most things in village life were social to one degree or another, which is why they became a village in the first place. A baker would trade bread for meat, and a butcher would trade meat for candles, and the candlemaker would trade candles for taking care of the elderly widow for the banker, and the livery stable owner would have the widow Jenson watch his kids for free stable privileges, and all of these villagers would gather for the Saturday square dance. Sometimes money was the medium of exchange, other times bartering, borrowing, credit notes, IOUs, or trading came into play, but in many or most cases, social interaction was involved. Specialization of labor allowed people to socially cooperate in order to perform the various tasks needed to have successful lives. Specialization and cooperation and exchange allowed efficiency and efficiency was vital if life was going to be fulfilling rather than unending drudgery.
Man greets neighbor with wagon full of grain
And yet, knowing full well that no man is an island and community is an essential aspect of life, people did not subscribe to social reductionism. They experienced their need for each other as a blessing, since it created a cozy, happy feeling of togetherness and security. If a neighbor's house was burning, it was everyone's problem and they all cooperated in a fire bucket brigade. Today, a burning house is simply a spectator sport to entertain rubbernecking gawkers—even if it's the house next door. In the past, people were not looking for ways to erase everyone else but their family from their lives because of how socially efficient and heroic-looking it was to do everything themselves. Extended families and families with extra nonfamily members (borders, nannies, nursemaids, extra "hands") managed childcare easily enough, utilizing not just household members but neighbors as extra nurturers as well, aware that when these neighbors had childcare issues, they'd be ready to help them in return.
No man is an island
One of the ways mothers with kids handled childcare besides taking advantage of neighborly childcare sharing was to utilize older siblings, which was easy to do since there were twice as many kids available. And, due to the fact that mothers had few "appliances" and lots of household chores to do, they'd have the kids help them. Some chores were more efficient with neighborly participation, especially on farms, but even in villages having one person watch the kids while another did the wash was an obvious solution for two mothers both with kids and both with wash to do.
Another way childcare was accomplished in the 1800s and even earlier was to send the child to live with—and be taught a trade by—a craftsman who was usually male and often the child's sole nurturer. This was called the apprentice system. Many craftsmen were fine nurturers, many were terrible, abusive nurturers, but most were somewhere in between. Male nurturers were not that uncommon. Thomas Jefferson was nurtured by his father, for instance—many children in the 1700s were cared for primarily by their fathers with the help of servants or slaves (steep-gradient nurturance). See The Way We Really Are.
Male nurturers were not that uncommon in centuries past, nor are they uncommon today
The heroic independence and pioneering spirit of families didn't mean they didn't travel westward in wagon trains as opposed to isolated wagons, nor did it mean they didn't cooperate with neighbors in all the ways just cited. It meant that it was up to each family's bread-earners to work hard, be ambitious, and rely on their own two hands to create a decent life for their family. Laziness or foolishness or alcoholism led to ruin and the poorhouse, if not starvation. People were both independent and dependent. But in the past they all knew that dependence was a social necessity. Today many consider it an embarrassment or a failure.
The heroic independence and pioneering spirit of families did NOT mean they traveled westward in isolated wagons rather than wagon trains (for safety smart settlers traveled in wagon TRAINS)
Applying the efficiency value to childcare was logical back them as well as now. Of course having one person watch the kids while another did the wash made sense, just like having many neighbors in on barnraising while the kids played nearby with a couple of "womenfolk" tending to them made sense, and letting the kids help with bringing in a crop made sense and made the kids feel especially important and valuable. Today, kids going to a childcare center or in-home care while parents work at first blush seems situationally essential and efficient. And yet, it is important to look at the accepted "givens."
It seems to be a given to most people that nuclear and single-parent families as well as unmarried couples are socially isolated—there are no significant social resources nearby that are either good nurturers or good friends. And yet usually all available parents work. So this pushes childcare into the hands of strangers, some of which are likely to not only fail to be nurturing people but also be of questionable character and near children for unhealthy reasons. Childcare used to happen with the help of extended family members, borders, nannies, nursemaids, extra "hands", slaves, or neighbors all of whom were very well known to the families involved—all people who were socially part of the families' lives. And, as mentioned earlier, in the 1800s kids were often apprenticed to and living with master craftsmen, who nurtured them as well as taught them a trade.
In the 1800s kids were often apprenticed to and living with master craftsmen, who nurtured them as well as taught them a trade
And it's true that there was some steep-gradient-nurturance back then and there is some flat-gradient-nurturance now. But families and households had more members in them back then and mothers had more respite from childcare then—via one of the scenarios mentioned above. (In 1890 there were 4.93 people per household but only 2.57 people per household today.) Mothers were very busy back then but they were rarely sole caregivers in a family or household. But these days, often the only thing preventing this unfortunate sole caregiver situation is maternal employment.
Anyway, the steep-gradient-nurturance issue is only one of many, since along with it there is the issue of parents choosing who cares for kids and the kids having no say in it. Because of there being more available personnel in the past, this choicelessness would have occurred less in the past than now but would still have occurred a lot. Realizing the importance of this issue, the Montessori schools of today allow choices, but relatively few kids go to them. "Scientific research confirms that Montessori children have an advantage not only academically, but also in social and emotional development." (Source: Does it Work? What Research Says About Montessori and Student Outcomes.) (Who started out in Montessori schools? Google’s founders Larry Page and Sergei Brin, Jeff Bezos of Amazon, Jimmy Wales of Wikipedia, and Julia Child to name just a few.)
So when we look at the flat-gradient-nurturance that occurred more in the past, we need to realize that there is a lot of it happening today as well because of working moms and daycare centers and in-home care places. This is great for moms since they're stuck with less situations where they go nuts attempting the pretense of nurturing, which is why working moms are happier about their lives. And, as discussed, it's better for kids too.
It's hard to compare now and then since there are no studies from the 1800s and early 1900s so data is way too anecdotal and second-hand to be scientific. We can say there was a whole lot more flat-gradient-nurturance in the past than in 1950s-1960s U.S.A., and likely somewhat more in the past than in the 21st century.
However, flat-gradient-nurturance is only good nurturing if the various nurturers involved all love the kids. The past likely scores a bit better than the present on that one, but it cannot be proven. But neither then nor now scores well.
What's true of whorehouses is also true of childcare: you cannot buy love with money (e.g., childcare centers)
What's true of whorehouses is also true of childcare: you cannot buy love with money (e.g., childcare centers). So, given the available evidence, most flat-gradient-nurturance of past and present is of poor quality, although better than most steep-gradient nurturing.
Steep-gradient nurturing goes against human nature, flying in the face of natural psychological limitations and inclinations of caregivers. Pretend caregiving is bad caregiving that makes all parties dislike themselves, yet when caregivers "run out of emotional gas," as it were, it's inevitable, and it led then—and leads now—to abuse and neglect as well as runaways. Most societies in the past were able to sidestep this unpleasantness by virtue of shared childcare and/or increased social resources.
And yet working moms trading off childcare with centers is still two choiceless varieties of steep-gradient nurturing even though these two caregivers can be logically perceived as utilizing a flat gradient. But to kids, trading off between tired moms and apathetic childcare workers is often not just choiceless steep-gradient, but nonnurturing as well. As far as kids getting caregiver choice goes, except for the higher likelihood of choice in the past (due to lots more relevant people in households and nearby) and the certainty of it in the Montessori schools of today, this aspect of both past and present childcare is exceedingly weak.
After studying these matters, we can positively make these conclusions:
- Good childcare requires flat-gradient nurturance
- Good identity/being/self-actualization/autonomy-supporting childcare requires flat-gradient-nurturance where kids get to choose who cares for them (See WHY Register for MC Search and Match?)
- Good identity/being/self-actualization/autonomy-supporting childcare requires flat-gradient-nurturance where those who do the caregiving actually love the kids
Registering for MC search and match
Summarizing, even though both the past and present had quite a bit of flat-gradient-nurturance, neither scores well on points 2 or 3, above, but there is something that does, and it is based upon all the very best scientific knowledge about relationships, parenting, communication and community: microcommunities (MCs).