Fundamentals, Psychology

Educational Psychologists On Why Motherhood Is More Defined by Psychology than Biology

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Educational psychologists and child psychiatrists explaining motherhood

Biologists have often explained the behavior of mothers from a biological viewpoint. There is also a psychological school of thought and a range of educational psychologists and child psychiatrists that attempts to explain mothers’ behaviors.

For example, mothers are the primary caretakers of children, yet there are differences between boys and girls in their reactions to mothers. Girls find their own identities through a process of merging and identifying with their mothers, while boys separate themselves from mothers to find their identities. Some educational psychologists and child psychiatrists believed that the absence of fathers in the home due to the division of labor resulted in a number of psychological conflicts.

Helene Deutsch, an Austrian-American psychoanalyst

Helene Deutsch, colleague of Sigmund Freud, saw motherhood as a psychological phenomenon rather than a biological one. She was the first psychoanalyst to specialize in women. Deutsch believed that it was a child’s psychological reactions to biological realities that determined behavior.

“The child will undergo biological changes and therefore his behavior will change. However it is not this biological change that will change the behavior of the child in a direct and mechanical way. It is much more how he sees himself and construes this biological change in his mind that will determine his behavior.”

She believed that the same principle applies to young mothers, and that the way they view themselves determines how they behave as mothers. Other factors which determine a woman’s interpretation of herself as a mother are her own personality, her life situation, and the attitude toward childbearing of the society in which she lives. In her own words:

“Motherliness in women is not the automatic product of female biological processes. Some women are motherly without ever being pregnant, while others, who have borne children, are not motherly.”

One poignant example is the child woman, pregnant with an unwanted child, in whose mind the fetus is not a beloved being, but rather, perceived as a parasite.

In her work, The Psychology of Women, Deutsch discusses the phenomenon of feminine masochism in connection with her attachment to, and possible identification with, her father. She introduced the concept of the “as-if” personality, in which women, as the result of patriarchal repression, learn to act as if they are in fact the social ideal they are told they should be.

She addressed women’s struggles for education and independence as well as the ambivalence of women toward motherhood that results from their sexual and maternal feminine identities being split by society. Unlike other educational psychologists and child psychiatrists of the time, she believed that a healthy mother/daughter relationship, or a surrogate one, was important for a woman to experience a healthy pregnancy.

She was inspired by the powerful examples of socialist leaders Rosa Luxemburg and Angelica Blabanoff, and became one of the first women to join the Vienna Psychological Society. She went on to become the first woman to serve as head of the women’s section of the Vienna Psychoanalytic Training Institute from 1924 to 1933. Much of her work addressed the issue of the conflict between motherhood and eroticism.

Chodorow: Better care-givers but not for biological reasons

The concept of mothers as superior caregivers can be explained as the result of psychological responses to the division of labor and organization of production. Nancy Chodorow, an American sociologist and psychoanalyst was one of the first to offer a different explanation than the biological one as to why mothers are considered better care-givers. Chodorow criticized sex-role socialization and believed that the differences between the sexes could be altered, but only on a social, rather than an individual, level.

Driven by industrialization, within the span of a very short time, women were assigned the role of home and family chores. Chodorow believed that only by changing the organization of production can rigid sex roles based on the economic superiority of men be changed within society.

“The sexual division of labor and women’s responsibility for child care are linked to and generate male dominance. Psychologists have demonstrated unequivocally that the very fact of being mothered by a woman generates in men conflicts over masculinity, and a psychology of male dominance, and a need to be superior to women.”

One of the ten most influential sociology books of the past quarter

Her influential book, The Reproduction of Mothering: Psychoanalysis and the Sociology of Gender, published in 1978, and revised in 1999, was chosen as one of the ten most influential books of the past quarter century by Contemporary Sociology. She believes that because girls are less valued, they envy and seek the privilege that boys are afforded. They solve the envy of male privilege by transforming it into heterosexual desire. This process has the effect of creating a form of sibling rivalry with both male children and mothers as girls compete to become the idealized image of the mother created by society.

According to Chodorow,

“motherhood is influenced more by one’s personal psychology, family and culture rather than biological gender.”

She advocates more male responsibility for childcare and for women to be granted economic, emotional, and sexual freedom from male dominance. Modern educational psychologists and child psychiatrists can all agree that acknowledging and integrating all of their human characteristics, whether considered male or female, is best for children, and parents, of both genders.

A beautiful summary on extraordinary women pioneer analysts is made by Janet Sayers in back in 1993 and still a great resource today “Mothers of Psycholanalysts”.

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