“We Have to Give”: Sinhala Mothers' Responses to Children's Expression of Desire



Abstract Using data gathered through participant-observation and interviews focused on everyday mothering interactions in a Sinhala family in central Sri Lanka, I argue that the combination of continuous indulgence with disappointing material, social, and emotional results leads children to disavow their own desires by middle childhood. This early socialization to the negative potential of desire makes fertile ground for cultural doctrines that explicitly link desire, suffering, and destruction. Further, mothers who themselves have internalized these understandings react to their children's assertions of desire with intense discomfort combined with indulgence, reproducing their own socialization in the experiences of their children. By being attuned to psychodynamic processes between and within people and as well as attentive to the sociocultural medium in which they occur, I provide a model of and for thinking about how actual practices of mothering lead children to develop culturally patterned habits of thought, behavior, and feeling, preparing them to find subsequently encountered cultural material meaningful. [mothering, child socialization, indulgence, disavowal, desire, Sri Lanka]