Myths and Modes of Motherhood


  • Joan Raphael-Lef

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      The author is a psychoanalyst and research psychologist. This paper is based on a lecture given at the British Institute of Psychoanalysis, to a day conference entitled ‘Pyschoanalysis and Women’ 20.11.82. Her address is 13 Thurlow Road, London NW3.


ABSTRACT: It is postulated that some metapsychological concepts, once popularized, acquire the reified status of a Myth which may outlive its usefulness and/or validity and yd remain influential beyond its time.

Ten psychoanalytical ‘myths’ relating to femininity, mothers and motherhood are to examined in the tight of historical, social and theoretical developments:

1. The myth of the castrated mother

2. ‘Anatomy is destiny’

3, Female passivity and masochism

4. Baby = penis

5. Femininity is unfulfilled before motherhood

6. Maternal instinct

7. There is a right way to mother

8. Asocial, antisocial or sociable infant?

9. Mother-baby symmetry of needs

10. Mothering the exclusive, full-time commitment of the biological mother.

Two contrasting modes of mothering are formulated, each illustrating different elements of these myths.

The conclusion is that a theoretical framework describing or prescribing femininity and/or motherhood a single, static entity, inevitably obscures the complex Variations between women and mother, in their personal and historical development over time, Adherenre to outdated myths prejudices our psychotherapeutic work with female patience.