Week 6 Day 2 Discussion Question 1

George Will begins “Mothers Who Don’t Know How” (1990) with the following passage:

The almost silent video is short and sweet. And searing. It gives a glimpse of one reason for America’s urban regression, the family pathologies that drive the intergenerational transmission of poverty. At first glance the scene the video captures is sweet, a mother feeding her infant. Ten minutes later, at its end, you understand: the mother does not know how to mother. (280)

According to Will what role does bad mothering play in “the intergenerational transmission of poverty”?  What do you think of his argument in “Mothers Who Don’t Know How”?


8 thoughts on “Week 6 Day 2 Discussion Question 1

  • March 28, 2022 at 3:13 pm

    Will’s argument is a classic site of mother blaming. Will tries to explain that the reason for the intergenerational transmission of poverty is because these mothers do not know how to mother correctly. Where I believe Will is speaking from a place of ignorance and privilege is the way in which Will does not once address the systemic barriers and challenges that perpetuate intergenerational poverty. Rather than evaluating the issues of systemic discrimination and its effect on young children, Will quickly blames the mother as simply being a poor mother. Will’s writing was wildly misogynistic and concerning.

  • March 28, 2022 at 1:10 pm

    While Will uses basic foundations of psychology to support his argument, it becomes clear that the points he aims to make operate on unfair assumptions, generalization and stereotypes. While it could be plausible that a new parent may adopt the styles and techniques similar to they way they remember being parented, Will assumes that young mothers, specifically those living under difficult socio-economic climates, all had parents that operated in a neglectful and careless manner. Furthermore, Will goes on to say that in some form, that the typical ‘bad mother’ is from the inner-city and/or unmarried. Once again, it is a reasonable argument to say that parents who are absent or inattentive may have a negative affect on their child’s development, however, Will unfairly groups those in the lower classes together, and operates on the assumptions that the mothers are inadequate, and thus their children are doomed to fail from the beginning of their lives. This, while in tune with the theme of mother blaming, is also an elitist argument. Ultimately, Will’s argument is narrow minded and riddled with bigoted assumptions – the success of a parent or a child depends on more than just the parent’s own upbringing and social economic status. The ‘transmission of poverty’ that Will eludes to, has no real world basis, and only seems to make sense in WIll’s world of unjust and inaccurate assumptions. Children, cannot be compared to either animals or computers, and the practice of parenting and child development is far more complex than Will has accounted for.

  • March 28, 2022 at 1:06 pm

    In George Will’s “Mother Don’t Know How”, Will mother blames and describes his opinions around “bad” mothers and the kinds of environments these “bad” mothers came from. Will writes of “‘maternal deprivation syndrome'”, a syndrome he states can appear in babies that have been raised by “depressed, unstimulating or unavailable mothers”. Will makes no effort to point to resources to help these mothers, put the blame on governments or frame this issue as a public health crisis; he makes excuses saying that such efforts are expensive and laborious. Will’s article reads as though he wants to blame mothers, going so far as to write that “A mother reared in poverty is apt to have a barren ‘inner world’ of imagination and emotional energy, a consequence of impoverished early experiences.” It is extremely bold of Will to state that a baby cannot be raised by a woman who is poor or impoverished.

  • March 28, 2022 at 11:58 am

    Will’s argument takes the side that a woman that is poor is essentially not as “fit” to be a mother as someone with more of a well-versed and privileged upbringing. He argues that bad mothering from single mothers in poverty produces “maternal deprivation syndrome” in babies and ultimately harms their development. Will then builds off of this argument by connecting the transmission of poverty from these “poorly raised” babies to eventually be transmitted to these babies own families in future generations. A cycle that cannot be fixed. We see the use of mother-blaming throughout Will’s arguments. Putting the blame on the mother and her child’s later developments saying that because they were raised in the poor environment, they are not who they should be or could be. The child’s potential is diminished.

  • March 28, 2022 at 10:47 am

    Will’s “Mothers Who Don’t Know How” is a classic example of mother-blaming, in which mothers are blamed for their childrens’ psychological issues and general shortcomings later on in life. Will argues that mothering is a skill that needs to be learned, rather than something that is a natural talent, and that mothers who are poor are unlikely to have the requisite skills because they themselves have have had poor parental examples. Will argues that girls who are raised by “depressed, unstimulating, and unavailable” mothers are irreparably developmentally delayed in a way that makes it unlikely that they will ever be able to catch up, and that when those girls then become mothers themselves, their “barren ‘inner world’ of imagination and emotional energy” cause them to perpetuate the cycle. To fix this “intergenerational transmission of poverty,” Will at first appears to advocate for “‘[v]ery early intervention, involving close and protracted supervision of young unmarried mothers” to “‘jump start’ their mothering skills.” However, in the very next breath, Will rejects such intervention as a viable public health policy, noting that there are so many single mothers who suffer from these purported inadequacies that it would be too “labor intensive and . . .expensive” to help them. Will’s arguments, which are rooted in sexism, racism, and classism, completely miss the mark and are quite condescending. First, Will consistently assumes that there is a correlation between poverty and poor parenting, but ignores the fact that many parents who are poor are attentive and loving parents who raise emotionally secure and well-adjusted children. Second, Will places all of his blame on mothers (i.e., women), and does not so much as mention the role that fathers or other men could (and should) play in a child’s development. Finally, and most infuriating, is the doomsday message of Will’s thesis. Will contends that children reared in poverty “are not just behind” but “crippled,” and that later intervention and “even superb school” will not be able to correct “the consequences of early deprivation.” But these assertions completely undervalue the role that social systems can play in a child’s development, assuming that they are well-designed and adequately funded. The outcome of many social justice issues, ranging from access to quality public education, access to adequate childcare, mitigating public health inequities, and reducing mass incarceration, can radically alter the trajectory of a child’s life. But Will chooses to ignore all of these factors, and instead chooses to pin the perpetuation of poverty on poor, unmarried women themselves.

  • March 27, 2022 at 3:07 pm

    Will argues that bad mothering from single mothers in poverty produces “maternal deprivation syndrome” in babies and suppresses their development. He goes on to argue that children raised in poverty by these bad mothers are crippled by their upbringing, and as such destined to repeat the transmission of poverty through their families generationally. The entire argument Will makes is aligned with the concept of mother-blaming. He focuses on the way mothers hold their babies during feeding, or fail to hold them. He claims that all parents fall into the parenting practices of their own bad mothers. He refers to some women in a misogynistic way as “fallen women” and claims that these such women could never make fit mothers. He claims that the use of caretakers to subsidize single mother homes disorients and developmentally damages kids. He hyper-fixates on small described “failures” and short comings of mothers. In all of these claims he fails to provide substantial evidence or research or examples to support his claims. Rather relying on misogynistic and classed language to support his points. I generally found most of his argument to be harsh and detrimental towards mothers, providing absolutely no empathy or understanding of circumstances, and acting only as a forum to cast blame. Additionally, as a result of this hyper-fixation on mothers, as he progresses through his argument Will neglects to delve into or explain all other aspects of upbringing beyond those of the direct scope of mothers. And as such, his argument loses a lot of validity because it fails to encapsulate the variation and breadth of circumstances in a home that would affect a child. Overall, I feel that Will fails to argue his misogynistic belief that bad mothering single handedly enforces intergenerational poverty. And succeeds only in writing an unfairly harsh piece aimed at insulting single and poor mothers.

  • March 25, 2022 at 6:54 pm

    Will’s argument is incredibly harsh and unfair towards young mothers. He attempts to highlight some of the social problems outside of the mother’s control but he does so in an incredibly problematic way which shames these women and incorrectly generalises an entire community of people. According to Will’s argument, bad mothering performs an integral part in the ‘intergenerational transmission of poverty’. Will claims that it is bad and neglectful mothering which creates a near unbreakable cycle in which impoverished children cannot escape from the effects of financial instability. He goes on to state that this includes emotional distance and that neglect has irreparable impacts on a child’s development in which they are doomed to struggle in school. He also links this unsatisfactory parenting to the increase in single parent households, saying that the mother he is discussing is not a ‘fallen woman’. Whilst he might say this in a poor attempt to be sympathetic to her situation, it is incredibly disrespectful and promotes an anti-sex rhetoric that blames women for having sexual agency. He shames her for being unmarried despite the fact that having a two person household is not necessarily better for the child depending on the circumstances, and his discussions place the entire responsibility of child-rearing on the mother’s shoulders in a way that releases men from any sense of duty. Furthermore, Will’s comments evoke mom-blaming as his person of interest is blamed for not being affectionate with her child in the way he expects, which completely dismisses other people’s differing ways of parenting. Despite viewing this women as an example of a wider social issue of neglectful parenting, Will does nothing to acknowledge the wider social problems which cause difficulties for young mothers. Therefore, his argument is misogynistic and ultimately unproductive as he only furthers traditions of mother blaming and a focus on individual responsibility in a situation which is haunted by failed social policies and unequal opportunities.

    • April 4, 2022 at 1:50 pm

      Amaia has largely summed up everything i was going to add. There is a pattern here of treating symptoms as causes, passing the buck so to speak to mothers. Something in particular that exemplified this was the glossing over of the idea of external adult figures. Will’s discussion entirely revolves around the predisposition of the mother. While he does mention the decreasing amount of adult presense supporting mothers, he makes no effort to draw attention to impacts of isolation of young motherhood.

      In recent history, the onus placed on the nuclear family and the importance of neolocating after having a child has severely damaged the ability of young and often inexperienced mothers to find a communal support network. Whether this takes the form of being part of a multigenerational household or a reciprocal exchange network, this kind of support has been treated pejoratively in modern society, preventing families without signifcant resources from pooling these (both economic and social) to better support mothers and their children.

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