Parenting for Primates

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Overview

What parent hasn't wondered "What do I do now?" as a baby cries or a teenager glares? Making babies may come naturally, but knowing how to raise them doesn't. As primatologist-turned-psychologist Harriet J. Smith shows in this lively safari through the world of primates, parenting by primates isn't instinctive, and that's just as true for monkeys and apes as it is for humans.

In this natural history of primate parenting, Smith compares parenting by nonhuman and human primates. In a narrative rich with vivid anecdotes derived from interviews with primatologists, from her own experience breeding cottontop tamarin monkeys for over thirty years, and from her clinical psychology practice, Smith describes the thousand and one ways that primate mothers, fathers, grandparents, siblings, and even babysitters care for their offspring, from infancy through young adulthood.

Smith learned the hard way that hand-raised cottontop tamarins often mature into incompetent parents. Her observation of inadequate parenting by cottontops plus her clinical work with troubled human families sparked her interest in the process of how primates become "good-enough" parents. The story of how she trained her tamarins to become adequate parents lays the foundation for discussions about the crucial role of early experience on parenting in primates, and how certain types of experiences, such as anxiety and social isolation, can trigger neglectful or abusive parenting.

Smith reveals diverse strategies for parenting by primates, but she also identifies parenting behaviors crucial to the survival and development of primate youngsters that have stood the test of time.

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Editorial Reviews

Booklist

Emerging from a fusion of Smith's training and education in primatology and clinical psychology, this look at parental behavior in primates examines both the nonhuman and the human members of the group. In a highly descriptive and nontechnical writing style, Smith compares and contrasts the natural history of parenting in species ranging from the tiny cotton-top tamarin to chimpanzees, bonobos, and humans. Opening with a chapter describing how she taught inexperienced parents in her cotton-top tamarin colony to care for their offspring, the author then looks at various phases of parenting in separate chapters. As mothers provide the majority of parental care in most species, she examines primate mothers first. Fathers play varying roles in different species, and in different human cultures, and these myriad functions fill the next chapter. Babysitters, weaning, the lives of juveniles, and how parents empty the nest not only view the changing duties of parenthood, but also continue the author's compare-and-contrast approach. A final chapter answers the question of how much parents matter. This engrossing book will interest all human primate parents.
— Nancy Bent

Primates

This fascinating book provides a new evolutionary perspective on the multi-female and multi-male society (multi-male group) as a social community for parenting...this book is helpful to anyone preparing for parenting. The book shows how parenting requires certain key experiences and a proper living environment...The vivid descriptions of primate parenting also suggest the evolutionary backgrounds to these phenomena. Thus this book is also useful to students and researchers in primatology.

— Ichirou Tanaka

Primate Eye

Harriet Smith is both an expert in primate social development and an experienced clinical psychologist working with family problems. The science of primate development is excellent and lucidly presented, as might be expected given her background, and she has covered almost every topic...All these topics are handled with skill and knowledge, well supported with references to the recent major primate literature...Smith makes an interesting and useful case for using primate parenting to understand some of what goes wrong in families, and she is generally cautious in her interpretations. But the value of the book is less in its primatology, excellent as that is, and more in getting humans, including other clinicians, to appreciate the varied array of parenting styles available to primates as a group.
— Phyllis C. Lee

Lynn Fairbanks
In this unique book, a primatologist-turned-psychologist offers an evolutionary biological perspective on parenting. Her descriptions of nonhuman primate parenting, from baboons to chimpanzees to cottontop tamarins, benefit from her personal experience as a primate observer, her command of the scientific literature, and her gifts as an engaging writer. This book clearly illustrates how watching nonhuman primate parents can teach us something about how we human primates parent.
Marc Bekoff
Parenting for Primates is a delightful combination of hard facts and good stories about us and our close relatives. Harriet Smith shows us superdads, devoted and abusive parents, and blended families among nonhuman and human primates too. An important and timely book.
Jay Belsky
It is one thing to be a student of primate behavior, another to be a clinical psychologist working with people; put the two together, though, and the engaging result is Harriet Smith's masterful Parenting for Primates. It has much to offer to those who raise children as well as to those who study child development and the family.
Charles T. Snowdon
Harriet Smith combines her expertise in primatology with her experience as a clinical psychologist to create a vivid portrait of how primate parenting can help us human primates be better parents. She shows that for all primates, successful parenting is hard work, and far from 'natural.' It requires learning, experience, and help. Infants need continuous attention, and that means that mothers need practically continuous help. This is a fascinating book, for anyone who cares about quality child rearing.
Frank S. Pittman Iii
Harriet Smith's startling collection of enlightening research and provocative anecdotes shows us the many ways our furry cousins form their families and raise their young. Her revelations are an indispensable guide for anyone attempting to parent young primates--human or otherwise.
Booklist - Nancy Bent
Emerging from a fusion of Smith's training and education in primatology and clinical psychology, this look at parental behavior in primates examines both the nonhuman and the human members of the group. In a highly descriptive and nontechnical writing style, Smith compares and contrasts the natural history of parenting in species ranging from the tiny cotton-top tamarin to chimpanzees, bonobos, and humans. Opening with a chapter describing how she taught inexperienced parents in her cotton-top tamarin colony to care for their offspring, the author then looks at various phases of parenting in separate chapters. As mothers provide the majority of parental care in most species, she examines primate mothers first. Fathers play varying roles in different species, and in different human cultures, and these myriad functions fill the next chapter. Babysitters, weaning, the lives of juveniles, and how parents empty the nest not only view the changing duties of parenthood, but also continue the author's compare-and-contrast approach. A final chapter answers the question of how much parents matter. This engrossing book will interest all human primate parents.
Primates - Ichirou Tanaka
This fascinating book provides a new evolutionary perspective on the multi-female and multi-male society (multi-male group) as a social community for parenting...this book is helpful to anyone preparing for parenting. The book shows how parenting requires certain key experiences and a proper living environment...The vivid descriptions of primate parenting also suggest the evolutionary backgrounds to these phenomena. Thus this book is also useful to students and researchers in primatology.
Primate Eye - Phyllis C. Lee
Harriet Smith is both an expert in primate social development and an experienced clinical psychologist working with family problems. The science of primate development is excellent and lucidly presented, as might be expected given her background, and she has covered almost every topic...All these topics are handled with skill and knowledge, well supported with references to the recent major primate literature...Smith makes an interesting and useful case for using primate parenting to understand some of what goes wrong in families, and she is generally cautious in her interpretations. But the value of the book is less in its primatology, excellent as that is, and more in getting humans, including other clinicians, to appreciate the varied array of parenting styles available to primates as a group.
Publishers Weekly
Parents looking for something new and useful among the plethora of books on child-rearing could do a lot worse than this fascinating look at the close link between human and ape families by Smith, a primatologist and clinical psychologist. In a rigorously scientific yet highly readable style, Smith describes normal and abnormal parenting behaviors in human and nonhuman primates, and "how a psychologist or evolutionary biologist might understand these behaviors." She uses case studies of primates from around the world-including cotton-top tamarin monkeys, Philippine tarsiers and Chinese white-cheeked gibbons-as well as from "hundreds of patients" in her counseling practice to show that there are basic primate patterns in the areas of mothering, fathering, weaning, discipline, dealing with adolescence and confronting the "empty nest" syndrome. These patterns include the general "primate recipe for mothering" ("constant body contact, breastfeeding, and consistent, rapid, responsiveness"); weaning babies from sleeping with parents (the "last major hurdle" on a very young primate's way to semi-independence); and the implications of the fact that "the human parent's capacity for neglect and abuse" of his or her offspring surpasses that of any other primate. After all the evidence is in, Smith argues for a sensible view of human parenting that could let many parents breathe easier. 22 b&w photos, 1 illus. (Feb.) Copyright 2005 Reed Business Information.
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780674019386
  • Publisher: Harvard University Press
  • Publication date: 2/1/2006
  • Edition description: New Edition
  • Pages: 394
  • Product dimensions: 5.62 (w) x 9.42 (h) x 1.43 (d)

Meet the Author

Harriet J. Smith, now a clinical psychologist, was formerly a research primatologist. For thirty years she bred and raised a colony of cottontop tamarin monkeys in her home.
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Table of Contents

Prologue

1. Learning to Parent

2. The Primate Recipe for Mothering

3. The Diversity of Primate Fathering

4. The Babysitters' Club

5. Weaning Wars

6. The Quiet Years

7. Emptying the Nest

8. Parenting with Partners

9. Parenting Solo

10. The Dark Side of Parenting

11. How Much Do Parents Matter?

Who's Who among Nonhuman Primates

Notes

Acknowledgments

Index

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