Monday, April 07, 2008

It's Your Mother's Fault



Moms and psychiatry have a long history.

Freudian psychoanalysts like to talk about moms. "Tell me about your mother." Oh, those Oedipal sexual longings....

Winnecott, who gave us the concepts of the "holding environment" and the "transitional object" talked of the "Good enough mother"-- an imperfect creature who could still raise normal children.

Melanie Klein
gave us the good breast, a way for the infant to internalize dear mama.

Bruno Bettleheim gave us those Refrigerator Mothers who caused their children to be autistic while Theodore Lidz gave us Schizophrenogenic Mothers. Oy.

I could go on and on, if only Roy would let me. While we've moved beyond blaming mothers for autism (now we have vaccines to blame until we name the next culprit-- please don't let it be chocolate), we still believe that mothering is a key ingredient in who a person becomes. Good mothers have good kids, bad kids must have bad mothers. No matter how you dice it, we all believe in cause and effect, and we all can write the script backwards. An entitled, self-centered criminal must have had a mother who spoiled him and didn't set limits. I remember my own mother saying, "When you see a child hitting someone, you know someone is hitting that child at home." (My mother read Dr. Spock, she wasn't a scientist).

It's really easy to write the story backwards, and in fact, as psychiatrists, that's what we do. As a mother (have I mentioned that I have two teenagers?) it's not so easy to write the story forwards. If I do "X" my child will become this type of person and if I do "Y" my child will become that type of person. It doesn't work that way, trust me. If it did, we'd all read the instruction manual and have a perfect world.

So this, I've decided, is the paradox of today's world, now that we are relieved of refrigerator mothers but not bad breasts: There are lots of things that society tells us we need to do for our children to grow them good. Mozart in the womb, and that's where it starts. No drugs, no tobacco, no caffeine, no artificial sweeteners, no alcohol: the perfect internal environment. And once they pop out, there are all sorts of do's and don'ts: what chemicals they inhale, what they watch (pg, pg-13, violence and sex and how long have you been sitting in front of that boob tube, junior?), how they behave, say please and thank you, not those violent video games and what are you watching on U-Tube? Montessori this, Rebounders that, chicken nuggets are good, chicken nuggets are bad, make sure they get enough sleep and not too much MySpace, quality time, licensed day care providers who build self-esteem, car seats and safety gates and all the right influences and none of the wrong. Talk to your kids, the TV says so, the billboards say so, talk to them about sex and drugs and God and country and the earlier the better (--see, I can go on and on).

Then they turn in to teenagers and they figure out that the word "controlling" is extremely pejorative in our culture. What's worse than a Controlling Mother? Even a bad breast doesn't sound so bad. Are you a controlling mother? What do you mean I have to eat vegetables? Or be home when? And that's the paradox.

In the world of teenagers and psychiatrists, it's hard to win as a mom.


You know you've been blogging a long time when....Roy followed me and added links in this post to past blog posts I've written-- I clicked on some of them and realized I don't even remember having written them. How does he? A man who needs a longer ToDo List!