Child Rearing, Shrinking Networks of Support, and Anxiety

The sameshima grandmother, who lives next door to the Kawabes, came by with the youngest baby in her charge. Mrs. Sameshima is short of milk, and Mrs. Kawabe at once offered her abundant breast. When the old woman said, “every day i bother you,” she said, “what nonsense,” and took the baby to her bosom. Her own baby, a very healthy specimen, is carried around by his older brother, who looks after him like a nursemaid. (smith and wiswell 1982, 211)

The above description of breast-feeding from an agricultural village of suye in Kyushu during the mid-1930s clearly illustrates that the mother was not the only person who handled child rearing. A neighbor, a grandmother, and a big brother all played their roles in the endeavor, and although not indicated in the quotation, in fact older children commonly worked as nursemaids (komori). Nursemaids were also common in other parts of the nation in prewar Japan (see Partner 2004, 54; tamanoi 1998). In nagano Prefecture, for example, tamanoi (1998, 64) reports that commonly the employer of a nursemaid paid her parents money or rice for her services, and the nursemaid, who was sent to live in her employer's household, received no wages but room and board and some small gifts. This practice also provided young nursemaids with valuable child-care experience.

In contrast, in postwar Japan, child rearing was established as a woman's calling, and the number of stay-at-home mothers increased as wage employment became common, particularly in urban areas. Even in urban areas characterized by the predominance of newly established nuclear-family Households, residents who had dependable married siblings could obtain support from them, while those who did not have kin could count on the ties created with neighbors. Demographically, young mothers in the 1960s had many married adult siblings with children who had also migrated to urban areas. Thus a young mother in the tokyo area was likely to count on a sister or sister-in-law raising her own young children and living nearby. It was not uncommon for mothers to keep in frequent contact with other married siblings who also lived in the tokyo area, and as a result their children sometimes grew up together as if they were siblings (see Morioka et al. 1968, 263). In her community, a young mother typically found many other young mothers raising small children, as the life course was highly standardized. During the 1960s, therefore, a network of either kin or non-kin was available to provide child-rearing support (Ochiai 2000, 93–95).

Ikuji noirōze, or “child-rearing neurosis,” associated with murder-suicides of mothers and their young children, became a social issue as early as the 1970s (nakatani 2008, 37). In 1982, the psychologist Makino Katsuko drew scholars' attention to a type of anxiety related to child rearing (ikuji fuan) that could be observed among mothers of infants and preschoolers and its evident association with mothers' weak social networks. It is worth noting that Makino's pioneering work appeared at a time when the members of the post-transitional cohort, or those born after 1950, came to engage in childbearing and child rearing (yamane 2000). Compared with the transitional cohort, born between 1925 and 1950, the post-transitional cohort is associated with the low-birthrate, low-mortality-rate society. In other words, those in the post-transitional cohort grew up in small families, with one sibling closely related in age, and their exposure to younger children was limited. Consequently, by the 1980s, the support network of kin had shrunk, and the parents of the married couple were the typical providers of support (Ochiai 2000, 93–95), a development that significantly diminished the support base for child rearing. The reduction of kin-based and community-based support and the parents' limited exposure to children before the arrival of their own are linked to the growing levels of uncertainty or anxiety related to child rearing (see Harada 2006).

Although community-based support for mothers has weakened, the cultural importance of intensive mothering has not waned during the 2000s. Many married women stop working when their first child arrives so that they can care for their infant. For example, in a national survey among the mothers of children born in May 2010, 79 percent had been employed one year before The arrival of their child, but only 37 percent remained employed six months after childbirth (Ministry of Health, Labor, and welfare 2013). Fifty-two percent of the mothers surveyed had full-time jobs one year before childbirth, but the figure went down to 29 percent six months after childbirth. The most common reason for quitting jobs among the mothers surveyed was that they wanted to focus on child rearing, although others reluctantly stopped working as balancing family and work was difficult (Ministry of Health, Labor, and welfare 2013). The above national survey indicates a persisting pattern of interruptions in a married woman's career due to childbirth, even though dual-income families have become more common. The enduring significance of intensive mothering is apparent in the ways in which social institutions are structured. For example, the education system still takes it for granted that mothers volunteer their time and support the schools their children attend (sasagawa 2006). Commercial child-care services have not grown significantly to compensate for the diminished community-based and kin-based support. Paid caregiving at child-care institutions is seen as unacceptable or inferior at best. Private babysitters are unpopular and uncommon (Holthus 2011).

Moreover, in post-bubble Japan the disparity (kakusa) between haves and have-nots is recognized, and raising children can be a very competitive endeavor. A number of books and magazines discuss various methods and experiences of “home education” (katei kyōiku) for three-year-old and younger children and are aimed at raising smart children. A stronger emphasis on home education, however, may affect children and their parents negatively by raising their stress levels (Honda 2008, 10–11). While rearing children successfully and sending them to good universities were important concerns among middle-class full-time homemakers in the past (see Lebra 1984), nowadays a greater significance appears to be placed on rearing very young children “successfully.”

Critics of child-rearing support often see it as the pampering of lazy mothers who cannot rear their children appropriately and emphasize that their own mothers' generation completed the job without special state or community support. However, the available child-rearing resources—both kin-based and community-based—have diminished, as we have seen, and possibly the standards of rearing very young children are higher today. Roughly one in four mothers has a sister, as many have only one sibling. Moreover, even if a mother has a sister, she might be unmarried and have a full-time job, as life courses are diverse and not all women of child-rearing age are married and have children (see Kurotani and nakano in this volume). Meanwhile, as noted, New mothers have had significantly less exposure to children and infants before the arrival of their own. In a 2003 survey conducted by Harada (2006,

142) In Hyōgo Prefecture, 54.5 percent of the mothers reported that they had never fed infants or changed diapers until the arrival of their first child. A new mother of the 2000s is expected to do the job well without much experience or support from kin and community. The stress felt by contemporary young mothers of preschoolers, therefore, must be understood as a structural issue.

studies of child-rearing support illustrate that mothers and their young children increasingly suffer from social isolation in Japan, a condition that negatively affects children's development (e.g., Harada 2006, 98–99; Matsuda 2010). In particular, social isolation is a more serious issue in metropolitan communities, where many mothers live away from their kin and thus can count on them for only limited support (iwama 2004). Iwama reports that all the eight metropolitan mothers examined in her study lived in nuclearfamily households and maintained a division of labor allocating housework and child care to women and wage employment to men (2004, 153). These mothers received limited support from their kin. Their husbands bathed children or played with them on weekends, when they had time. In contrast, the five married women living in yamagata Prefecture who could reach their natal homes in fifteen minutes on foot or by car received help with child care on a daily basis (2004, 152). Unlike the metropolitan sample, mothers living in yamagata did not report a sense of isolation as a problem. Similarly, according to a study conducted among a random sample of mothers in five areas of tokyo (Matsuda 2008, 15, 94), those who lived with their parents or parents-in-law reported lower levels of stress associated with child rearing.

As mothers living in metropolitan areas often live away from their kin, expanding networks among non-kin is particularly important for them to reduce the sense of social isolation and levels of anxiety related to child rearing. Mothers who visit children's centers and those involved in mothers' groups for child rearing (ikuji sākuru) are reported to have a wider network of nonkin (Matsuda 2008, 72–73). The social support network of non-kin expands as children grow older and they are sent to child-care institutions (Matsuda 2008, 2010). Conversely, new mothers and stay-at-home mothers of children who are three years old or younger are less likely to have child-care support from non-kin, and the most likely support will come from their parents. Mothers of one child under three living away from their own mothers and mothers-in-law therefore tend to have limited support.

The studies noted above provide us with knowledge regarding the social Problems of mothers associated with limited support from non-kin and its negative impact on both the mothers' well-being and their children's development. However, it is still unclear what specific patterns of interaction and strategies of support are effective in expanding mothers' social networks. It is certainly not enough to simply create publicly accessible spaces where mothers with young children can gather; for example, kōen debyū, “park début,” a phrase referring to a mother and her child's first visit to a neighborhood park, is often accompanied by a sense of uncertainty and tension on the part of the mother, who feels compelled to “blend in” well with the other mothers and children who use the park regularly. By providing a qualitative analysis of the efforts of nonprofit organizations that manage drop-in play centers to create connections among center users and assessing the experiences of mothers who use them, this study thus offers an ethnographic view of new forms of child-rearing support.

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