Typos p. 97: Eardly [= Eardley]; p. 97: Op. cit. pp. [= Op. cit. pp.]; p. 103: Thornstein [= Thorstein]; p. 108: feminity [= femininity]; p. 116: authorites [= authorities]
The Attitude of Parents
English and American parents will be my chief concern in this chapter; for although, owing to the slavish imitation of England abroad, inspired by two centuries of English pecuniary prestige, foreigners may find many of my caps fitting them also, I disclaim sufficient knowledge of foreign parents as a whole the French excepted to be able usefully to discuss them.
Now, in the very air they breathe, as I have sufficiently shown, English and American parents inevitably become infected with the common prepossession in favour of childlike "innocence" and "purity." They are, therefore, in any event, prone to be child-adulators. But, as parents, they are in addition subject to a specific reinforcement of this prepossession, thanks to a number of influences, all of which are not immediately obvious.
Among the obvious are the following:
1. Self-love. This inevitably becomes extended to those objects, especially children, which belong to, are part of, an expression, or a result of self. This factor influences the father, but it is above all potent with the mother. Freud saw in the love of parents for their children the highest expression of Narcissistic love, and Dr. Helene Deutsch, in her Psychoanalyse der Weiblichen Sexualfunktionen, p. 78, declares that in women this Narcissistic relationship to the child is, so to speak, biologically predetermined (biologisch vorgezeichnet).
For this reason, if for no other, it is important that women should start child-bearing early, or certainly not later than the years recommended by the distinguished gynæcologists,
If then we consider the major rôle of the mother, during the early years of childhood, in adjusting her offspring to reality, the recent increase of juvenile delinquency, in countries where most women marry relatively late, may be partly accounted for. For an average of 26 years is late in this sense. It means that the first child-birth can only occur at least four years later than the last optimal year for the uneventful birth of the first child.
I shall, in a later chapter, adduce the testimony of many authorities to the effect of the importance of the mother's rôle in the early years of childhood. For the time being, suffice it to quote that eminent authority, Dr. Kate Friedlander, who says, "The power which the mother has at her disposal during these formative years is very great indeed, and much will depend on the way in which it is used." Later on, she adds, "If the power of the mother over the child at this early age is used in a rational way, the antisocial instinctive urges will be modified into socially acceptable attitudes and characteristics without too much loss of instinctive energy." (Op. cit. pp. 36 and 67. See also p. 146 for a particularly emphatic passage to the same effect).
As to the continued increase of juvenile delinquency, the reader can consult the Daily Press of 11.6.47, which reports a statement made by Sir Harold Scott, Metropolitan Police
I shall return to this question and to the responsibility of the mother in the ultimate character-formation of her child, in a later chapter, when it is hoped that the reader will bear the above remarks in mind. Nor can I sufficiently emphasize the fact that as, in a book of this compass, it is quite impossible to present all the data available in support of my thesis, I have found it impracticable to quote more than the bare minimum which would appear to the reader sufficient to justify my general conclusions.
2. Despite all the frenzied haste of the romantic attachment which, in "free" countries, ruled by Modern Thought, leads young people into marriages, without any guidance or advice from experienced seniors, mutual love sometimes persists between the parties to such matches for an appreciable period after their marriage. When this happens their mutual love tends to make the children (or now, more often, the child) they have appear precious in a way that strange children are not.
3. The inveterate will to ascendancy in all men and women inclines parents, in any event, to set their own offspring above those of their neighbour, no matter what the true relative value of the two families may be. Self-esteem alone ensures this result. For even if Beryl's hair does not curl as sweetly as Daphne's next door, she has other sterling qualities which establish her superiority.
4. Our own child, moreover, is to a large extent the product of our own labours, prudence, vigilance and disbursements. And, since it is natural to esteem an object in proportion to its cost to us, we tend, apart from other considerations, to be attached to our own child with a passion
The less obvious reasons for the adulation of their own children by parents, some of which are comparatively modern, will probably be felt by the average adult to be less palatable than the above. They are:
1. As hinted in a previous chapter, the attitude of adulation towards children may and often does gain strength from the sex-phobia of adults. Regarding the sexual embrace as something shameful, or at least as belonging to the "lower" part of our natures and our anatomy, they tend to look on children, who cannot yet have any practical knowledge of it, as in some way higher and cleaner than themselves. And, since the parents of a child in sex-phobic societies are, owing to their relationship, constantly reminded of "that side of life," they are the more prone to venerate the child the more acutely they are conscious of the regrettable preliminaries which led to its appearance. They cannot help themselves. They contract these feelings from the air they breathe. Nor, even at this hour, can these feelings be dismissed as "old fashioned," because, in addition to the evidence pointing to their prevalence in the remote and recent past, we have abundant proof of their survival to this day.
As moderns, we may smile complacently when we learn, for instance, that Luther once exclaimed, "Had God consulted me in the matter [human procreation], I should have advised him to continue the generation of the species by fashioning them of clay in the way Adam was fashioned." We may also scoff at Lecky who, in the nineteenth century, said, "there is something degrading in the sensual part of our natures, something to which a feeling of shame is naturally attached, something that jars with our conception of perfect purity." But may we smile with as much conviction when, in a book published in 1945, we find the author,
To submit, as I do here, therefore, that a considerable number of parents a powerful majority in my estimation feel the child, on these grounds alone, to be in some significant way more pure, and hence morally superior to themselves, seems warrantable. And this feeling inevitably adds weight to the other factors now contributing to an exorbitant exaltation of childhood.
It is also probably true to say that it is more common among mothers than fathers. For, seeing that a large number of married women in our sex-phobic society have few of the entrancing experiences which would more than reconcile them to their sex-life and give them, through the fire of their satisfied passions, a clean conscience about it, they find, when they view it critically, little to lift it from the level which Mr. Geoffrey Pardoe allots to it. Thus it gets anchored to any feelings of guilt they may otherwise have acquired in the course of their lives; and, from the angle of this constellation of emotions, they confront the child with a veneration hardly rational.
2. On the other hand, in this age of enlightenment in sex-psychology, there seems little need to point out that much of what we know as self-esteem and self-confidence draws its strength from our sexual equipment. It is, therefore, important for the individual, man and woman, to make it plain to all that in them this equipment is both normal and efficient. And, since children of one's own are the most compelling documentary evidence of this, each owes it to
For whilst, before marriage, the normality or abnormality of an individual's sex-equipment can, generally speaking, be only a matter of conjecture, and an unfavourable view of it can be but gratuitous and malicious, when once matrimony is entered, the continued absence of its expected results may arouse substantial and more justifiable doubts. We know, of course, that it does not always follow that, because there are no children, abnormality on one side or the other may justifiably be inferred. But, to the simple, ordinary, average being, the very suspicion of abnormality is to be avoided if possible, even at the cost of being pestered and exploited as only a modern urban "Daddie" can be and usually is.
Hence children, and even an only child, may come to mean, apart from all else, an appeal to the strongest element in the average individual's self-esteem. It cannot, therefore, be unnatural for the parent, on these grounds alone, to become fertile soil for the luxuriant growth of child-adulation. More especially is this likely to be so in such ages of psycho-physical imbalance and pervasive inferiority feelings as the one in which we are now living. For, where inferiority feelings are more or less universal, there will inevitably be an insistent attachment to any means of alleviating them.
Those who have read my Secret of Laughter and my Four Pillars of Health will not need to have this elaborated.
It is my private opinion, based on long and careful observation, that this source of the child-adulatory mood is more powerful in modern man than modern woman. Indeed, when we witness not only the transports of delight in the average father on the birth of a child in his home, but also the pains and perseverance with which even the discreet man will find excuses and occasions to drag in some reference to the number of his children, it is impossible for
There is no intention to claim here that all this occurs on the conscious plane. Much of it is sub-conscious. But the end result is a recognition of the child as a source of genuinely reassuring self-feelings. Those "daddies," who cheerfully push prams through the streets, are probably the least conscious and also the most voluptuous of the male parents who enjoy this aspect of family life.
Precisely at times like the present, when much sub-normal sexuality and diluted passion prevails in the heirs of an old Puritan culture, it is indeed not unlikely that men especially should feel a preposterous pride in having achieved what, as Hubert Wales, in one of his novels, declared "every barn-fowl can do."
From yet another angle this standpoint finds support. It is hardly necessary to elaborate the view that, in ultimate analysis, the home which every couple create, with its complicated appointments, is, after all, but the necessary mise-en-scène for the female's experience other complete sexual cycle. Completed with each sexual embrace, the male's sexual cycle depends for its fulfilment on none of the consequences requiring the "home" as their indispensable setting. A man may like establishing a home of his own where, with the woman of his choice, he can rear a family. He may prefer it before bachelor quarters and a mistress. He may have grown tired of having his hosiery, his studs and his cuff-links stolen, and found that a cash basis for every service, including the darning of his socks, grows tiresome in
But the fact remains that his own sex life may be quite normal and he may keep free from all the penalties, psychological and otherwise, of inadequate sex-expression, without the inevitable results which the female's normal sexual cycle demand, and which need the "home" for their reception.
Most great bachelors Thornstein Veblen for instance have fully appreciated this. But only because they were able consciously to bring enough clear light to bear on the whole question of male and female sexuality to assess accurately the different needs of each sex, and to refuse to become merely the provider, the impresario, the sine-quâ-non, of a female sex-fulfiller, the paying spectator of a woman realizing her sexual destiny.
I speak of Veblen as a bachelor. Truth to tell, he was really one of those numerous "married bachelors" who remain essentially single men even if they marry several times. For although he had a wife, he continued throughout to live as one unattached; his marriage was not what the middle-classes, without too careful a scrutiny, are wont to call "happy," and it is said that "when it looked as though they might have a child, he fell into a panic." At all events, he certainly said that "the family consists of mother and children and the father's place in it is of little importance." This shows he understood. It might have been more correct, perhaps, to have said that, "apart from providing the sinews of the home, the father's place in it is of little importance."
Of course, when once a passionate attachment has carried them off their feet and committed them to a "home," many thousands of men, without the vision of a Veblen or a Schopenhauer, ultimately learn to recognize the relatively adventitious rôle they play in the scenario they have created. But by that time it is too late, and there is no alternative but to go on wondering how they let themselves in for it all.
It would be a mistake to suppose that this attitude is that of the average paterfamilias. On the contrary! For one reason or another, most family men not only never doubt their own importance in the home (I mean apart from supporting it), they not only feel convinced that the home is as essential to them as it is to their wives, but they also go so far as to listen without protest when they hear from the lips of Feminists that the home as a social contrivance serves chiefly male ends!
Hence the hardly credible fact that hundreds of thousands of Anglo-Saxon males were taken in by the Feminists' attack on the slogan, "Woman's Place is the Home." They missed two of the fundamentals of this attack. First, they failed to perceive the benightedness of the women who could come forward with it and hope that the world would be taken in. Secondly, they did not grasp the implied insolence of appealing to men by means of such an attack. Because, to have made it, as the Feminists of the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries did, proved not only that they themselves were as blind as bats, but that they also assumed a similar bat-blindness in the crowd, including, of course, the men in it.
If it had been mere bluff, it would have indicated considerable denseness in the men not to call it. But it was not bluff. It was an attack launched with complete sincerity. The women behind it actually believed that they were right, and the momentum of their drive was the measure of their mental limitations.
My explanation is that it is not wholly due to stupidity. For to the great majority of average family men the naïf pleasure they derive from giving the world, and seeing about them, the compelling evidence of their potency, is satisfying to such a degree, and makes such a strong appeal to the deepest springs of their self-esteem that, when they hear the slogan about Woman's Place derided, they feel the derision has a certain justification. They are prepared to believe that the home is a male affair.
Admittedly, there are numbers of men who, whether or not they hold Veblen's view of the family man's rôle, feel bound to build a home because they must have heirs heirs to titles, property, family businesses. Whatever they may privately think about the primary purpose of the home, these men gladly found one and support it at all costs.
There are also men who may be regarded as philoprogenitive, i.e., who derive genuine delight from children's company and are ready to spend hours every day enjoying it. If they have not children of their own, such men will drift to homes that can boast of them, or else they will adopt them.
That the rest of men may originally have merely imitated these two groups, or at least the first group, is a contention which, as I have pointed out elsewhere, has much evidence to support it. Indeed, there are some anthropologists who are convinced that it is well founded.
But I am not now concerned with the origin of marriage, and the home. I wish to point out only that, although the father in the average home does not need it as the mother does in order to complete a normal sexual cycle in optimal
Now it is this deep satisfaction which, in the father especially, becomes added to the other reasons for child-adulation already discussed, and accounts, at least in the family man, for some of his excessive esteem for child-nature.
All the better for the race and for civilization? It would not do if we were all Veblens!
True, but irrelevant.
The race is safe enough, at least at present. Besides, I am not here recommending any policy or course of action in relation to matrimony. I am merely examining the factors accounting for child-adulation.
3. A third not necessarily obvious reason, reinforcing all the others that induce parents to adulate their children is one which, this time, I believe affects mothers more than fathers, possibly very much more than fathers. I refer to the very real and intense pleasure, never of course openly acknowledged, which adults, especially females, derive from fondling, hugging, squeezing and generally handling little children.
The mother who rushes to comfort a weeping toddler and clasps him fondly to her breast, appears to the ingenuous onlooker to be following an impulse of mercy and compassion, altruistic in its origin and directed wholly at benefiting the child. At bottom, however, this is not so. Despite the fact that her darling is unhappy, in her heart of hearts she welcomes the occasion. She is secretly overjoyed that he needs the performance of her comforting ritual. For this ritual is delightful, and the way she will often pro-
Again, let me state that I am at present not concerned with policies or disciplines. Nor, I hope, am I implying that a mother should not comfort her child. I am merely illuminating the picture her comforting gestures present and trying to relate her feelings in the situation to those influences which, I claim, reinforce the original ideological reasons in adults for adulating children.
On this very subject, Dr. Alice M. Hutchison, in The Child and His Problems, p. 158, writes: "Because the opportunity of comforting a small child affords those of us in whom this instinct [the mothering instinct, she calls it] is strong the most intense pleasure . . . we prolong it to the last moment, and quite lose sight of the fact that we are actually teaching him to love self-pity."
Not only that! But also to exercise power over an adult. Because, as we have seen, if the child perceives that by any course of action he can adopt, one of his giants may be made to concentrate attention upon him, that course of action may become stereotyped.
Now a mother has the maximum temptation and the maximum opportunity to enjoy this sort of voluptuousness, and a variety of circumstances in the home may be found for doing so unobtrusively. The woman, however, who did not feel that it greatly endeared the little ones to her would hardly be human.
Elsewhere I have already suggested as not improbable that, just as the normal component of sadism in the average healthy male finds its expression in his relationship to the female of his choice, so the normal component of sadism in the healthy female finds its expression in her relationship to the child.
If this is so, it follows that little children are a source of
Nothing to be ashamed of! No, certainly not! Nothing to condemn either. But, like all human satisfactions, it may be over-indulged; or, what is more serious, it may, when the female suffers from faulty sexual adaptation, or inadequate sexual expression, become a means of compensation. This is likely to arise not only with mothers, but also with spinster adults in charge of children. Perhaps this is why, in speaking of bodily caresses in the nursery, Susan Isaacs in The Nursery Years, p. 60, says: "these latter should at all times be sparing."
I am not sure about fathers in this respect. Given a father inclining to feminity, however, he might feel much as women do in handling children. At all events, I am reliably informed that the over-fondling of daughters by some fathers has been known to lead to severe neuroses in the children concerned in later life.
Certain it is that the period of helplessness in infancy and early childhood is one which is only reluctantly and, through the force of uncircumventable facts, allowed by the average mother to give place to that of independence; and, if they are honest, most mothers will acknowledge that their happiest time with each of their children was the period of the latters' helplessness.
Since helplessness is, however, that state over which the mother has the most power, it is not exorbitant to claim that the normal component of sadism, in every healthy woman's nature, finds its expression in her relationship to the child from the earliest days to the moment when it runs to forge other bonds. The fact that mothers so frequently manifest an exceptionally fierce attachment to a defective child, whose disability prolongs dependence beyond the usual term, is further testimony to the same effect. Cases like that reported in the London Press of January 3rd, 1947, in which
When, however, we learnt that this full grown man he was thirty-nine years of age when found had never left the house, and never spoken with anyone except his mother; that he was discovered only because his mother died at the age of seventy-nine, and that, when discovered, he was terrified at the sight of other human beings, "could speak only baby-talk," and was "unable to dress himself or eat food without assistance" when, I say, we learnt all this, it was impossible not to feel ourselves confronted by an inordinately exaggerated realization of what most mothers have the wish to do. Clearly, in this case, the mother, far from opposing to her child's Pleasure Principle the Principle of Reality, had withheld from him all knowledge of Reality and had herself acted wholly under the dominion of the Pleasure Principle.
Nor is it difficult to see the connexion between female sadism and the mother's predilection in favour of her children's most helpless years. For the determining element in all sadistic expression, however normal, is the gratification of the lust of power. Nature provides for the beneficent manifestation of this human lust in the normal female by giving her the one object on which she can express it under the presiding influence of love and tenderness, just as in the normal man it is similarly expressed under the empire of his love and tenderness for the woman of his choice.
But, just as a mother may be constantly tempted to taste again and again of the voluptuousness of child-comforting, for instance, and to the detriment of her child prolong the process beyond its reasonable limits especially is this danger present in very small families so she may be repeatedly
Indeed, it is this feature in the mother-child relation, together with the acknowledged narcissistic element in all mother-love which, alone, leads me to doubt what some have stated that, "only in the love of a mother for her son is there love without any background of hate." (Guilfoyle Williams, The Psychology of Childhood and Maturity, p. 173). For if we understand as the determining principle in all love a passionate desire for the well-being and welfare of the person loved, then it is impossible to exclude from the average mother-love we see about us everywhere to-day a very pronounced, though quite concealed, component of hate. The persistent pursuit of satisfactions to self, whether in prolonging a child's period of dependence, or in the excessive caresses lavished on it, or in displaying a possessiveness towards it which is both narcissistic and sadistic, or indulging it in all things so as to win its devotion, appears so commonly in every mother's behaviour that it is impossible to regard the average woman's attitude, even to her favourite son, as one of unalloyed love. In other words, if we commonly observe in the behaviour of mothers a tendency to be dominated by the Pleasure Principle, when it is their duty to
Dr. Alice Hutchison refers to the "core of egoism" which maternal possessiveness and pampering produces in the child subjected to it. But it has other equally deleterious effects, as all men and women must know who have married mates whose mothers had mishandled them in childhood; and not the least of these is the feeling of immense importance which such people almost inevitably acquire. Regarding these feelings of inflated importance which, according to many authorities, including Adler, not infrequently lead to juvenile delinquency and adult crime, Guilfoyle Williams says: "they originate in a wrong atmosphere in the home and in a wrong attitude of the parents, particularly the mother." (Op. cit. p. 188).
4. Another factor, peculiar to the mother of a family which leads her unduly to exalt at least her male children, or child, is the profound pleasure the average woman feels over bearing a son. This is especially so in all societies where the majority of women, from what cause soever, are unreconciled to their sex and are in secret rebellion against their Maker for having made them female. In books already published, I have so frequently explained this condition of female rebellion against femaleness (not to be confused indiscriminately with Adler's "masculine protest") and following the lines brilliantly laid down by K. Abraham and Helene Deutsch, have so carefully described how and why it is common in Anglo-Saxon communities (see my Man: An Indictment, p. 120 and Enemies of Women, p. 67), that I do not propose to weary the reader with a reiteration of the chain of causes.
Suffice it to say, then, that in those women who are not
5, I now come to the fifth factor which, although unfortunately very common, is also usually secret. Perhaps the very nature of this factor guarantees its secrecy.
I refer to a specific manifestation of the Will to Power, or the striving after ascendancy, witnessed in parents only.
In the incessant, unavowed and resolute struggle, carried on throughout married life, for ascendancy in the home, there are, alas! no weapons more frequently used by both parents than the emotions, weaknesses, desires and fears of their own children.
It all happens under a cloud of innuendo, suggestion, hints, gestures, non-committal acts, even grimaces, and deceit and duplicity are often part of it. Even a skilful observer may find it difficult to keep count of all the means used and all the incidents and fluctuations of the struggle. Only the clumsiest and more honest ruses are apparent, and the more coarse and ingenuous the parent, the more obvious these are.
Briefly, it is a matter of enhancing one's power and prestige in the home and, above all, of fortifying one's self-
It is a struggle that may be waged with chivalry and honour, provided the parents are still fond of each other. But it may also be carried on with meanness and cunning, perhaps largely unconscious, and, if the parents are mutually hostile, it may be ruthless, cruel and persevering on a wholly conscious plane. Sometimes, but I hope seldom, it may lead to the harrowing result I describe in my Enemies of Women (Chap. I), where the circumstances I refer to were drawn from real life.
Usually it is waged, and must be waged, with a more or less complete disregard of its effects on the children themselves, otherwise every conscientious parent, not still under the dominion of the Pleasure Principle, would inevitably give it up. It is, however, prone to become widespread in all ages in which inferiority feelings are common and pronounced in the population i.e., in all ages in which there is much psycho-physical subnormality, disharmony, malaise and conflict, the latter resulting from the random breeding among disparate stocks and biological types. Because, since the victim of inferiority feelings is aware of an enhancement of his or her importance if much more love flows to him or her, the attracting of much love becomes one of the principal aims of life. Hence the commonly observed desire nowadays to be loved even by animals, and the pleasure evinced when this love is openly displayed. The great attachment of the English to dogs is probably not unconnected with this aspiration.
Adler charges grandparents with being great sinners in this respect, and with trying to appropriate the love of grandchildren by pampering. He says: "Ageing people are afraid that they are no longer necessary. They develop exaggerated inferiority feelings and as a result assume the rôle of nagging critics or of soft-hearted good-natured elders
Now, in the family consisting of father, mother and children, the line of least resistance in the pursuit of love is clearly that which leads from parent to child and vice-versâ. Not unnaturally, therefore, even in ideal homes, a certain amount of rivalry, however friendly and honourable, though always secret and unavowed, generally arises between the adults.
An English doctor once said to me quite playfully, but with a shade of sadness in the background: "My wife always denies me the beau rôle with the children. I am always the policeman who punishes. But all treats, all extra hours out of bed in the evening, all tit-bits at table, are my wife's prerogative. I offer a scrap of my pudding to Sheila when she comes to say good-night, and my wife protests that she won't sleep. The following night my wife will offer Sheila or one of the boys an even larger tit-bit, and then explain that they had made a poor tea."
That is the sort of thing. Guilfoyle Williams evidently had it in mind when he referred to the deplorable habit of saying to a naughty child, "I'll tell Daddie!" (Op. cit. p. 53).
But, carried on with unscrupulousness and ferocity, and to the point when the authority of one parent is pitted against the other's, in order to confer a favour on a child or spare it a deserved correction, and a situation is created in which the child's future character may be ruthlessly sacrificed. For the reader will recall that most children are only too anxious to divide their parents in any case. To meet the child more
True, the machinations of the more determined parent in such a struggle do not always succeed. The technique for forcibly wresting a child's love from one's spouse is often too primitive, too palpable to deceive even a toddler, and respect, which is an essential component of all love, is thereby forfeited. Besides, the very endeavour frequently defeats itself; for, since the parent actuated by it usually drifts into the stereotyped and short-sighted habit of merely "spoiling" the child, and nothing so surely destroys a child's love as this treatment, the end result may be that the more passive parent is ultimately the victor in the struggle. Nevertheless, the child has learned from the struggle that his parents are divided, and this is the deleterious factor in the procedure, not to mention the incidental emphasis which may unwittingly be given to a boy's Oedipus and to a girl's Electra complex into the bargain.
It is my belief, based on the observation of many working-class homes, that, among the illiterate, parental struggles of the kind I am discussing are waged much more crudely and clumsily than in the homes of the cultivated. This is chiefly due, however, not so much to the fact that this kind of rivalry between cultivated parents is less common than it is between the illiterate, as to the circumstances of the latters' life. They are usually more closely and more constantly attended by their children than are the more well-to-do. Perhaps this accounts for the fact that, among the illiterate, the resolute efforts of one parent? to grasp all lead to much more "spoiling" than they do in other classes, and to a much more frequent failure on the part of the more resolute parent to secure the children's lasting love. The children, although spoilt, and with characters permanently impaired, turn with deeper respect to the parent who has been cheated.
Be this as it may, the point I wish to stress here is that, in
I would not suggest that mothers are more prone than fathers to this kind of pertinacious contest for supremacy in the hearts of their children. As a rule, however, mothers have better and more abundant opportunities of applying the methods which they believe will secure them success in it.
When, apart from any rivalry for the children's affections, there is open quarrelling, bullying or even hand-to-hand fighting between the parents, and the children's sympathies are enlisted by one or both of them, the seeds may be sown, not only of tragedies in the home, but also and more certainly, of grave neuroses in the children. Most authorites are agreed on this matter. When such scenes occur frequently, it may be assumed that the parents are barbarous enough altogether to overlook the influence of their behaviour on the future character and life-line of their offspring.
6. Akin to the above, but proceeding from a different cause, is the excessive love and attention often lavished on children, when either parent feels insufficient love flowing from the partner. Again, this applies more to mothers than fathers, but as it augments the influences already conducing to an undue adulation of the child, it is of equal importance with the rest.
The masterly vignettes of every-day life which E. M. Delafield gives us in her numerous novels, all stamped with the truthfulness of a fearless observer, show us how common this factor must be, at least in English family life. August Aichhorn claims that it is also common on the Continent, and in thirty-two cases of juvenile delinquency, found twenty-nine in which the children had been excessively pampered and adored by mothers who felt themselves insufficiently loved by their spouses. He characterizes the phenomenon
It is probably one of the many regrettable results of the romantic match which, owing to the slavish imitation of English manners and customs abroad, has spread to countries endowed in the past with better traditions in this respect. For the romantic match, as I have shown elsewhere, by leading to extravagant and unrealistic expectations, perforce entails cruel disillusionment when these are not fulfilled. That they cannot be fulfilled by average human beings is obvious from the start; but the swiftness and certainty with which all hope of their fulfilment has to be abandoned induces a state of forlornness amounting sometimes to panic.
Then the "broken heart" (or, more often, in plain English, "the mortally wounded self-esteem") flies blindly to the nearest source of comfort and reassurance the child or children. These become the, ersatz-spouse, and thenceforward are subjected to the emotional transports whose normal objective has disappeared, and are cozened into becoming the ersatz-source of love flowing to the afflicted parent.
7. Finally, I must now discuss one aspect of the mother's behaviour towards her children, or more usually the only child, which although not exactly an example of child-adulatory behaviour, illustrates an important consequence of it. According to my experience, it is much too widespread for general happiness and therefore of peculiar interest.
In dealing with adults given to displays of" bad temper" and sulkiness and their number to-day is legion I have repeatedly noticed that, when they are casting about them for an effective means of paying you out for any envy you may have provoked in them or for any wrong a slight, a rebuff, or even a justified criticism they take refuge, not
They usually achieve this end by denying themselves some pleasure which, in the ordinary way, you propose to enjoy an outing, a visit, an excursion, a treat of any kind, a good meal, or the more attractive or more carefully prepared course in a meal.
Now the characteristic feature of this behaviour is that the means chosen for retaliation, and for hurtful actions in general, always indicate that, in childhood, the people in question must have had an over-loving and sensitive adult about them who was foolishly, perhaps, but very really hurt, offended or distressed by such acts of renunciation, and who could easily be ruled, cowed, or humiliated by them. I mean by "humiliated," reduced to reversing or rescinding an order or injunction previously given, or to reversing an attitude, either of anger, indignation or criticism, previously adopted.
Another fact revealed by this behaviour is that the success it achieved with the adult in question caused it to become a part of their childhood technique in dealing with people in general.
Briefly, it is a pose of martyrdom which, though vindictive in its intention, seems to the unpenetrating observer merely self-denying. For the self-inflicted privations, although apparently prompted by a mood of humble resignation, are in reality acts of deliberate aggression. They are meant to hurt or wound.
As a rule, they take the form of refusing food, so I shall concentrate on this kind of covert attack. The reproach which they are intended to convey, as it were by a charade (for wounding words would give the wounded person a handle, an excuse for retaliation, or at least open his or her eyes to the fact that the voluntary faster was wishing to be nasty), is always: "See! you are causing me to starve!"
The reader feels like protesting: "But this is cutting off
From the nature of the stratagem, however, it is evident that its use must have been originally discovered only in relation to someone who cared very much indeed whether the proffered food was eaten or left, and that the continuance in adult life of the practice of leaving it when a hurt was to be administered is a typical instance of vestigial infantile behaviour.
Now who is the principal figure in a child's home who would be likely to react to this form of covert vindictiveness by developing a guilty conscience? Obviously the mother, or mother-substitute. For, unjustifiable as may be the child's impulse to avenge himself on her for having in some way, however proper, crossed him, his mother, unless much wiser than most women in her position, is the last person on earth who can calmly look on while her child, ostensibly through her action, remains unfed. Her love, or, rather, her desire to retain his love, will so overpower her reason as to cause her instantly to repent with anxiety, self-reproach, and feelings of regret. Exactly the result envisaged by the child! The action which led to his refusing his food, however justifiable, will soon appear to her mistaken. From this she will infer that she has been guilty of undue severity, and straightway she will be defeated!
Her next move, calculated to expunge her guilt, will be to behave in a manner hardly distinguishable from begging the child's pardon. She will plead, coax, try to tempt him to eat, until it would become plain to a blind horse, not to mention an alert, cunning child, that he has shamed and mastered her.
On the part of the adult who, from "Recollections of Childhood," behaves in this way to a spouse, a brother,
These repressed feelings, in their turn, lead to resentment, dislike and even hate, and social life is made intolerable.
And all this, because a foolish mother has imprudently bred in her child a habit of tyrannizing over her by means of fasting! For it is hardly likely that any child, however precociously shrewd, could light spontaneously on this technique for mastery, although once discovered it may serve in adult life to browbeat associates into submission.
The mother must have led her child to conclude that his taking of food was not merely a natural response to a healthy appetite, but a favour done to her, an act demonstrating that their relationship was still friendly. Otherwise, the refusal of food could not come to be regarded as an act of disfavour, but only as a sign of a temporary loss of appetite.
But, if we watch the average over-fond, venerating, or merely ignorant mother, we shall see that this emotional attitude to food is exactly what she most painfully cultivates in her child usually an only one, a first one, or the youngest in a widely spaced family. Instead of behaving in a detached and natural manner and, when he is at a meal, observing her child distantly, so to speak, she makes it plain that she
Often, especially in working-class homes, the situation marked by a child's reluctance for food occurs because his mother has indulged his natural greed between meals with cakes, biscuits or sweets, or all three, on demand. But, whatever her mistakes may have been, the result will be that the child will ultimately associate eating with pleasing, and fasting with hurting her, and will grow up in the belief that he holds an ever ready weapon by means of which he can always indirectly hurt those who in any way offend him.
In their excellent Infants Without Families (pp. 1821) Dorothy Burlingham and Anna Freud, appreciating the evil association of ideas thus created, discuss with understanding how it comes about and how it can be avoided; and they stress the importance of the transition of the child from the experiences of the first year to those of the following period.
In the first year, the child "shows every inclination to treat food given by the mother as he treats the mother, which means that all the possible disturbances of the child-mother relationship turn easily into eating disturbances."
If the mother perpetuates this condition, as she too often does, by making the child feel he is eating for her sake, and is grieved or offended if he does not eat, she makes it difficult or impossible for him to outgrow the attitude. Then these penetrating authors continue: "Wherever the mother adapts her behaviour to the growing abilities of the child, where she recedes into the background as the giver of the food and only provides food in a more distant and unemotional manner, the child will enter into a next stage of reaction to food: he will eat, or refuse nourishment, according to whether he is hungry or not, and not according to whether he loves or rejects his mother, or wants to please or anger her."