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

Stages of Child development

Objects of Affection – The Humanizing Power of Love and Stages of Child development

Introducing the world to the concept of the “good enough” mother really took a lot of pressure off parenting. Pediatrician and psychoanalyst Donald Winnicott delivered over 50 BBC radio broadcasts from 1943 to 1962 on the stages of child development  and parenting.

His work as a pediatrician allowed him to observe children at all stages of child development. He wrote about his observations in great detail because he believed that the most subtle and intricate communications between mother and child often proved to be the most important. For example, emotions can be communicated through the quality of a touch or the tone of a voice even more effectively than through words.

While he viewed the relationship between mother and child to be of the utmost importance in the development of a healthy sense of self, mothers were not expected to be perfect. Rather, he considered it sufficient if a parent provided enough consistency to allow the child to work through conflicting feelings of anger and disappointment over (imperfectly) unmet needs. Successfully working through these feelings, the child would eventually reach the realistic conclusion that while people can be trusted to care for you, they are not able to provide for your every need.

Stages of Child Development —Undifferentiated Unity

During the first of the stages of child development which he called the “undifferentiated unity” he believed that the

“mother’s technique of holding, of bathing, of feeding, added up to the child’s first idea of the mother”.

The child’s first idea of the mother is then expanded to include the rest of the family and the outside world. He was the first to provide a detailed description of the physical process of picking up, holding, and gently putting a baby down, and stress the importance of that process in the healthy development of future relationships, including the relationship with the self.

When a parent responds to a baby’s expressions of feeling and self-motivated actions in a reassuring and welcoming way, the baby develops a healthy emotional confidence. As a result, the child doesn’t learn to view emotions as dangerous, to be controlled or avoided. Experiencing and expressing genuine emotion is one of the first stages of child development towards the creation of a healthy separate identity. It also contributes to a child experiencing its own body as a secure place in which to live.

Such expression contributes to a child’s feeling that they exist and that their actions can affect the world around them in meaningful ways. It also contributes to a child experiencing its own body as a secure place in which to live. For Winnicott, the role of the psychotherapist was that of creating a substitute “holding” environment that the patient may not have experienced as a child.

Separation and Disillusionment

Winnicott referred to the second stage (withing the stages of child development) as the “transition” stage, in which disillusionment takes place. The child recognizes both its own separateness and that the parent also has other duties and relationships. It is during this stage that the “good-enough” parent slowly moves away from the child in order to foster a sense of independence.

According to Winnicott, the role of the parent in this stage is to allow the child to express negative emotions without responding negatively. This encourages the child to trust the parent and learn to adapt to their true emotions. Part of this adaptation is the process of transferring their feelings for the parent onto an object that serves as an emotional substitute.

Unlike Freud, Winnicott believed that all humans have a true self and a false self, and that the false self is developed during the transition stage. The false self seeks to anticipate and comply with the needs and demands of others as a defense and survival mechanism. This self, though false, is viewed not as unhealthy, but as a necessary adaptation to society, since realistically, a high degree of economic inter-dependence makes true independence a rare occurrence.

When a child projects anger and frustration onto the parent, the parents’ response to those emotions determines whether the child will “introject” or accept those emotions as parts themselves or learn to deny them. In the third stage of child development, the “relative independence” stage, the child has a healthy sense of its true self, as well as a false self that it feels comfortable presenting to the world.

Playing and Reality

In one of his most popular books, “Playing and Reality” he explores the origins of creativity and ways to develop it. He asserts that play is crucial to developing an authentic self because play is when people do what they genuinely love. People feel most spontaneously alive and real when they’re participating in activities they’ve freely chosen and are keenly interested in.

Society has changed a great deal since his time, but for parents whose true selves want to provide their children with a safe place to become their true selves, his work remains timeless. While the perfect parent doesn’t exist, it’s a relief to know that playing can help make us good enough.

Stages of Child development
Objects of Affection Donald Winnicott Laura Dethiville, Winnicott Association



maternal energy

Strong women and Maternal Energy: Leaders of the Pack

Female social archetypes and maternal energy

Although it was published in 1991, the best-selling “Women Who Run With the Wolves: Myths and Stories of The Wild Woman Archetype” by Clarissa Pinkola Estes is still selling today. She does for womankind what Carl Jung did for mankind by expanding female social archetypes and discussing creatively maternal energy. An archetype, or manifestation of a part of the collective unconscious, is defined by the culture and personal context in which it emerges in the form of images and motifs. In Estes’ view

“what we call masculine development is the ability to take ideas from one’s inner life and implement them in the outer world.”

She then goes on to ascribe that very ability to feminine archetypes, most notably, that of the mother and  maternal energy.

Degrees of strength and power

Nobody recognizes the degree of strength, and power, necessary to be a mother more than she does. She describes her experience as a mother like this:

“When I was raising my children I had the feeling that I was in a dugout canoe going down a river filled with filth and on fire with snipers on both shores. And I had these three precious bundles who were my daughters. It was my job to get all the way down this river with them alive. Not drawn into the murk of the water, not killed off the drugs or alcohol or bad relationships or phantasmagoric ideas that would lead them to their destruction.”

Power comes in many forms. It is often defined by success in business or politics, as the top ten on the Forbes 2014 list of the 100 most powerful women in the world clearly shows. However, knowledge is also a form of power, as evidenced by the inclusion of Lila Tretikov, the executive director of the Wikimedia Foundation, who oversees one of the most popular and informative websites in the world. The ability to influence others is also a form of power. One article lists Burmese social activist Aung San Suu Kyi as among the 25 most influential women in the world, despite the fact that she was imprisoned at the time it was written. Energy can be power, like maternal energy.

Mothers and influence

However, societies too often view mothers as less powerful women, and believe that by becoming mothers, women must sacrifice their power to care for their children. A good illustration of that belief was the intense scrutiny Marissa Mayer, then pregnant, was subjected to when she was appointed as CEO of Yahoo.

Despite the fact that most psychologists regard mothers as the most powerful influence on a human being’s development, big business and the media continue to downplay the importance of the power of motherhood and the force of maternal energy. The good news is that despite economic devaluation, another form of imprisonment, the power and influence of motherhood remains undiminished.

In fact, many mothers are channeling that increase in power into social activism. The International Museum of Women launched a project called “Mama Power” that features many strong mothers. For example, in 2011, the Nobel Peace Prize was awarded to three women, including Tawakkul Karman, a Yemeni woman who is also an activist, journalist, and mother of three. Recognising the potential of powerful women to change the world for the better the Nobel committee was quoted as saying

“We cannot achieve democracy and lasting peace in the world unless women acquire the same opportunities as men to influence developments at all levels of society.”

The trap of unrealistic ideals

More than twenty years ago, Estes wisely observed that

“Only the archetype itself can withstand such projections such as ever-able, all giving, eternally energetic. We may try to emulate these, but they are ideals, not achievable by humans, and not meant to be. Yet the trap requires that women exhaust themselves trying to achieve these unrealistic levels.”

We as mothers would do well to remember that the true value of power and influence cannot be determined by employers or the media. It is determined, rather, by the amount of progress their often heroic efforts in the face of adversity have made towards constructing a world in which the lives of all children matter.

maternal energy
Queen Mother, Pendant Mask Iyoba, 16th century, Nigeria, Benin, Culture Edo peoples. Metropolitan Museum of Art
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
Child Psychologist

Child Psychologist John Bowlby Presents: The Guilt Factor

Child psychologist John Bowlby

Bowlby is known primarily for his theories on bonding and attachment. For all working mothers consumed by guilt for leaving their children in the care of others, you now have a name to attach to that guilt. Child psychiatrists often hold differing opinions on children’s emotional development, which can be confusing for parents who want to raise their children in the way that will be most beneficial to them.

Learning about the differing views of a child psychologist can be helpful, if only to discover the few things upon which they can all agree.

The Development of Attachment Theory

To arrive at a universal truth regarding human development and behavior, Bowlby felt it was necessary to utilize several fields of scientific inquiry rather than rely on existing theories of psychoanalysis alone. Psychoanalysis focused on what it regarded as the resolution of childhood fantasies, which Bowlby regarded as real life experiences. His research methods included evolutionary biology, developmental psychology, cognitive science, control systems theory and ethology. Bowlby’s interest in ethology, the study of human behavior and social organization from a biological perspective, led to the development of evolutionary psychology.

As a child psychologist, Bowlby’s theory rests on the concept of monotropy, or attachment to a single individual, which he believed served as a prototype for all future interpersonal interactions. This prototype provides a model for trustworthiness, a sense of personal value and effectiveness in achieving mutually satisfying interactions. He called the lack of such a consistent attachment “maternal deprivation” which he believed could lead to cognitive, social, and emotional difficulties, and in extreme cases, affectionless psychopathy.

To test his theory, in 1944, he conducted a study in which he interviewed 44 adolescents remanded to a juvenile detention facility for stealing. His control group consisted of 44 other youths referred for emotional problems, but who had not yet committed any crimes. The study found that

  • over half of the first group had experienced a separation from their mothers of over six months before the age of 5,
  • 32% of them displayed affectionless psychopathy
  • only 2 percent of the control group had experienced such a separation and none displayed affectionless psychopathy

The study, however, relied primarily on the memories of those interviewed and did not take a number of other variables, such as into account, such as income, education, diet, and other social influences.

Zoologist Robert Hinde conducted several experiments with rhesus monkeys in which he studied their emotional and behavioural reactions to separation from their mothers, as well as their interactions with other monkeys.

In 1959, Harry Harlow, inspired by Bowlby’s attachment theory, conducted an experiment in which a group of rhesus monkeys were bottle-fed by surrogate mothers made of wire mesh covered with terrycloth. These monkeys, in contrast with monkeys that experienced meaningful interaction with their biological mothers during feeding, demonstrated aggressive, antisocial behaviors in adulthood. The results of these studies supported Bowlby’s hypothesis that

“the infant and young child should experience a warm, intimate, and continuous relationship with his mother (or permanent mother substitute) in which both find satisfaction and enjoyment.”

Critics of Attachment Theory—Nature Versus Nurture

Psychology researcher J.R. Harris, in her book “The Nurture Assumption”, asserts that genetics and peer interaction play a much larger role in a child’s emotional development than child psychologist Bowlby’s theory took into consideration. Using studies of twins who had been separated at birth, yet displayed remarkably similar characteristics of personality despite differences in environment, Harris demonstrated the importance of genetic predisposition as a factor in human development.

Tiffany Field, medical researcher and child psychologist, believes that Bowlby’s theory relied too heavily on behavior exhibited during stressful separation rather than on the quality of daily interactions. Like Harris, she also felt that his theory did not take into account the human ability to form multiple attachments over the course of a lifetime.

Social Context of Attachment Theory

When judging the merits of any theory regarding human development, it is important to consider the social context in which the theory gains wide acceptance. It is interesting to note that at the time that Bowlby’s theory gained wide acceptance, women were being discouraged from working in order to increase the number of jobs available for British soldiers returning home from war.

Any child psychologist agrees that it’s important for children to be able to successfully bond with others. However, human children, unlike the monkeys in the experiment, are not faced with the choice between their mothers or a lifeless wire mesh surrogate holding a bottle. Meaningful positive interaction in the form of eye contact, smiling, and physical affection can result in the child bonding with a variety of people, including fathers, grandparents, siblings, or even neighbours.

Mothers who must return to work almost immediately after giving birth rely on family, friends, or day-care providers to care for their babies. While Bowlby’s research focused on the potential harmful effects of separation, other research indicates that the more people a child feels safe and comfortable with, the less separation anxiety they will experience. Many children even develop emotional ties to a blanket or teddy bear which serves as a physical link between them and their emotional “homes”.

While there is still some disagreement about whether the modern nuclear family is the result of the industrial revolution, most people agree that it can isolate people from other family and relationships. This can result in more pressure placed on each family member, especially mothers. Isolation can also result in children learning fewer negotiation and conflict resolution skills, which are so necessary to successfully navigate within society as a whole.

Any child psychologist would agree that it is the pleasurable quality of interaction that is most conducive to children forming meaningful attachments. So rather than feeling guilty for those times when you’re too overwhelmed to radiate happiness during those interactions, view them as opportunities for your child to further develop other valuable emotional attachments.

Here you you will find more about attachment and bonding, and here are some extra sources:

Child Psychologist
Maternal Caress, Mary Cassatt, 1890–91, Credit Line Gift of Paul J. Sachs, 1916. Metropolitan Museum of Art
Baby Care Guide

Martha Sears, Co-creator of Baby Care Guide and Controversy

Martha Sears is an American Registered Nurse, an author, a wife, and most importantly, a mother of eight. When you google her name, it’s like being transported back to the 1950’s, where she (only) appears as the wife and co-author of Dr. William Sears. But we all know who does the majority of the actual work in hospitals, and most often it’s not who claims the most credit or gets paid the most.

However, the Sears’ co-authored books, or baby care guide and do a good job in leaving the one-size-fits-all authoritarian parenting methods of the 1950’s behind. Although she is the co-author of 25 books, Martha Sears often refers to herself as a “professional mother”.

Creating Controversy

The couple are perhaps most well-known for coining the phrase “attachment parenting” with their 2001 book The Attachment Parenting Book: A Commonsense Guide to Understanding and Nurturing Your Baby. According to this baby care guide , the six B’s of parenting are bonding, breastfeeding, baby-wearing, bedding, belief in the communicative value of baby’s cry, and learning to beware “baby trainers”.

While their books and baby care guide (s) have become more secular in nature over the years, their 1997 book focused on parenting within the framework of the principles of Christianity. Because their methods focus more on respecting children than demanding respect from them, “The Discipline Book” stirred quite a lot of controversy, religious as well as philosophical.

In addition to coming under fire on religious grounds that their methods spared the proverbial rod, feminists have also taken issue with their methods. Feminist writer Erica Jong compared the Sears to

“condescending colonialists in love with noble savagery”,

and others have also voiced objections. Their claim is that because of the emphasis on breastfeeding until the child itself decides to stop, rather than being weaned by the mother, the majority of parental responsibility is assigned to women. Some have also questioned whether children raised according to this philosophy will be emotionally prepared to make autonomous decisions as adults.

A 2012 Time magazine cover of a picture of a mother breastfeeding a toddler fueled the controversy, as well as winning some converts.

Baby Care Guide and Methods

In the Sears’ method and baby care guide, belief in the communicative value of your baby’s cry is essential. Using the information communicated by their babies, parents then develop and maintain an individualized transition ritual which serves as the key to successful baby sleep training. Here’s a short video that encapsulates their view as well as offering a few suggestions. The controversial aspect of their baby care guide  and advice on sleep training is the suggestion that babies sleeping with their parents, or “co-sleeping” creates a sense of security and should be encouraged rather than forbidden.

One of the things that parents love most about their books is that no program is either proscribed or prescribed, but rather, parents are urged to develop their own routines based on their own family’s personalities and preferences. According to an article in the Guardian, Michelle Mattesini, a mother of two, set up the Attachment Parenting UK website and runs an AP support group. She says that

“We have single and married mothers. Our youngest member is 21 and we have women in their 40s. There are people who are unable to breastfeed or find co-sleeping doesn’t work for them.”

In answer to feminist objections, numerous studies have proven the benefits of breast milk over formula as well as the emotional and psychological benefits of physical closeness during the bonding process. However, that breast milk can be pumped and put into bottles so that fathers can play a more equal role in parental responsibilities. Fathers too, can carry babies in slings to the office and learn to “multi-task”.

Here is an article about parenting in the fifties.

Baby Care Guide

Social Change of the Mother Role

Mothers vs. Feminism: Social Change of the Mother Role

“We think back through our mothers if we are women.”
Virginia Woolf

Feminism has made progress on numerous critical issues in women’s lives — but not all.  Social Change of the Mother Role was spared. The philosophy of women’s liberation has surprisingly little to say on the topic of motherhood. As a result, mothering has remained a bastion of oppression for most women. Patrice DiQuinzio in The Impossibility of Mothering asks questions like,

Is liberated mothering possible? Does motherhood have to limit women’s options and divide their interests?

She says no and believes we have to think a little differently if we want to start moving in the right direction. She believes we are stuck and have not envisioned a social change of the mother role yet. The book considers how people like Simone de Beauvoir, Julia Kristeva, Nancy Choderow and Adrienne Rich struggle with this dilemma of difference in analyzing mothering, encompassing the paradoxes concerning gender and representation they represent and considering social change of the mother role.

Feminism and Mothering: A Conflict of Interest

Mothering can be a major source of oppression in women education and working lives. Despite the fundamental importance of mothering for virtually all societies and individuals, mothering work remains undervalued and unpaid.

Women overwhelmingly shoulder the burden of childrearing labor and are judged harshly for their failures as mothers, even when those failures are the result of malfunctioning social structures. In today’s male-dominated cultures, mothering tends to limit the material independence of women, and often entails harsh psychological regimes that control rather than empower women as mothers.

From reading many of Western feminism’s star thinkers, such as Simone de Beauvoir and Adrienne Rich, we might think, Does all this mean motherhood is bad for women? Is it “impossible” from a feminist standpoint? Modern feminism, DiQuinzio says, has biased itself against mothering and women’s work in the domestic sphere, preferring to define liberation as progress in women education and the labor market.

But this individualist approach leaves mothers out in the cold. As a result, little or no feminist progress has been made with respect to mothering. Compared to women education as workers, women as mothers continue to be held back by centuries-old sexist norms, laws and behaviors that make their lives more difficult. This uneven progress against sexism has left working mothers with more work and less freedom, as they try to balance career and domestic responsibilities without compensatory resources.

A Politics of Mothering: Social Change of the Mother Role

Mothering isn’t going away any time soon,

says DiQuinzio.

It’s time to develop women education so as to make progress in this key area of female experience. Is there a way to embrace mothering without reinforcing patriarchal ideas about how women are born to be society’s happily unpaid child-rearers? Can feminism theorize the liberation of mothers?

If so, DiQuinzio says,

the path forward must deviate from Western feminism’s obsession with individualist success and its pathological fear of exploring the ways in which women differ from men, especially as mothers.

Feminists have rightly condemned puritanical gender ideologies that define women as little more than their ability to make and raise babies – the ideology of “essential motherhood.” But should feminism deny all forms of sex-based difference? Doing so risks trammeling over highly gendered experiences like mothering, DiQuinzio argues. Instead, feminist theory should unashamedly take up the unique differences that drive some women to become and identify as mothers.

Women Education and the Liberated Mother

Western feminists have so far failed to come up with an effective politics of mothering and have not defined social change of the mother role. Instead, they have wrestled with motherhood as a problem that needs to be solved. But when we look at real women’s experiences, it looks like motherhood is not the problem – it is the social overdetermination of mothering.

Women are not going to stop being mothers any time soon, and it’s not clear that the end of mothering is a feminist goal worth pursuing. But how we define mothers and their work, the circumstances of childbirth and mothering, girls’ and women education, and the support available to moms for the resolution of their distinctive problems can and should be questioned as a matter of feminist strategy.

This is DiQuinzio’s thesis.

Mothering is a feminist issue. It is time for women, mothers, and feminists alike to challenge not only the patriarchal ideology of essential motherhood, but also the individualism that obstructs justice in this critical arena of women’s lives.

Social Change of the Mother Role
Hamlet and His Mother, Eugène Delacroix, 1841. Metropolitan Museum of Art
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

Nurturing reactions to a child: from past to present

According to psychologists, the parent and child relationship has evolved dramatically over time. Lloyd Demause claims,

“The further back in history one goes, the lower level of child care, and the more likely children are to be killed, abandoned, beaten, terrorized, and sexually abused”

Basic three mothering or nurturing reactions

Children have generally provoked three responses from adults throughout history: projective, reversal, and empathetic reactions. Mothering or Nurturing has gone from protecting the parent from the evils of the child to protecting the child and preparing him for modern life. It is important for modern mothers to understand how viewing childhood over several generations has drastically changed the way in which we parent. While you are up five times during the night with your 4-month old you may wonder how mothers have coped with this over time.

Projective Reaction

In the past when responding to a child’s demands an adult would project themselves and their own unconscious onto the child. Instead of identifying the baby as its own separate being mothers would see their children as a part of them. Because of this the children were essentially an extension of their parents which needed to be controlled.

This type of reaction makes guilt impossible when disciplining the children because the parents see it as punishing themselves. When the child was beaten the parent was actually beating himself and felt no guilt at controlling this evil. This thought process made child abuse and beatings common even for trivial offenses. Children and especially infants were believed to be very susceptible to turning totally evil and were often tied up, swaddled, and scared into behaving appropriately. Some churches even insisted,

“that if a baby merely cried it was committing a sin,”

This type of parenting causes a limited sense of responsibility for caring for the children and a complete lack of empathy which often leads to such abuses or abandoned. There is no nurturing mother here. Projection mothering also leads to a lack of guilt when the children are involved in an accident. Injuries suffered by the children were seen as injuries or punishment for something the parent did wrong. Without any guilt there was no need to take action to prevent future accidents and children were often left home alone.

Reversal Reaction

The reversal reaction occurs when the parents view the children as existing in order to satisfy the adult’s needs. In other words the adult and child roles are reversed and the child is expected to provide the parent with love, nourishment, and protection. The nurturing is reversed. According to the International Child and Youth Care Network this reversal reaction often involves the adult using the child as a substitute for an adult figure from the parent’s past.

This type of mothering or nurturing often results in child abuse when the child is unable to fulfill this parental role expectation. Children of the past were commonly expected to meet financial, sexual, or emotional needs of the parents making child labor and sexual abuse much more frequent. It was common in the Middle Ages and Roman times for children to wait on their parents at meal times and live the life of a servant and literally be nurturing the parents.

Empathetic Reaction

The evolution of mothering has brought us to the final reaction, an empathetic one. Without projections this reaction occurs when the adult is able to correctly identify the child’s need by regressing to the level of the child. The complete focus is turned onto the child rather than an adult-centered reaction like projection and reversal.

There are two main points about this reaction which differ from the previous two. The first factor is that adults began to believe that children possessed souls. This in turn meant that the children were considered individual beings with individual needs. Physically controlling and beating children turned into being involved in the child’s upbringing and training the child. The modern mother experiences extreme empathetic and nurturing reactions and today’s view on parenting explains that the child knows their needs better than the parent. Parent and child work together to ensure all the needs are fulfilled. The parent has become the child’s servant and the parent is nurturing the child.

It can make you feel inadequate at mothering assuming that during the past people held children and babies in the same high regard that we do today and managed to pull off significantly more chores. The real truth is that mothers were able to get so many other things done because they felt little responsibility for caring for their children and mostly left them to play alone.

It is important for us modern mothers to give ourselves a break and remind ourselves that our children are growing up in a time period where they are getting their needs satisfied and receiving the best care that we can give them. Relax…

Baby’s Back, Mary Cassatt, 1890, Credit Line H. O. Havemeyer Collection, Bequest of Mrs. H. O. Havemeyer, 1929. Metropolitan Museum of Art
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