adolescent and child psychologist

Adolescent and Child Psychologist Stanley Hall: A Man of Firsts

“Gross well says that children are young because they play, and not vice versa; and he might have added, men grow old because they stop playing, and not conversely, for play is, at bottom, growth, and at the top of the intellectual scale it is the eternal type of research from sheer love of truth.”

Adolescent and child psychologist Stanley Hall: A Pioneer of Evolutionary Psychology

Stanley Hall earned the first doctorate in psychology ever awarded in the United States in 1878. As psychology was still in its infancy there, he then studied at the University of Berlin. When he returned, he created the first psychology laboratory in the U.S. at Johns Hopkins University. He started the American Journal of Psychology in 1887 and went on to become the first president of the American Psychological Association in 1892. He also served as the first president of Clark University from 1889 to 1920.

While president of Clark University, he contributed to the development of the field of educational psychology. He was one of the first to study the effects of adolescence on education, and invited both Sigmund Freud and Karl Jung to participate in a lecture series on that subject.

Controversies Surrounding Stanley Hall

A number of Hall’s theories proved to be controversial. One of those was the theory of recapitulation, first developed by Ernst Haeckel, who said that “ontogeny recapitulates phylogeny“. Ontogeny is the growth and development of an individual organism, while phylogeny is the evolutionary history of an entire species. According to this theory, which has since been largely discredited, each developmental stage of an individual represents a stage in the evolutionary history of the species.

Some of his theories are more controversial today than they were at the time. For example, he believed that males and females should be separated during adolescence in order to successfully adapt to their gender roles. He believed that men and women had distinctly different physical, mental and spiritual roles, that women were inferior to men and that their education should not include any corrupting influences that would encourage independence.

His influence as an adolescent and child psychologist helped shape educational policies that reflected his beliefs. As an adolescent and child psychologist, he believed that puberty was a time of “storm and stress” characterized by conflict, mood swings and risk-taking behavior. His most well-received book was “Adolescence–Its Psychology and Its Relations to Physiology, Anthropology, Sociology, Sex, Crime, and Religion“.

Margaret Mead and Albert Bandura were among his most vocal critics. Bandura believed that his theory about the difficulties of adolescence would create a self-fulfilling prophecy. Mead, through her anthropological research of adolescence in other societies, concluded that the majority of the difficulties faced by adolescents is the result of civilization.

Another controversial issue was his belief in the desirability of racial eugenics and forced sterilization of those deemed unfit to breed.

Further, he believed that those who were “defective” whether physically, intellectually, or emotionally would interfere with natural selection and weaken the race. Those who were deemed fit had the responsibility of having more than one child. He once said that

“Being an only child is a disease in itself.”

Finally, he felt that emphasizing individual rights would lead to the fall of civilization.

Lasting Contributions of Stanley Hall

While many of Dr. Hall’s theories seem to lack compassion, he did recognize the difficulty of the requirement of the educational system for adolescents to remain still for long periods of time. He advocated that more physical movement be incorporated into the educational system, and may well be responsible for the creation of both recess and physical education. He was quoted as saying that

“Constant muscular activity was natural for the child, and, therefore, the immense effort of the drillmaster teachers to make children sit still was harmful and useless.”

Ironically, despite his stance on issues of race, Hall served as a mentor for Francis Cecil Sumner , the first African American to receive a Ph.D. in psychology. Sumner served as chair of the psychology department of Howard University from 1928 to 1954. During his academic career, he taught many, such as Kenneth B. Clark, who went on to become highly influential in struggle for civil rights. Because he spoke four languages, he also served as a translator and abstractor for psychological journals.

Despite what his critics called his lack of objectivity and flawed data collection methods, Hall remained highly influential as an adolescent and child psychologist and is still the second most cited “expert” in his field. He agreed with Freud’s theory that children are born sexual beings and should therefore receive sex education. He also believed that the best way to determine what to teach children next was to first determine what they already knew. This educational principle has proven to be effective and is still used in both academics and business training courses.

Fortunately for women, adolescent and child psychologist Stanley Hall may have been the first to advance psychological theories, but he wasn’t the last.

adolescent and child psychologist

November 20,2015  |

educational psychologists

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

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”.

educational psychologist

July 6,2015  |

permissive parenting styles

How Dr. Benjamin Spock Invented Relaxed Common Sense Permissive Parenting Styles

When I try to think of the ultimate pop culture icon for modern day parenting, the image that instantly comes to my mind is a mother reading a worn-out paperback copy of Baby and Childcare by Dr. Benjamin Spock (probably given to her by her mother!).

Dr Benjamin Spock wrote a bestseller book in 1946, which is still bought today. Spock was the first pediatrician to study psychoanalysis to try to understand children’s needs and family dynamics. His ideas about childcare influenced several generations of parents to be more flexible and affectionate with their children, and to treat them as individuals, which later led to the more permissive parenting styles as we know them today.

Benjamin Spock: “Don’t be afraid to trust your own common sense”

Dr. Spock empowered parents to trust their instincts. Since his first book appeared more than half a century ago, over fifty million copies have been sold, and the book has been translated into forty-two languages. But what is the appeal of Benjamin Spock’s book and should parents still have a copy on their bookshelf? Or have we arrived at a different place than even Benjamin Spock could imagine?

It might seem crazy to us now, but Benjamin Spock grew up in an age where physicians told parents not to kiss their child, and to be careful not to hold your baby in your lap. Spock, in his career as a physician, realized that parents were their own best clinicians and the best parent was the parent who could think through issues on their own. A large part of permissive parenting styles  is to permit the parent to feel and act upon those feelings. This is a lasting legacy.

Dr. Benjamin Spock was born in 1903 in New Haven, Connecticut. He graduated from Yale (where he majored in English and History only gravitating to Medicine later on). He quickly became interested as a young doctor in bring together humanitarian ideals to parenting. He was also not afraid to speak his mind. Ideas on pediatrics often co-mingled with politics such as Benjamin Spock’s condemnation of Vietnam War when he said

“There’s no point in raising children if they’re going to be burned alive.”

He was not afraid of speaking out against oppression and was arrested at many demonstrations. In fact, Benjamin Spock was arrested in 1968 for allegedly conspiring to counsel young people to avoid the draft, but those charges were dropped in 1969 after a reversal from the United States Court of Appeal. Spock could have faced two years in jail and a fine of $5,000. Spock was not afraid to buck authority, and he filtered the theories of Sigmund Freud and John Dewey into tidbits that parents could use practically apply.

Dr. Benjamin Spock’s Critics and the Legacy of Baby and Childcare

When it comes to finding out tips from everything to bed wetting to when to start feeding a baby solid food, most parents have probably heard of Dr. Benjamin Spock even though 21st century moms and dads are also pretty adept at searching out tips on the Internet. If Dr. Spock was starting his career today he probably would have become famous by writing a blog rather than a book. Even so, people still think of parenting books as a sine qua non of a parents’ essential toolkit. And indeed, he pioneered the practical guide to parenting and more specifically permissive parenting styles and helped usher in an entirely new perspective on what it means to raise a child from birth to young adulthood.

Critics of Benjamin Spock and Permissive Parenting Styles

Since he died in 1998, Simon & Schuster has continued to keep his ideas in publication and in 2013 the 65th anniversary edition of Spock’s book was published. It’s the 9th edition of the book. Although not everyone has had the nicest things to say about Dr. Benjamin Spock. Norman Vincent Peale thought that Spock had raised a generation or two of permissive children. He said that maybe Dr. Spock had raised too many peace-niks and watered down Dr. Spock’s advice to:

“Feed ’em whenever they want, never let them cry, satisfy their every desire.”

He also had critics from feminist activist like Gloria Steinem who said that Spock was just as guilty for repression of women’s voices as the old vanguard of psychological science and he was remonstrated for the sexist language included in the first edition. But today’s readers will find references not only to “he” and the text no longer assumes certain pernicious gender stereotypes.

The ins and outs of parenthood have certainly been transformed since Dr. Spock admonished parents in 1946 to use their common sense, and it is this kernel of wisdom that makes him still relevant today and the reason his book is still in print.  We owe permissive parenting styles and methods to dr Spock. A new team of writers have taken the helm to keep the heart of Spock’s gentle pediatric advice alive. While certainly we have come a long way since Dr. Benjamin Spock’s relaxed words of wisdom, I realize I probably wouldn’t be writing this article if it weren’t for the way he first advocated for mothers more at a time when parents desired to be heard.

Here is more on permissive parenting.

permissive parenting styles
Benjamin Spock

June 3,2015  |

child psychotherapist

Childhood Disorders: How We Benefit Today from the Work of the Psychotherapist Emil Kraepelin

The phrase “motherhood” can evoke a wide range of mental images, many of which the popular media promote on a daily basis. Frequently, the images present completely opposite representations. One presents the ideal of motherhood that is unfailingly responsive to the child. The other presents a more negative picture that views the current trends towards single motherhood as a bastion of irresponsibility. The perfect, selfless mother lives up to pure love, while the other succumbs to her own selfish desires.

Both ends of the spectrum fail to present a balanced view, and in fact, leave out mothers who face rearing children with psychiatric disorders. With the expertise of a competent child psychotherapist, mothers in this situation can gain the knowledge and wisdom to address these issues, especially in light of the advances in modern psychiatry launched by Emil Kraepelin.

Innovative and Revolutionary Theories

Emil Kraepelin is commonly lauded as the founder of modern psychiatry, and a modern child psychotherapist can thank Kraepelin for his revolutionary work. Born in 1856 in Germany, he was the first doctor to offer theories that genetic mutations and biological abnormalities caused many psychiatric conditions. His contributions included a classification system of mental disorders that grouped the conditions based upon common, verifiable patterns of symptoms. Dr. Kraepelin also established that mental disorders demonstrated specific patterns in course, genetics and outcomes.

He published his innovative textbook, Lehrbuch der Psychiatrie, in 1883, and this study emphasized the significance of brain pathology in psychiatric disorders as well as his considerable observations in support of this theory.

The most critical contribution was his system of classification of psychiatric disorders, and this method later became the precursor to the DSM manuals. Kraepelin asserted the hypothesis that specific patterns of symptoms occurring on a regular basis must be classified apart from other disorders.

Later, he clarified and described these patterns, thus establishing the prototype of our current standards. Integrating all of the clinical data to produce this classification system was a large undertaking that represented a crucial contribution to modern psychopathology.

Dr. Kraepelin viewed each mental disorder as separate and distinct from others and proposed that the course of each could be predicted and predetermined just as any organic, medical disease. This revolutionary theory led to a profound interest in the precise description and classification of psychiatric disorders. One result today, in cases of childhood disorders, is that a child psychotherapist can envisage the ultimate conclusion and use appropriate treatments.

The education of the child psychotherapist

Dr. Kraepelin studied medicine in Leipzig and at the University of Wurzburg. Subsequent to earning his MD, Dr. Kraepelin practiced at the University of Munich with Bernhard von Gudden. He returned to Leipzig in 1882 and worked in the psychological research lab of Wilhelm Wundt. From 1885 to 1891, he worked at Dorpat, and later became a professor for the University of Heidelberg. In 1903, he founded the Department of Psychiatry at the University of Munich, and in 1917 he founded the German Research Institute of Psychiatry.

While at the University of Dorpat, he studied the clinical histories of specific patients and realized that identifying and delineating the patterns of symptoms created his organized method to categorize psychiatric disorders. This produced a clinical view of mental disorders, which challenged the traditional methods of symptomatic diagnoses. Prior to this new way of thinking, doctors had assumed that similar symptoms could come from a single illness.

Contribution to Psychology

Kraepelin’s most important achievements were the identification and classification of two separate psychiatric disorders. Kraepelin identified dementia praecox, later called schizophrenia, and manic depression as separate forms of psychosis. He presented ideas that manic depression was periodic, with specific episodes, whereas schizophrenia could result in permanent cognitive malfunction. His assertions focused on the pattern of symptoms rather than the similarity of them.

In contemporary society, very few people outside of the disciplines of psychiatry and psychology have heard of Kraepelin and understand the significance of his work. His work is used as the foundation of every diagnostic measurement used in these fields, including the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM).

Personal and Societal Influences

Dr. Kraepelin excelled in empirical research and preferred experiment psychological approaches, and he did not follow or support psycho-analysis. In today’s society, he would be viewed as data-driven, and he taught his students to simply describe observable symptoms rather than try to interpret them.

He wrote that his 5th edition of Psychiatrie, was

“a decisive step from a symptomatic to a clinical view of insanity….The importance of external clinical signs has…been subordinated to consideration of the conditions of origin, the course, and the terminus which result from individual disorders. (…).”

Nonetheless, the era in which he worked, as a contemporary to Freud, influenced his work. In the same edition of Psychiatrie, he wrote about “the conditions of origin”, and regarding dementia praecox, he wrote that it was

“a disease process in the brain, involving the cortical neurones, brought about by an autointoxication … as a result of a disorder of metabolism.”(Kraepelin, 1907: 221–2; 1919: 244).

Moreover, regarding hysteria, Kraepelin wrote about “morbid” constitution, and “defective heredity.” In addition, he examined the possibility of uterine disturbances and the role of feminine sexual organs.

As modern society began to embrace feminism in the 1960s and 1970s, many of these views faced renewed analysis and criticism. Thus, even the greatest child psychotherapist could not escape influencing the definitions and societal views on womanhood and motherhood.

How a Child Psychotherapist Benefits from Kraepelin’s Work

What this means for mothers today is a systematic, objective approach used by a child psychotherapist to diagnose and treat children with disorders. Moreover, clearly classifying symptoms may lead a child psychotherapist to refer a child to a medical doctor when symptoms appear to overlap or present as a biological illness.

For mothers, this means they can get the help their child needs without the stigma that mental illness once sustained. This in turn, means that our contemporary reality of motherhood can be far more balanced between the extremes of perfection and imperfection.

child psychotherapist
Emil Kraepelin Wikimedia Commons CC2.0

May 8,2015  |

maternal love

Do pregnancy urges and maternal love define a woman’s identity?

Why is there a belief that the act of mothering and maternal love has a biological basis ?  If and when maternal love versus father love has a biological basis, and thus it can only be a female activity, makes it a relevant question.

In this post I will concentrate on the psychoanalyst view and take on this belief (versus the ethological take).  It is quite interesting to see how this belief came to be, especially in our time and place.

Reproduction and maternal love

The rational most of the time goes through the following steps:

  • The reproduction is needed for the survival of the species, and the female is closer to the reproduction process.
  • Babies need to be taken care of intensively and for a long period (longest compared to any other species, in comparison with the relative life span) and if not done so, the chances of survival drop significantly.
  • Put 1 and 2 together and the affective tie or maternal love between mother and child has a biological basis. Or put differently without the bond our species would not have survived.

This tie, often referred to as motherhood or maternal love, is the result of an inborn urge based on instinct. It is therefor biologically determined that mothers want children, and it is therefore also determined they want to raise them and feel as something is missing when they are separated from them. Also see maternal instincts.

Maternal love and psychologysis

We take this and move to the discipline of psychoanalysis with psycho analysts like Sigmund Freud, Josef Breuer, Alfred Adler, Carl Gustav Jung and later Neo-Freudians like Erich Fromm, Karen Horney and Jacques Lacan. This school believes that pregnancy, giving birth, suckling and fondling are to be seen as instinctual urges. These instincts, urges and maternal love are characteristic of a mature woman’s femininity and identity.

If a woman does not want or desire children or if she is not capable of reproducing affective tie or maternal love or experiences a dissatisfaction in motherhood then this is the result of a developmental problem and of poor adjustment to her feminine psycho sexual identity.

The biological proof in this discipline is to be found in the changing body when she is pregnant and in those first maternal moments.

Her physical state changes. She becomes throughout her pregnancy acutely interested in herself. This is the primary maternal preoccupation. (We see this preoccupation being very nicely exploited commercially.) She then is able to assess finely and intuitively the needs and wants of her baby, better than anybody else. Both mother and baby have instincts that will bind them together, a kind of reciprocal instinctuality. Their interests are identical that is to stay together in a state of interdependency. There is only one gratification. They become one. There is one unit. There is only one identity. The baby experiences ‘primary love’. Primary love is that first love received from the mother. The mother experiences ‘maternal bond’ or ‘maternal love’ or ‘instantly-in-mother-love’. These feelings come without effort or criticism. It will be this definition of primary love that the child will carry on into adulthood. When the baby grows, it will however be necessary to differentiate from the mother and to become separated. This will be a painful experience.

Again, we are now sitting in the chair of the psychoanalytical professional, taking the viewpoint of the psychoanalytical discipline.

If we go further, and go to the other end of the spectrum of this bliss situation, and the child does not know or have this ‘primary love’, then later on to become separated is for the child like falling into an terrible anxiety. Such an anxiety that it will need years to mend.

And the mother is in no better state if this motherly love has not been experienced. Why? Well, she identifies with all the beautiful fantasies her baby has of her and how she is the perfect mother or probably a perfect person (a myth that will painfully chattered when the adolescent child starts to criticize). She gladly accepts this almightiness role with open arms. She will retrospect on her own childhood and of her fantasies of her own mother and maternal love. As she will also be reminded of the disappointment when growing older (and we are all disappointed at a point) she will hope to be a better parent than her parent was.

The way a woman will be a mother to her child will be determined by her own experiences. If she has positive experiences, motherhood will be a welcome addition in her life. If she has a negative association with babies but likes toddler, this will have a different impact. If she is more closely involved when they reach a certain age than when they were babies then this could also be explained by her own psychosexual development.

When a mother is negative about motherhood or maternal love then we immediately suspect her mother of abnormal behavior. This is something the psychoanalytical school taught us. She would have unresolved developmental conflicts and the fact that she was now a mother would be the ideal way to resolve them. Motherhood could mean a cure for psychological issues if motherhood was embraced and seen positively. Meaning if she does not embrace it, she could be in an unresolved conflict for the rest of her life.

Observation of the discipline of psychoanalysis

It is clear that The School of Psychoanalysis explains motherhood on a highly individual level. Per definition. It is as if mother and child are alone in the world (and off course there is also the grandmother). The analysis and their explanation of motherhood come from feelings and thoughts at a very unconscious level. The way a woman experiences motherhood will be presented on an abstract level, and individual to her situation. In a psychoanalysis, the mother will be given an explanation of how she experiences it because sometimes she will even not be aware of it, so it has to be explained to her.

It is a good way to explain differences of experiences of motherhood  or maternal love but it is inadequate to define motherhood (and both are related). The research and analysis to come to these conclusions was clinical experience and per definition not systematic and statistical.  The women that were analyzed during the period when these theories were written, were pregnant or had infants. Motherhood of toddlers or older children might be different. The biological basis is observed during lactation but it is more difficult beyond.  Cross-cultural studies were not conducted because society as a whole was left out. No comparisons with men were done in a systematical way.

The belief is deeply rooted and any form absence, abstinence or negativity is seen as abnormal. But the point of fact is that mothering beyond lactation and / or raising children older than a couple of years has no biological basis and is poorly analyzed by the school of psycho analysis up to now.

maternal love
Sterling silver, ivory and glass nipple-shield Wellcome L0035699 Licensed under CC BY 4.0

April 27,2015  |

Maternal craft

Maternal craft in 1850-1900: Disciplinary education

By the end of the nineteenth century not only medicine and science would have an impact but political and social changes as well. The imperial nations were in need of healthy and educated children. Maternal craft was essential. Social and racial progress was important for the welfare of its country.

The idealization of motherhood was strengthened. And moral reform came around the corner. Now women needed to stay virtuous and religiously dutiful but now also sentimental. Passivity and altruism were the virtues of a good wife. Open expression of feelings and emotions were condemned. Women became frail and sickly because they were educated this way. A day in bed when menstruating was a minimum. Prudery was an obsession. Not a coincidence this came in a time where paternal authority were promoted by state and church. Not a coincidence this came with total submissiveness of women to husbands and maternal craft expertise.

This is the time where extreme disciplinary education of children came to be.

The Beginning of the Maternal craft

Mothers read Elizabeth Chesser’s books on Mothering craft where the ideals of personal vocation and racial and national progress were put together. To provide morality, chastity and a desire to be a superior race were to be provided by the mothers only and nobody could do that task better. Women were born to do so.

Motherhood now a ‘science’ was thought through maternal craft courses

A scientific interest was omnipresent and Child Science and The Mothering or Maternal Craft was born. Motherhood was for the first time a ‘science’ that could be thought through courses. Important to note that the notion of maternal instincts, or natural bonds can not be further be removed.

The Child Study Movement, the Child Study Association, the Childhood Society, and the Parents’ National Education Union were all bodies that emerged in this period. They emphasized for the first time the importance of the first year of a child and the possibilities within a child to be realized according only to specific childcare methods and the mothering or maternal craft.

Now,  the mother role…

James Sull for example said that

“fathers rather than mothers should do most of the important observations of the development of the child. Mothers were likely to be  too involved, too sentimental and eulogistic.”

In America there was G. Stanley Hall the first American psychologist and also president of Clark University. He was the one who brought Freud to the US for his first visit and wrote many childcare manuals. He stressed the different development stages of children and the managerial tasks of the mother.

Women had fought their way into college and the first college educated women started to graduate. And it was at the same time that society believed it was absolutely crucial to be college educated to be a mother. And so the diploma of ‘mother’ or the maternal craft was invented. The demands of education were getting so high one needed to study four years to prepare for motherhood.

‘Women cannot conceivably be given an education too broad, too high, or too deep to fit them to become the educated mothers of the future race of men and women born of educated parents. The pity is that we only have four years of the college course to impart such knowledge to women who are to be mothers.

said Martha Carey Thomas, the American educator, suffragist, linguist, and President of Bryn Mawr College, in 1908.

Of course it was too good to be true to be both educated and be a mother and stay at home. Nothing in a woman’s life was more important than motherhood. The cult of motherhood was peaking. The reasons were multiple but are imbedded in its society. There were Darwin’s ideas: The Origin of the Species was published in 1859. And colonialism and the ideas on quality of race to begin with. But the Romanticism and the importance of religion had an equally important influence on the matter of Motherhood.

If you want to move  into the first part of the 19th century, head over to the spiritual education style during 1800 and 1850.

Maternal craft
Joseph Highmore by Joseph Highmore – The Yorck Project 10.000 Meisterwerke der DIRECTMEDIA Licensed under Public Domain via Wikimedia Commons

April 24,2015  |

family life

Work, Religion, and the Threat of Abandonment: Family Life in the Middle Ages

“We are certainly influenced by role models, and if we are surrounded by images of beautiful rich people, we will start to think that to be beautiful and rich is very important – just as in the Middle Ages, people were surrounded by images of religious piety.”

said, Alain de Botton

Child mortality

While birth and childhood is a necessary part of growing up, our views of what childhood and family life should be, has changed throughout recorded history. In the twenty-first century, children are the most treasured people in a household and beacons of hope for the future. The family life of a young child during the Middle Ages, would, on the surface, look similar to what a twenty-first century child would experience. Yet, on a deeper look, most children would have far more knowledge of death than current day children do. Death was omni-present in family life at the time.

During the Middle Ages, a time of economic growth, warfare, and feudalism, childhood was much shorter and far more focused on work than it is today.  It is estimated that nearly one-fourth of children died in their first year of life, and about one-sixth did not live to see their fourth birthday. Generally, life expectancy was fairly dismal by today’s standards as the average life expectancy was 43 for women and 48 for men.

Women, on average, did not live as long because of routine complications during childbirth and from undiagnosed infections afterwards. It is estimated that 20% of women would die giving birth or in their immediate postpartum recovery. The likelihood, then, that a child would grow up experiencing the deaths of parents or fellow siblings was high.

Family life and the forbidden

“What progress we are making. In the Middle Ages they would have burned me. Now they are content with burning my books.”

said Sigmund Freud. The meaning of books has changed. And their influence on our lives. A major difference for children in the Middle Ages is that education during this period was not compulsory. For lower class families, their views of family life and the world were created almost exclusively by the church, which was a major economic force during this period.

There is evidence as early as the seventh century that monasteries took in boys for religious education; these children would live, work, and worship with the monks in preparation for a religious life as a monk or priest. Parents could also send their daughters to nunneries for education if they wished for her to become a nun. Family life as we know it, was here not existent. By the eleventh century, aristocratic families would send their children to established schools outside of religious organizations. Although religion was still a key component to their education, these schools also taught Latin, English, or French.

Work and play

While family life and education was limited, children were encouraged to find a trade early. Between the ages of 12 and 14, children were either put to work on the family farm or inside the house, or they were sent away to be trained for a trade elsewhere. Girls could train under a midwife and assist at births; during the Middle Ages, midwifery required skills to keep both mother and baby healthy. For some of the very poor children who were sent to be apprentices, their experiences were only slightly better than child slavery; apprentices were joined to their masters, who could work them as hard as they were able. Wealthier children (usually boys) had more options, as they could join another aristocratic household as a page, continue on their education in the hopes of joining the church or becoming a lawyer, or undergo military training.

Child slavery and abandonment

Sadly, even these educational options weren’t available to some children. During the Middle Ages, child slavery–along with adult enslavement–was somewhat common across Europe and parts of Asia. Those sold in child slavery came from two different sources: families who willingly abandoned their children and countries at war.

Unlike today, child abandonment was seen as a viable option for families who could not or did not want to keep their child. Without an adoption system in place as many countries have now, families who were overburdened with too many mouths to feed had few resources. Some families were also compelled to abandon their babies and children if they were the products of incest, had birth defects, or would cause too much tension on inheritances. In some cases, the parents would abandon their children at a church, while others (who were desperate for additional money) would sell them into child slavery. Many factors went into the final sale price of these children including if their parents were slaves or free, and the child’s health, gender, age, and size.

Child slavery was also a result of the wars, clashing political factions, and religious struggles of the Middle Ages. During their reign of power (from the 8th-12th centuries), the Vikings collected slaves from Ireland, Russia, Sweden, and beyond. They would often raid monasteries for the young men there and would sell them into child slavery in southern Europe: because they were educated, these boys brought higher prices.

While the flow of adult and child slavery was generally from northern Europe to southern Europe and the Middle East, there are records of Saracen girls being sold into French families in the 1200s. By the end of the Middle Ages, the main sources for child slavery were moving from eastern Europe and the Muslim world and over to Africa, an area that was the focus of the slave trade from the 1500s onward.

Family life and childhood was certainly more difficult and came with more risks that it does today. However, considering the death rates and brutality of the Middle Ages, such treatment of children fits into the larger cultural tone of the era.  And yet, child slavery still exists today. I have to agree with Alexis Herman who states

“If we can’t begin to agree on fundamentals, such as the elimination of the most abusive forms of child labor, then we really are not ready to march forward into the future.”

More on motherhood and childhood in Colonial Times, is be found here.

family life
Woman teaching geometry to male monks. 1309~1316. British Library from its digital collections.Catalogue entry Burney 275. Public Domain.

April 16,2015  |

extended family

Moral education and the extended family governed Motherhood in 1800-1850, not Mother love

Motherhood was about creating the religious and dutiful house

Once the nineteenth century started things changed. There was increased concern with the children’s moral and spiritual development. Science and religion will much determine this century and this will have an impact on childcare. The ideal of domesticity was reinforced by the French revolution and the Napoleonic wars on the continent. These were times of patriotism, loyalty and reproduction of striding and defending soldiers and soldier wives.

Mothers needed to look after the moral and spiritual development and their good example would shape the mind and hearts of the children, less Mother love itself. The extended family played an important role. And propaganda towards a religious and dutiful house was what mothers left alone kept going. They were told that taking care of the children would be just as useful and sacred to society than their husbands fighting to defend the country.

The importance of the extended family and no mother love

However there is no mention at all of the emotional attachment from the child to the mother and dangers of separation of the mother were simply not an issue at the time. Members of an extended family did  often most of the work. Mother love seemed not to exist at all. That was not before Freud would arrive on the scene. Ideas of mothers have changed radically with the role of women in general. By that time mothers were needed to stay at home but not for sentimental reasons. Too much sentimentality and softness could even be bad for children. The mother did not only to look after the morality of the children but also had a responsibility in providing a safe haven and refuge for her husband who worked ‘outside’ in a corrupt and hard world. Yes, her responsibility was also making the home peaceful, harmonious and uplifting for husbands and children which is still different than the emphasis in Mother love we have today. She was the good spine for all relatives. With the help of the extended family, she ‘managed’ family life and children.

The appearance of childcare books

By the mid nineteenth century a massive amount of books in childcare debarked. All with a similar message: the moral and spiritual welfare. The books came with loads of good advice.

Mothers are the best teachers for their children and this job is the most rational and pleasing employments in which human mankind can engage’


‘It ought… to enter into the domestic policy of every parent to make her child feel that home is the happiest place in the world; that to imbue them with this precious home-feeling is one of the choicest gifts a parent can bestow

are two examples of two very popular childcare books in that time, Advice to the Teens by Saac Taylor of Ongar , from 2nd London ed., Boston, 1820 (p.64) and H. Montgomery Hyde. Mr. and Mrs. Beeton, re-edited in London, 1951 (p. 98).

Although this might sound similar to the advice experts would give today the reality is very different. Mothers were cold and intolerant to their children. They were very little with their children either because they were educated by nurses or extended family if they were at least middle class or the mother and sometimes the children would be working. Mother love would not be useful or provide the needed results. The duty to love was more prevalent than the love itself. Children were treated like guests when entering in the living room if there was one and could eat in the kitchen with the servants.

But all in all, the nineteenth century had been good to children in general because it was the first time since long that they were not seen anymore as small adults. It began to be less obvious to let them go to work for fourteen hours a day. Childcare, a new science, was for some interesting as a new fashion and for others a tool for a better soul or a way to be (seen as) a religiously good and faithful person. All good reasons really if this period ended up providing better living conditions for children.

Children and their needs appear in literature

Since the end of the eighteenth century there had never before been so many books about children. Literature in general was unconcerned with children. It did not exist as an important or continuous theme. It actually simply did not exist at all. But that changed. In the written world, the child became the symbol of creativity in an increasingly mechanical and industrial society. The child was pure and innocent in a world of bigger communities and alienation. The child represented escape and refuge because his world was smaller, simpler and perceived as happier. William Blake, Wordsworth, Dickens and Mark Twain all used these themes when writing about children our childhood.

The birth of the family unit versus the extended family

One could say that from the nineteenth century family and children took a bigger dimension in most parent’s lives. The unit “family” increased its significance in opposition to the “larger community”  or extended family of this industrial area. The family had never had such a big importance in society nor did it exercise such an influence on it. The economic dependence on a larger community or extended family had diminished and people organized themselves more around a few members and intimacy and privacy became important notions.

Sentimentality, feelings, small habits and routine, gave comfort and identity, were remembered at old age. Family’s idealization had started. The family before was loosely together and open and unprotective of privacy. A family (and not the extended family) existed no longer for only materialistic and economical reasons.

If you want to move  into the second part of the 19th century, head over to the more disciplinary education during 1850 and 1900.

extended family
Eleven Stages Of Womanhood 1840s. Licensed under Public Domain via Wikimedia Common

April 6,2015  |

being a mother

Is there a biological instinct for becoming or being a mother?

Are we primed or urged into being a mother? One would think so.  The immediate answer is yes. If not our species would not continue. However, we can easily see today is that women are giving more thought to having children and being a mother then ever before. So in point of fact, the immediate answer might be wrong. Let us have a look at how the experts define the words.

Defining the word ‘Instinct’

According to the Encyclopaedia Britannica,

“The words instinct and instinctive have borne a variety of meanings in the many different contexts in which they have been used. (…) For example, instinct can refer to reflexive or stereotyped behaviour, to an intuitive hunch, to a congenital aptitude or disposition, to a deep-seated impulsion (e.g., “maternal instinct”), to ways of acting that do not appear to have involved learning or experience in their development, or to knowledge that is inborn or subconsciously acquired. The concept of instinct is complicated by the fact that it ranges across behavioral, genetic, developmental, motivational, functional, and cognitive senses.”

Darwin was also well aware that the term instinct was used in several different senses. At the beginning of the chapter “Instinct” in his masterpiece On the Origin of Species (1859), Darwin declined to attempt to define the term:

“Several distinct mental actions are commonly embraced by this term; but everyone understands what is meant, when it is said that instinct impels the cuckoo to migrate and to lay its eggs in other birds’ nests. An action, which we ourselves require experience to enable us to perform, when performed by an animal, more especially by a very young one, without experience, and when performed by many individuals in the same way, without their knowing for what purpose it is performed, is usually said to be instinctive. But I could show that none of these characters are universal.”

Prudency with ‘Instinct’

Darwin was prudent with the word ‘Instinct’ and so was Freud. Although Sigmund Freud wrote in German, he used the German word Instinkt infrequently (here is an interesting article on Helen Deutsch, a colleague of Freud). He instead relied upon the term Trieb. While Instinkt generally refers to an automatic, unlearned response to a specific stimulus and hence is close to the English reflex, Trieb connotes urge, impulse and desire—what in motivational psychology is called drive. Freud took early on the biological view that there are two basic instinctive forces: self-preservation and reproduction. In 1915 Freud published a paper titled Instincts and Their Vicissitudes,” where the self-preservation instinct virtually disappeared and sexual appetite dominated.

Even today, behavioral scientists, if they use the word instinct at all, generally restrict its use to specific patterns of behavior of animals. They rarely use it for being a mother.

Urge for being a mother

So we know from Freud we need to dissociate sexual appetite and urge for being a mother. Women today have no longer children as an outcome of sexual intercourse.  This dissociation can best be illustrated with figures on delaying pregnancy. Figures published in the beginning of the 21st century by the UK Office for National Statistics indicate that the pregnancy rate for women aged 40 and over has risen by more than 40 per cent in the last decade. Over the same period, pregnancy rates for women under 30 fell by nearly 15 per cent. (Laurie Taylor & Matthew Taylor, What are children for?, 2003, Short books, UK, p.52). If there was a biological instinct that told women to desire children or being a mother, then somebody must have changed the hour of alarm with a couple of decennia.

Not only are women delaying their motherhood but they decide also to have less children. To replace the European population couples need to have 2.1 children. Spain leads the way in Western Europe with a rate of 1.22 per woman, followed closely by Italy with 1.25 and Greece with 1.30. The UK has 1.64. Although France is proudly leading with 1.89, in general the northern countries have a higher rate than the southern. This is not at all surprisingly because the northern countries give women with children a different social role and much more support, not only with childcare.  Being a mother  or the social role at least is defined differently. The fertility rate across Europe is now 1.5. Without any changes in the current rates, and without  massive immigration, the population of the European Union will shrink from its current 375 million to 75 million by 2200.

Women have changed and will continue to change in the next decennials without a doubt. They chocked us before. To delay childcare or to only want a singleton must have come close to bravery considering the social condemnation. Being a mother of only one child has become much more acceptable : one family out of five in the US has a singleton. Women will continue to chock traditional audiences when voluntarily having children alone, with another woman or not at all. They will continue to divorce men because he was unsupportive in family life and childcare, the number one divorce reason nowadays.

Maybe nature has only foreseen sexual desires to make sure our species continue. Once a baby is born, nature has foreseen physiological reactions to make sure it gets fed and survives. But anything beyond becomes much more blurry.

being a mother
Nursing area sign by Pete Unseth. Licensed under CC BY-SA 4.0 via Wikimedia Commons

April 2,2015  |