Contemporary Research on Parenting: The case for Nature and Nurture W. Andrew Collins, Eleanor E. Maccoby, Laurence Steinberg, E. Mavis Hetherington and Marc. Bornstein Current findings on parental influences provide more sophisticated and less deterministic explanations than did earlier theory and research on parenting.
Contemporary research approaches include: (a) behavior-genetic designs, augmented with direct measures of potential environmental influences; (b) studies distinguishing among children with different genetically influenced predispositions in terms of their responses to different environmental conditions; (c) experimental and quasi-experimental studies of change in children’s behavior as a result of their exposure to parents’ behavior, after controlling for children’s initial characteristics; and (d) research on interactions between parenting and nonfamilial environmental influences and contexts, illustrating contemporary concern with influences beyond the parent-child dyad.
These approaches indicate that parental influences on child development are neither as unambiguous as earlier researchers suggested nor as insubstantial as current critics claim. Although the use of donor sperm to enable couples with an infertile male partner to have children has been practiced for many years, it is only since 1983, following advances in reproductive technology, that infertile women have been able to conceive a child using a donated egg (Lutjen et al. , 1984; Trousin, Leeton, Beasanka, Wood, & Conti, 1983). This procedure involves fertilization of the donated egg with the father’s sperm in the laboratory, followed by the transfer of the resulting embryo to the mother’s uterus. Thus, it is now possible for children to be born to, and raised by, mothers with whom they have no genetic link.
A number of concerns have been expressed regarding the potential negative consequences of gamete donation for children’s psychological well being, the most common of which is that the practice of keeping information about genetic origin secret from the child may have and adverse effect on the quality of parent-child relationships and consequently on the child (Daniels & Taylor, 1993; Schaffer & Diamond, 1993). As few children are told that a donated sperm of egg had been used in their conception, the large majority grow up not knowing that their father or mother is genetically unrelated to them. Findings suggestive of an association between secrecy about genetic parentage and negative outcomes for children have come from research on adoption.
It has been demonstrated that adopted children benefit from knowledge about their biological parents, and that children who are not given such information may become confused about their identity and ar risk for emotional problems ( Hoopes, 1990; Sants, 1964; Schechter & Bertocci, 1990; Triseliotis, 1973). In the field of assisted reproduction, parallels have been drawn with the adoptive situation and it has been suggested that lack of knowledge of, or information about, the donor may be harmful for the child (Clamar, 1989; Snowden. 1990; Snowden, Mitchell, & Snowden, 1983). From a family therapy perspective, secrets are believed to be detrimental to family functioning because they create boundaries between those who know and those who do not, and cause anxiety when topics related to the secret are discussed (Karpel, 1980).
In examining the particular case of parents keeping secrets from their children, Papp (1993) argued that children can sense when information is being withheld due to the taboo that surrounds the discussion of certain topics, and that they may become confused and anxious, or even develop symptoms of psychological disorder, as a result. A further concern raised by the use of gamete donation is that parents may feel or behave less positively toward a nongenetic than a genetic child. It has been argued that the child may not be fully accepted as part of the family, and that the absence of a genetic tie to one or both parents may have an undermining effect on the child’s sense of identity (Burns, 1987). It has also been suggested that whether or not gamete donation has been used in thechild’s conception, the stress of infertility may lead to dysfunctional patterns of parenting, which may result in negative outcomes for the child (Burns, 1990).
In spite of the expectations that children conceived by gamete donation may be at risk for psychological problems, a previous study of assisted reproduction families by the present authors (Golombok, Cook, Bish, & Murray, 1995) foud a greater involvement in parentiong aoun donor insemination parents than among a control group of parents with a naturally conceived child, with no differences in the quality of parent-child relationships between donor insemination parents and either adoptive parents or parents with a genetically related child conceived by in vitro fertilization. The children in these different family types were functioning well and did not differ with respect to their emothions, behavior, or relationships. It was concluded that a strong desire for parenthood seemed to be more importand than genetic relatedness for fosteringtive outcomes may be expected in families where the child and the father are genetically unrelated compared with families where genetic link exists between the father and the child.