maternal myth

Motherhood: To Be or Not To Be Should Remain the Question

“Surely all women must have a maternal instinct or the human race would die out.”

–Gillian Rossdale

Modern Motherhood & Maternal Myth

Elisabeth Badinter‘s 1982 book, The Myth of Motherhood: An Historical View of the Maternal Instinct” is one of five books she has written that challenge the maternal myth surrounding women lives. It’s forerunner, published in 1980 was “Mother Love: Myth and Reality: Motherhood in Modern History”. In addition to being an author and considered one of the leading feminist intellectuals of Paris, she was also featured in Forbes magazine as a billionaire after inheriting 19 million shares of Publicis Groupe, a public relations company. Her 2010 book, The Conflict: How Modern Motherhood Undermines the Status of Women was a topic of hot debate after it became a bestseller in Europe.

According to an article in the New Yorker, she believes that young women are undermining the progress they’ve made in achieving a degree of social, political, and economic equality. The maternal myth is a social construct in which women’s primary value lies in their accepting complete responsibility for child rearing. Her concern is that the resurrection of that myth in modern form will result in a loss of life options for women, including the option not to become mothers at all.

She refutes the importance of the scientific findings of anthropologist Sarah Blaffer Hrdy regarding the role of hormones in determining maternal behavior. Similarly, she also questions many of the benefits of breast-feeding, such as increased immunity and potential for increased cognitive development. Neither does she believe that breast-feeding is a necessary element for mother-child emotional bonding. Further, despite our genetic similarities with the primate world, she does not believe that the results of studies of primate behavior translate to human society.

Badinter uses the phrase “motherhood fundamentalism” to describe the development of a new maternal myth in which mothers are all-important in child development. She regards this idea as having originated in the West in response to economic hardship, and supported by the religious right until it became a socially contagious cult. In an article in the Globe, she likens the modern version of motherhood to

“spending all day in the exclusive company of an incontinent mental defective…”.

While her style may alienate many mothers, her level of concern that women’s rights to financial independence and a social identity separate from motherhood is evident.

A piece in The Nation seems to confirm Badinter’s belief that a right-wing backlash against many of the modern conveniences that contributed to women’s freedom originated in America. It points out the maternal myth that childbirth imparts parenting skills rather than the reality that parenting skills are learned. Most American parents live in a different city than their parents and many have no childhood experience with infants. The large number of immigrants also points to a lack of traditional transmission of parenting skills from generation to generation. This phenomenon makes American parents more susceptible to manipulation from child care “experts”, who often present conflicting advice that results in guilt, rather than improved parenting skills.

Badinter uses some disturbing statistics to challenge the maternal myth that childbirth results in maternal love. She makes the point that the pendulum of modern society has swung to the opposite extreme– from not valuing children’s lives at all, to valuing them more than the lives of women. For example, in 1780, wet nurses outside the city cared for 19,000 of 21,000 infants born in Paris, and that more than half of them died before they reached their second birthdays.

In response to the assertion that mothers did not bond with their children due to high infant mortality rates and fear of losing them, she counters that perhaps

“It was not so much because children died like flies that mothers showed so little interest in them, but rather because the mothers showed so little interest that the children died in such great numbers.”

Those same statistics show that the children who remained with their mothers to be breast-fed were twice as likely to survive.

At the heart of her arguments lies the belief that neither children’s lives, nor the ecology, should not be valued more than women’s lives. As the mother of three grown children herself, in her view, modern inventions such as bottle-feeding and disposable diapers make it possible for motherhood to be just one aspect of a woman’s life, rather than consuming it completely.

One common criticism of Badinter’s books is that many view her devaluation of the maternal myth as devaluation of motherhood itself. However, most agree that the concept of motherhood has been often been subject to sentimentalism and maternal myth. That sentimentalism is most evident when society states that motherhood is the most important job in the world, yet provides no financial compensation or social support for mothers doing this valuable and important work.

Despite its benefits to society, the work of raising children remains largely a labor of love. So long as the number of mothers and children living in poverty continue to rise, there will continue to be a need for voices that advocate for a greater number of options for women’s lives.

maternal myth
Mother and Child in a Boat, by Edmund Charles Tarbell
Maternal narcissism

The Destructive Power of Maternal Narcissism and How to Stop It

“There’s a definition of narcissism that when a parent is narcissistic, instead of the child seeing himself reflected in the mother’s face and the mother’s joy, the child of the narcissistic parent feels like, ‘What can I do to make her okay, to make her happy?'”

–Susan Sullivan

Symptoms of Maternal Narcissism

“Narcissism” is a word that has been appearing with ever greater frequency in social media in recent years. In the age of the selfie, it is used most often to describe someone who is excessively vain or temporarily self-absorbed. However, unlike its meaning in common usage, narcissism is also a very real psychological personality disorder. There are many stories of people recounting childhoods in which a parent exhibited the damaging behaviors associated with narcissistic personality disorder.

Maternal narcissism, in which it is the mother that suffers from the disorder, is characterized by a number of symptoms.

  • One of those is the inability to recognize the needs and feelings of others, one of the most essential nurturing qualities of a parent. Those suffering from this disorder require constant admiration themselves and are frequently envious of any attention paid to others unless it reflects positively on themselves.
  • Other characteristics of the disorder include a sense of superiority and entitlement to special privileges as well as the inability to respect personal boundaries. These personality traits are often manifested in unrealistic expectations of others combined with attempts to exert excessive control over their lives through manipulation. One of the manipulation techniques commonly used by those who suffer from maternal narcissism is constant criticism.
  • Another is taking advantage of the weakness of others, and children are among the most powerless.

Causes and Effects of Maternal Narcissism

The causes of maternal narcissism are not well understood, but it is theorized that narcissism is a generational disorder. Rather than accepting responsibility for changing them, narcissistic parents tend to project their own undesirable character traits onto their children, which perpetuates the cycle. Some experts believe that it may be caused by inconsistent parenting in which a child is both excessively punished and excessively pampered.

Children of narcissists often feel that they are a burden to their parents and experience a deep sense of existential shame. Some of the damaging behaviors frequently displayed by mothers suffering from maternal narcissism include dividing siblings through deliberate favoritism in order to prevent them from forming alliances and reducing her degree of parental power.

Maternal narcissism can have serious negative effects on a child. Children of narcissist parents often feel that they are fundamentally flawed and unacceptable and must therefore adapt their personalities to become “good enough”. They also suffer from tremendous anxiety due to the inconsistent and conditional nature of the parent’s acceptance.

The sense of being fundamentally unlovable often persists into adult life. These feelings of low self-worth often result in adult children of maternal narcissists gravitating towards people who are similarly critical, rejecting or emotionally withholding of acceptance and affection. Having little previous experience with true intimacy based on consistent acceptance, they may find it frightening. Many adult children report having moved frequently, partially to avoid a level of intimacy that they’d never before experienced. Children of narcissists usually grow up having their personal boundaries constantly violated, and often have little ability to maintain healthy boundaries as adults, which also interferes with intimacy.

Additionally, each move represents an opportunity to build a new life with a clean slate, free of the past mistakes which they were convinced made them unacceptable to their narcissistic parent.

Resources for Treatment

There are an increasing number of resources and support groups for adults who experienced parental narcissism as children. A recent article by a survivor describes some of the details of their emotional recovery, and feels that it’s important for people to be aware of and accept that all humans have narcissistic tendencies. One aspect of recovery is learning to be able to accept and enjoy praise without suspicion or fear of envy.

Another important aspect of recovery is that of restoring, or building, self-confidence. Narcissistic mothers often discourage their children from becoming self-sufficient because it means losing control of them. Self-confidence is also damaged when children have to compete with more capable adults for both attention and resources. All too often, children learn to criticize themselves, which leads to an unhealthy degree of perfectionism in adulthood, robbing life of much of its joy.

Many helpful books have been written to help adults that suffer from the damaging after-effects of maternal narcissism. Dealing with feelings of inadequacy, fear of abandonment, and emotional emptiness can be extremely difficult, especially with the demands of work and family. Many people seek professional help in breaking the generational cycle of abuse.

Recovery requires a deep commitment and willingness to face the pain of childhood, but healing makes it possible to build future relationships based on mutual respect and acceptance, and there’s no better legacy for future generations than that.

Maternal narcissism
Narcissus by Caravaggio, gazing at his own reflection (1594-96) Public domain
parental situation

Keys to Parental Gatekeeping: Why The Motive Matters Most

The Potential Positive Power of Gatekeeping in Parenting

Gatekeeping can be defined as a power dynamic in which a parent assumes and exercises the power to decide how much and what type of contact they will permit the other parent to have with a child. Child custody cases are often called “gatekeeping disputes”. Parents engage in gatekeeping behavior for a number of reasons, some of which are positive, and others which can be destructive.

According to an article written by a psychologist who specializes in providing psychological assessments for child custody cases, there are three kinds of gatekeeping. Gatekeeping can be positive or negative, depending upon the parental situation surrounding the gatekeeping behavior.

One example of positive gatekeeping occurs in a parental situation in which a primary reason for a separation or divorce is abusive behavior towards the child by a parent. In such cases, a parent participates in restrictive gatekeeping behavior with the primary purpose of protecting the child from abuse. This type of gatekeeping may entail demanding supervised visitation. Gatekeeping can also extend to other family members, such as grandparents, and friends.

Another parental situation in which gatekeeping can be positive is one in which a parent displays behaviors that demonstrate negative role modeling. For example, if a parent has substance abuse issues that cause impaired judgement and lessen impulse control, the other parent may choose to limit the amount of time the child spends with that parent in an attempt to lessen their potential negative influence on the child.

Gatekeeping can also be a useful tool in facilitating the development of a positive relationship with a parent who has been absent from the child’s life for a period of time. Brief supervised visits on a consistent basis over time can help the child feel secure while developing trust.

In a parental situation in which one parent has very little parenting knowledge or experience, gatekeeping can also be a valuable tool in helping that parent acquire parenting skills and confidence in their new parental role. Based on the parent’s behavior and the child’s reaction, the visits can then become longer until gatekeeping is no longer necessary.

The Potential Destructive Power of Gatekeeping in Parenting

Unfortunately, gatekeeping behaviors can also be punitive in nature when employed with a negative motive, which usually produces negative results for everyone involved, especially the child. In a parental situation in which there has been an emotional betrayal of some kind, parenting decisions can be affected by personal anger or resentment. If this kind of negative gatekeeping behavior occurs for a prolonged period of time, children can become emotional pawns in an adult game of emotional retribution.

Despite the importance of the continued presence of both parents in the life of the child after a divorce, many divorcing parents have difficulty controlling their negative feelings towards one another in the best interests of the child. Research shows that continued involvement by both parents results in children being able to adjust to the changes that accompany divorce more successfully. One study of divorced parents and their children concluded that children having a say in custody arrangements was an important factor in whether they viewed joint custody as a positive or negative experience.

Negative gatekeeping is not limited to restricting physical visitation, but can include anything that actively hinders the other parent’s active participation in the child’s life. A parental situation in which telephone contact is limited or information regarding important events or activities in the child’s life are withheld would also would be considered negative gatekeeping. Other examples might include deliberately scheduling other activities for the child during the parent’s regular visitation times or even speaking negatively about the parent in the child’s presence.

The Value of Effective Co-Parenting

The benefits to children of effective co-parenting are almost too numerous to count. Increasing their sense of security and sense of self-worth are among the most important. However, parents too benefit by increasing their ability to communicate calmly and effectively. Clear communication results in fewer conflicts, which means less stress for both parents and children.
Research has provided ample evidence of true value and lasting importance of every caring adult that a child is fortunate enough to have in their lives. Child development experts believe it’s so important that there are even online classes designed to help parents struggling with the difficult process of learning to effectively co-parent after a difficult emotional adjustment. Other resources include personal parenting coaches, co-parenting communication guides, and support groups.

The best gatekeeping practices create a parental situation in which all family members feel valued and appreciated for their important and lasting contributions to one another.

parental situation

alloparenting style

Alloparenting and How It Really Does Take a Village to Raise a Child

“Alloparental care and provisioning set the stage for children to grow up slowly and remain dependent on others for many years, paving the way for the evolution of anatomically modern people with even bigger brains”

–Sarah Blaffer Hrdy

There has been a great deal of research on the topic of alloparenting. An alloparent is defined as

“an individual other than the biological parent of an offspring that performs the functions of a parent”.

One study found that 88% of 63 species live in family groups that utilize alloparental care. According to one article, alloparenting evolves in a species whenever it benefits, when multiplied by genetic relatedness, outweigh the costs.

Benefits of an Alloparenting Style in the Animal World

Studies conducted with vervet monkeys, tamarins, and various species of rodents have concluded that there is a definite link between alloparenting experience and reproductive success. Researchers hypothesize that this success could be the result of several factors. One hypothesis posits that alloparenting decreases the workload of breeders, allowing them to produce another litter more quickly. Studies have also shown that the greater the number of helpers, the greater the likelihood of survival.

In the case of older siblings caring for younger ones, helpers increase their own fitness as eventual parents through practice, while simultaneously increasing the likelihood that the young will survive. In an experiment with oldfield mice, those that remained in the mother’s nest longer and helped care for younger siblings displayed better nest-building skills and had a greater number of surviving offspring than those without that previous experience.

Adult mammals without offspring of their own have often been observed seeking opportunities to groom and care for the young. This behavior is viewed as preparatory educational play and an alloparenting style. In addition to increasing the likelihood for survival of the group as a whole, alloparenting style behavior also creates advantageous social bonds between the members of the group. In the animal world, this is believed to have a genetic component, since siblings, cousins, and other closely related young share many of the same genes. In one experiment it was found that alloparenting behavior improved competitive ability in social interactions as well as spatial memory in negotiating a maze.

The Alloparenting Style in the Human World

Global statistics show in many countries in Asia, the Middle East, Sub-Saharan Africa and South America, more than 40% of children lived in households with other adults in addition to their parents. In the U.S. and other developed nations, the number is much lower. According to U.S. government statistics, in 2014, 4% of children lived with neither parent, the majority of them living with grandparents. However, this statistic doesn’t takin into account the number of children who live with a grandparent in addition to one or both parents. According to the 2012 U.S. Census Bureau, 10% of all grandparents lived in the same household as at least one grandchild.

However, there has been an alarming increase in the number of single mothers in many parts of the world who do not receive parenting assistance from either extended family members or their children’s fathers. These women and children are often relegated to extreme poverty.

Erin Deihl, author of “Cross-Cultural Perspective on Adolescent Parenting: Efe and Korea” believes that an alloparenting style can result in reducing the rate of teenage pregnancy as well as contribute to making teenagers better parents later in life. On a physiological level, the possibility that, like in the animal world, alloparenting behavior alters levels of gonadotropin-releasing hormones, it may even contribute to teens choosing to delay having children. Providing maternal care has been shown to alter endocrine and brain functions of rodents, which is linked to a change in behavior.

Benefits of an Alloparenting Style in the Human World

Just as in the animal world, alloparents make it possible for human parents to travel further to earn a living, gather needed parenting supplies, and participate in beneficial social activities. It also provides children with more opportunities for crucial social education by exposing them to a greater number of people, all with different skills and talents. They also have the advantage of learning social norms from a variety of individual perspectives, thereby increasing their cultural sensitivity.

One researcher offers an alloparenting hypothesis that sexual fluidity in women may be an adaptation that historically, increased women’s ability to form pair bonds with female alloparents to help them raise their children without the assistance of a male partner. This theory suggests that like bonobos, which frequently engage in same-sex sexual behavior that results in more alloparent bonding, the same may be true for humans. In the ancestral human community, rape, abandonment, and higher male mortality often left women without male support for their offspring. This may account for the fact that 84% of 853 societies studied permitted some form of polygyny, within which the alloparenting style is a common practice.

While more research is needed to determine whether this theory is correct, the research that has been conducted demonstrates that both children and parents benefit from having a greater number of caregivers actively involved in a child’s life.

alloparenting style
The Hatch Family, Eastman Johnson, 1870–71, Credit Line Gift of Frederic H. Hatch, 1926
maternal ideals

Transforming The Maternal Ideals Into The Social Idea

The Maternal Ideals of the Motherhood Constellation

Daniel N. Stern’s 1998 book The Motherhood Constellation has continued to exert a lasting influence on the field of child development. A recent article in Psychology Today cites portions of the book in describing the cognitive shift in priorities of expectant mothers as they prepare themselves emotionally, and socially, for the demanding role of motherhood. Stern asserts that all of the relationships in a mother’s life, including the relationship with her own mother, have an effect on her ability to successfully care for her child.

His theory addresses four basic elements of successful parenting. One of those elements is referred to as “identity reorganization”. This term is used to refer to the mother’s ability to imagine herself as a mother and shift her priorities towards meeting the responsibilities of motherhood. Research suggests that identity is constantly being reconstructed according to changing motivational goals.

Six recognized motivational goals are

  • self-esteem,
  • self-efficacy,
  • continuity,
  • distinctiveness,
  • belonging, and
  • meaning.

Identity is also shaped through meaningful social interaction.
Identity reorganization has an effect on the other themes, which include the level of concern for the development of the baby, her level of connection to the child after it is born, and her social system of support. That social support system is what Donald Winnicott referred to as ” the holding environment”, in which an expectant mother can develop her future maternal behavior. Ideally, this environment consists of several experienced mothers and other adults who can provide encouragement and support as well as serving as positive role models for the development of positive maternal ideals.

This support system is especially important for teen mothers. One study investigating the concept of the motherhood constellation in the context of teen pregnancy found that one of the difficulties faced by teens becoming mothers was an overlap in developmental tasks. For example, mothering skills would have to be acquired at the same time as other difficult skills associated with young adulthood. While teen mothers often require more assistance as a result of this overlap, achieving that delicate balance can be difficult. Studies show a link between excessive grandparent involvement with a teen mother’s firstborn child and the teen having a second child more quickly.

Impact of Family Therapy on Maternal Ideals

An article from the Mental Health Journal is critical of the delay in incorporating the research findings into modern methods of family therapy. According to the author, family therapy is still too focused on the dyadic relationship between mother and child, rather than taking into account the many familial and community relationships that play an important role in child development.

Ideally, therapy for new mothers can help reshape the maternal ideal by offering a wider variety of possible examples of mothering for her to choose from, or avoid, in creating her own maternal ideal. The majority of infants in most cultures around the world are influenced and acculturated during their formative years by a number of significant caregivers in addition to their mothers. The influence of these caregivers, as well as the quality of their relationships with both mother and child, are often minimized by mental health professionals who continue to focus primarily on the maternal ideals reflected by the mother-child relationship.

According to author Patricia Minuchin,

“studies of the parent-child dyad…do not represent the child’s significant reality, especially after infancy”.

The child’s reality, rather, consists of the complete family and community that serve as the center of the child’s security. Many experts now believe that it is more beneficial to observe parents and babies within the context of interactions between the larger family unit to successfully diagnose potentially damaging patterns such as interference, undermining, exclusion or disengagement. Diagnosing such patterns is considered critically important in understanding and treating maladjustment.

One of the useful diagnostic tools that help reveal familial patterns is called Lausanne Trilogue Play, which utilizes information gained from body postures and affective signaling. In one study, researchers were able to document four distinct family alliance patterns, which they labelled disordered, collusive, stressed, and cooperative.

Therapy that focuses primarily on altering a single relationship, such as the mother-infant relationship, can potentially cause a negative ripple effect, such as increasing competition, within the larger family system.

Further research has also revealed the importance of considering the family’s cultural context when analyzing data, which in the case of bi-racial families, may include multiple cultural contexts. Patterns of engagement between grandparents and children can vary widely between, and even within, different cultural groups.

The Expansion of Maternal Ideals

Dr. Stern’s work has contributed significantly to the understanding of the importance of multiple relationships in healthy child development. Perhaps more importantly, by advocating the conscious development of healthy maternal ideals by all important caregivers in a child’s life, it has relieved mothers of the stress associated with the belief that they alone are responsible for their children’s well-being.

After his death in 2012 at the age of 78, a tribute in the Telegraph praised his efforts towards transforming maternal ideals into social ideals for the benefit of future generations.

149.W Mother with two children II.Oil on canevas, Egon Schiele 1915. Leopold Museum, Vienna (Austria). Inv.Nr 457, CC3.0

family life after

Breast Cancer: How Diagnosis and Treatment Affects the Family After Diagnosis

Family Life After a Diagnosis of Breast Cancer

A diagnosis of cancer can affect both the patient and other members of the family in many different ways. Telling the family is often one of the most difficult aspects, and many women reported dreading taking this step. For those who have already lost a relative to cancer, the reaction of the family may be elevated from fear to terror. Those with elderly parents in delicate health themselves are often also reluctant to share their diagnosis. Ironically, this reluctance to upset family members so often experienced by women accustomed to being nurturers often places the patients who need the most support in the role of caretaker.

The initial response of most families upon first hearing the news is shock, followed by fear, sadness and sometimes, anger. Once the family has worked through these initial emotions, many women report an overwhelming degree of support. Some of the support takes the form of physical assistance, such as older children taking over some of the household chores, or family members sharing the responsibility of driving the patient to appointments.

The Effects of Treatment on Family Life After the Diagnosis

There are several treatments for breast cancer, including removal of the breast. One of those treatments is a process called ovaries ablation, which suppresses the production of estrogen by the ovaries. Estrogen, a natural hormone which plays a role in regulating cell growth, unfortunately also plays a role in the growth of cancer cells. Part of cancer treatment is the necessity of suppressing the production of estrogen. Patients who have already had children and don’t plan to have more sometimes choose to have an ovariectomy, in which the ovaries are removed through either traditional surgery or laparoscopic surgery, which is less invasive. Recent clinical trials found that disease- free survival rates for women under 50 were highest for those who received ovarian ablation as a treatment to prevent further tumors.

Patients who plan to have children in the future often choose to halt the production of estrogen temporarily through radiation treatments. To prevent a recurrence of cancer, standard treatment options include drugs such as tamoxifen, which affects estrogen receptors. Due to the extremely adverse physical effects of chemotherapy, efforts to develop new drugs that can be effective alternatives are ongoing. Side effects of current treatments include putting the patient at higher risk of future cardiovascular disease and osteoporosis.

Emotional Effects on Family Life After a Diagnosis

While necessary life-saving treatments have some physical side effects, they can also result in emotional side effects that can affect family life after treatment. Some physical side effects of ablation include hot flashes, night sweats, and mood swings. All of these side effects affect the patient’s emotional state, which in turn affect the family after treatment. In addition to the physical and hormonal challenges the patient faces, there is also an emotional impact on family life after a diagnosis of breast cancer.

Anxiety, fear, and depression are common responses to the threat of the loss of a loved one. Another common change to family life after a diagnosis of cancer is that family members become caretakers to varying degrees. The caretaker role increases stress levels, which can impair the immune system. Increasingly, health care professionals are recognizing the potentially adverse effects of prolonged emotional stress. In an effort to ensure the continued health of the entire family after a diagnosis of breast cancer, some have created coping and distress checklists for both patients and caregivers.

They have also developed a number of free online classes to help the family after a diagnosis of a life-threatening illness. Topics included effective communication, stress management, self-esteem, intimacy, and coping strategies. One of the most important sources of support for women facing breast cancer and the family after the diagnosis are the thousands of inspirational stories of other women who have successfully survived it. Many survivors have reported that the family after the experience was stronger and closer than ever.

Sources of Support

There are also a number of both national and international organizations and support groups available for breast cancer patients and their families, as well as cancer survivors and those who have lost a loved one to the disease. Cancer recognizes no national borders, and happily, nor does the compassion of the many individuals who work for organizations that help bring victims of the disease and their families together for mutual support and healing.

One survivor reported learning some valuable life lessons through her experience in successfully battling cancer. While she lost her job as the result of the lengthy treatments, she listed many of the things she felt she had gained. Among them were the ability to stand up and advocate for herself, and a heightened appreciation of health family, friends and life itself. She now runs a small non-profit volunteer organization that raises funds for cancer research. She also didn’t allow cancer to rob her of her sense of humor, judging by the name of her blog, which you can read at www.insertboobshere.com.

family life after
The Van Moerkerken Family, Gerard ter Borch the Younger, Dutch, , ca. 1653–54, Credit Line The Jack and Belle Linsky Colle
infant and child psychoanalyst

Human Growth and Development: It’s a Life-long Process

”These small moments, rather than the traumatic or dramatic moments of a baby’s life, make up the bulk of the expectations that adults bring to their relationships.”

–Daniel N. Stern

Controversy Surrounding Infant and Child Psychoanalyst Daniel N. Stern

Have you ever wondered what it would be like to have a view inside the mind of a pre-verbal child? Infant and child psychoanalyst Daniel N. Stern’s 1985 book, “The Interpersonal World Of The Infant: A View from Psychoanalysis and Developmental Psychology”attempts to give readers just that. The theories presented in the book disputed the widely accepted theories of Freud regarding child developmental stages, and sparked a great deal of controversy.

Shortly after its publication, a 1986 article in the New York Times announced that the journal of Contemporary Psychoanalysis would devote an entire issue to comments about the book. Psychologist Louise Kaplan called his hypotheses unverified and unsupported by research, while psychologist Stanley Spiegel declared that it would be the most influential book on psychoanalytic theory of the decade.

Relevant Contributions of Infant and Child Psychoanalyst Daniel Stern

Among the controversial contributions of infant and child psychoanalyst Daniel Stern to the field of child psychology is the term “proto-narrative envelope”, which he believed contains organized experience in the structure of a non-verbal narrative consisting of perceptions. According to psychologist Felix Guattari, Stern’s work demonstrates that child development is not a matter of Freudian stages, but of what he calls levels of subjectivation. Subjectivation is a term used to describe the process of individuation, or the creation of a separate subject, or self.

Stern’s research provided evidence that infants are born with the capacity for mental organization and the ability to link sensory experiences. When new-born infants were asked questions, their answers were physical responses, such as turning their heads and looking. They were also able to generalize and recognize differences. It was this ability that caused Stern to question the idea of fixed developmental stages and to theorize that trauma can affect anyone similarly at any stage of life.

Research Studies of Infant and Child Psychoanalyst Daniel J. Stern

Stern’s research consisted in part of filming the interactions between mothers and their children and analyzing the films extensively. In one study, he videotaped three-hour sessions of the interactions between a mother and her infant twin sons until they were 15 months old. While analyzing the films, he detected a difference in how the mother maintained eye contact with one of the twins compared to the other. With one twin, when the baby averted it’s face, she immediately re-established eye contact, which often resulted in the baby crying. With the other, she allowed the baby to choose to re-establish eye contact. By age 15 months, Dr. Stern noted that the twin with whom the mother had forced eye contact seemed more fearful and dependent, averting his face when he wanted to break eye contact, while the other continued smiling while looking upward to do so.

Stern’s studies, observations and research led him to conclude that small daily exchanges between parent and child can shape the child’s relationship patterns in later life. He believed the same to be true for fathers as well as any adult spending prolonged periods of time with an infant.

Recommendations Resulting from Infant and Child Psychoanalyst Studies

Stern’s theory posits that rather than phases of development, life consists of a long continuum of small, yet important, interactions. He recommends that mothers “match” their children’s physical and emotional communications in order to provide them with a sense of being understood and connected. For example, when an infant squeals in delight, the mother might echo that sentiment by matching its pitch in her response.

This sense of feeling understood and validated helps promote individuation and autonomy. According to Stern, autonomy begins with small acts, such as a baby averting its eyes of face to express displeasure, which infants are capable of at about 4 months. Another important step in autonomy is gaining the ability to walk away at about 12 months, and to say no at about 14 months.

In response to critics who felt that his findings placed additional pressure on parents, Stern offered reassurance that while the psychological imprints of these early interactions are important, they are not irrevocable.

“Relationships throughout life – with friends or relatives, for example – or in psychotherapy continually reshape your working model of relationships. An imbalance at one point can be corrected later; there is no crucial period early in life – it’s an on-going, life-long process.”

Since parents, no matter how great their love, how good their intentions or how much expert advice from an infant and child psychoanalyst they follow, will always be imperfect human beings, this is welcome news indeed.

 infant and child psychoanalyst
social change for mothers

The Evolution of Motherhood: The Next Generation

Has Technology Created Positive Social Change for Mothers ?

Motherhood as we know it began two million years ago with the emergence of homo erectus. Anthropologist Sarah Hrdy believes that one of the distinguishing features of human mothers in comparison to other primates was that of allowing others to care for their children, which is termed “alloparenting”. Child expert Pinky McKay believes that technological advances will never replace the emotional and educational benefits provided to children by the active involvement of extended family and a supportive community.

Advances in technology have resulted in the potential for an unprecedented amount of positive social change for mothers. However, societies have been slow to implement policies that fully realize that potential. A 2012 study funded by Proctor & Gamble and carried out by Galaxy Research sought to determine how much social change for mothers has resulted from technological advances. An online survey of 1,006 mothers with children aged 16 or younger throughout Australia revealed some surprising results.

Social Change for Mothers and Time

Surprisingly, regarding the question of whether modern technology has increased the amount of time that mothers have to themselves, the answer was a resounding “no”. In fact, the majority of respondents felt that they had the same amount or less time to themselves than their mothers had while raising them, even with the benefit of modern conveniences. The economic necessity of employment outside the home in addition to their parenting responsibilities was cited as the number one reason.

These findings reflect those of another study conducted by Eileen Trauth, a professor of Information Sciences at Penn State University. After interviewing 200 women, she concluded that mothers need as much social support today as they ever have. She also believes that such support should come in the form of improved parental leave policies for parents, retraining programs for those who temporarily leave the workforce to care for children, and more work- at- home options.

Multi-tasking- A Potential Negative Social Change for Mothers

Developments in technology have made it possible for women to attend online classes and professional conferences from their smart phones. However, while these developments have resulted in allowing women to spend more time with their children, it has also resulted in constant multi-tasking. Although they may be physically present with their children more, their attention is often divided. Additionally, the full benefits of technology, such as flexible schedules that allow women to work after their children are asleep, are still offset by women assuming the majority of housework in addition to their professional and childcare duties.

According to the P&G survey, mothers reported being able to spend an average of two hours and twenty minutes per day with their children, and most reported experiencing guilt as a result. The encouraging news is that 46% of them felt that it was more time than their own mothers had been able to spend with them as children. 78% of mothers also reported parenting differently than their own mothers, with 34% describing their style as more relaxed and 29% describing theirs as more nurturing.

Social Change for Mothers and Increasing Social Pressure

Another article points out that today’s mothers often face far more social pressure than mothers of previous generations. One reason is because according to the Pew Research Center the number of stay-at-home mothers in 1970 was still 40%, while by 1997, that number had shrunk to just 23%. In 2012, that number increased to 29%, but experts believe that this was the result of the difficulty in finding work due to the extended economic recession that continues to affect a number of countries.

While women still bear a greater responsibility for child care and household chores in addition to working outside the home, today’s mothers report that an increasing number of fathers are participating more in child care. 70% of respondents in the study reported that they received help from the children’s fathers and 21% received additional assistance from the children’s grandmothers. Sadly, 16% reported receiving no child care assistance from anyone.

Resources to Prevent Isolation

87% of modern mothers in the study reported experiencing feelings of isolation, with 36% reporting feeling that way every day. There is nothing as beneficial as talking with other mothers to help ease that sense of isolation. In fact, many mothers reported that their relationships with other mothers were among their primary sources of emotional support. Feeling a sense of isolation is so common that many mothers use social media to share tips for overcoming it with new mothers.

There are also a number of national and international support groups specifically designed for mothers to prevent social isolation. Other benefits include sharing resources, such as personal recommendations for safe dependable child care. Experts advise mothers-to-be to find and join a group even before the baby arrives. While online support groups can serve as a springboard for meeting other mothers, modern technology will never be able to replace the human hug as the most ideal form of understanding and encouragement.

social change for mothers
House Post Figure, 19thC, Indonesia, Papua, Kabiterau, Sentani people Credit Line The Michael C. Rockefeller Memorial Col
family life and prison

Family Life and Prison: Changing Statistics Through Kindness

“Although the world is full of suffering, it is full also of the overcoming of it.”

-Helen Keller

Family Life and Prison: An Increasingly Common Phenomenon

Virtually every country uses incarceration as a consequence for having committed a crime. In recent years, as the result of a number of factors including the war on drugs and the increasing economic gap between the rich and the poor, incarceration rates have begun to rise in most countries. In some countries, the increase in the number of incarcerated citizens has been substantial.

For example, in the U.S., 698 of every 100,000 people are currently incarcerated, exceeded only by Seychelles at 799 per 100,000. As of 2013, there were 2.7 million, or one in 28, children in the U.S. with a parent in prison. Over 14,000 of those children enter the foster care system each year. A 2011 study estimated that 800,000 children in the European Union (EU) experience separation from an incarcerated parent each year. In Russia, the ratio is 445 of every 100,000 people. Australia’s ratio is 151 of every 100,000 , while the Netherlands is at 75 per 100,000.

Many countries, such as Cambodia, Mexico, Turkey and Argentina, allow children to live in prison with their mothers until the age of 6. Russia requires children of prisoners to be placed in child care facilities attached to the prisons, with parents given regular access. Other countries, such as Norway and Australia, have residential units for female prisoners with young children. In the United States, very few prisons allow children to remain with their mothers, and those that do, only for 18 months. Despite differing ratios, geographic locations, and policies, the combination of family life and prison have similar negative effects on children worldwide.

Family Life and Prison—An Incompatible Combination

According to a 2009 report by the National Conference of State Legislatures acknowledges the importance of maintaining family contact to the well-being of children as well as to the post-release success of prisoners. However, according to Bureau of Justice Statistics, in U.S. state prisons, only 12.3 percent of fathers and 14.6 percent of mothers received visits from a child once a month, while fifty-nine percent of fathers and 58 percent of mothers received no visits.

Some of the reasons for infrequent contact include barriers such as prison rules and prisons being located too far away for family members to travel. American prisons also commonly charge excessive fees for telephone calls that might help maintain regular communication between family members. Long waits, body frisks, and crowded waiting rooms with no activities for children are also factors. Often, the other parent wants to sever ties with the prisoner.

Effects of Family Life and Prison on Children

In addition to the emotional trauma of being deprived of consistent contact with an imprisoned parent, children of incarcerated parents are at higher risk for a number of other health concerns. A study designed to examine the effects of having an incarcerated parent on the health of children found that they suffered higher rates of attention deficits, behavioral problems, speech, language and other developmental delays. Another study found that they had higher rates of anxiety, depression, obesity, and asthma.

A parent in prison can also affect a child’s future education. According to a 2013 report, in the U.S., only 1 to 2 percent of students with incarcerated mothers and 13 to 25 percent of students with imprisoned fathers graduate from college. A member of the family going to prison is considered one of the “adverse childhood experiences” that contribute to potentially life-long significant health, educational, and social problems for children.

Family life and prison causes children to struggle with feelings of anger and shame associated with social stigma. Grieving the loss of a positive role model, they often fear growing up to be incarcerated themselves.

The caretaking parent is often faced with financial difficulty due to the loss of a second income. Increased poverty leads to increased stress, which can also lead to angry and aggressive behaviors that can further negatively impact the child.

Family Life and Prison: Challenges Upon Release

The effects of parental incarceration on children continue after the release of the parent from prison. Reuniting with family members after a long separation is difficult. Children have grown and changed and have often formed relationships with other adult parental figures during their absence. The caretaking parent during the incarceration may feel protective and be hesitant to allow the child to re-establish a relationship for fear of future similar abandonment. Such conflicts between adults often add to a child’s stress.

Fortunately, there are some sources of support for children of incarcerated parents and their families. One organization even created a series of educational tools designed specifically to help children deal more effectively with the emotional issues surrounding family life and prison. One uses the popular Sesame Street characters in a children’s story which reflects the realities of these children’s lives in a kind, supportive way to help them feel less socially isolated and ashamed. Every kindness is a preventative measure that eases the pain of these innocents.

family life and prison
End of the World prison, by Lius Argerich, cc2.0
social change for single sex parents

How Same Sex Parents Contribute to Positive Social Change

Statistics Reflect Social Change for Same Sex Parents

The latest statistics from the Pew Research Center show that of the 15 countries worldwide to permit gay men and lesbians to marry, eight have done so since 2010. Six in ten Americans now say homosexuality should be accepted by society, up from 49% in 2007. In 2010, the first year that the census began counting same sex couples, the total number of same sex households in the U.S. was 901,997, still under 1%. However, the number of same sex couples living together in the U.S. has increased by 345% in the last decade. The number increased by 90% in the U.K., where there were 69,000 same sex couples living together in 2012. According to the Office of National Statistics, 12,000 of those are parents.

The 2013 New Zealand census reported 11,220 same sex couples, with slightly more females than males. In Australia, one in ten same-sex couples had children living with them. In Canada, the 2006 census reported 45,300 same-sex couples. One website devoted to global gay family issues reports that world-wide, a greater number of female same sex couples have children living with them than male couples. On average, same sex couples also have fewer children.

The Law and Social Change for Same Sex Parents

One of the most important ways social change for same sex parents is reflected is by changes in the laws, many of which, until recently, criminalized homosexuality. Governments, while taking into consideration the traditional religious beliefs of their citizens, have begun granting homosexual couples the same civil and legal rights as heterosexual couples. For example, in New Zealand, civil unions were legalized in 2004, and gay marriage in 2013. This demonstrates that most societies require a number of years to become comfortable with social change for same sex couples.

In addition to laws regarding marriage, other laws restricting homosexual couples from having and raising children are also being changed.

For example, in 2008, the U.K. removed legal barriers to lesbian couples receiving fertility treatments. Additionally, gay adoption is also now legal in the UK.

Other countries that have legalized gay adoption include Sweden, Belgium, Argentina, Spain, and Iceland. In the United States, only 19 states allow same sex couples to adopt, while six states still forbid same sex couples from adopting or even becoming foster parents.

These laws reflect a lingering belief by many that homosexuality is linked to child molestation, which a large body of research has refuted. These beliefs resulted in laws forbidding homosexuals from becoming teachers in many countries. Those laws, too, are slowly changing.

The Effects of Social Change for Single Sex Parents on Families

There have been several research studies that have attempted to measure the effects on children of being raised by same sex parents. However, the results of those studies have often been contradictory, a phenomenon which can be attributed in part to funding sources and political agendas. For example, according to one of the world’s largest studies on same-sex parenting, children being raised by same-sex couples are thriving. This study of 500 children in Australia found that for overall health and family cohesion, children of same sex couples scored higher than the national average. The lead researcher of the study, Dr. Simon Crouch, theorized that this could be attributed to the families having to cope with social bullying. According to one study, 70 percent of gay and lesbian students in the state of Queensland, Australia experienced bullying from both students and teachers.

Another article points to a different study involving 512 children of same-sex couples, which concluded that children from same-sex households were more at risk for a number of problems such as depression, anxiety and attention deficit disorder. This study was conducted by D. Paul Sullins, who is a sociology professor at The Catholic University of America in Washington, D.C. It cites statistics showing that only 4 percent of children who live with both biological parents experience emotional problems, with the figure rising to 10 percent for children living with only one biological parent, and to 21 percent of those living with no biological parents.

According to the study, 19 percent of children living with same sex parents experienced ADHD or learning disabilities, compared to 10 percent of children living in opposite-sex households. Other studies have shown that adopted children with no biological relationship to either parent also face a higher risk for emotional or behavioral problems.

While results of studies may differ, social change for same sex parents points to one very important change that benefits all of humanity–the elimination of social bullying. For many years, one of the arguments against same sex couples raising children was that it was unfair to expose them to the damaging effects of potential schoolyard taunts and social exclusion. Individuals and societies are beginning to refuse to participate in social bullying or allow it to determine their life choices. Jodie Foster and Robert DeNiro are among the successful people raised by same sex parents, and who advocate for continued positive social change.

social change for singe sex parents
Sleep Like a Baby, by Peasap, Flickr CC.2