Saturday, 6 April 2019

Monster Mommies

We take for granted now that parents should hug their children, that relationships are worth the time, that taking care of each other is part of the good life.

Love is central to our experience of being human. And once we replace the word “human” with “MOTHER” it is felt that the feelings of love and compassion come naturally to all mothers. The world feels that once a woman becomes a mother all that she is supposed to do is keep giving; even if she is dead tired of all the work, she needs to still keep giving her babies all that they need. However, there have been examples where the mothers have chosen other things than their babies at times. And the babies too have grown up to become normal adults. For ages, nobody could understand and define this parental affection well. 

What is so special about parental affection that shapes the destiny of a child?

The Experiment

Decades ago a team of psychologists led by Harry Harlow tried to prove the importance of parental affection in a child’s life. They conducted some experiments on baby monkeys who were provided with different kinds of “cloth/wire moms” who would cuddle, feed or punch them in their faces. Some of these moms, they named as monster moms who would be cold towards the monkey’s emotional needs but would feed them still. 


What Harlow found was both heart breaking and heart breakingly understandable — rather than fleeing from the monstrous mothers, the babies tried harder to earn their affection. The monkeys returned to the monsters, in spite of violent repulsions only to cling more tightly and coo more beseechingly, “expressing faith and love as if all were forgiven,” as Harlow put it.

Real Life Similarities

Harry and his team would find the same pattern when real mother monkeys were rejecting or abusive. The scientists marveled at “the desperate efforts the babies made to contact their mothers. No matter how abusive the mothers were, the babies persisted in returning.” They returned more often, they reached and clung and coaxed far more frequently than the children of normal mothers. The infants were so preoccupied with engaging their mothers that they had little energy for friends. The clinging babies’ energy was directed into their attempts to coax a little affection out at home. Sometimes the real monkey mothers did respond, gradually, more kindly. But while trying to reach mother, the little monkeys never had time to reach anyone else.

The Solution

By the time I started writing this blog, I could not really get into thinking about what could be the reasons for turning normal human beings into monsters when it came to being a mother. But I definitely thought about how we could avoid it. Although we all know, it is not right to overload just one parent with all the responsibilities of positive parenting, is there anything we can do to avoid being Monster Mommies?

Let’s take a look at what the experts suggest:

 There’s nothing sentimental about love, it’s a substantial, earthbound connection, grounded in effort, kindness, and decency.

As a mother or as a parent what we must understand is that the feeling of LOVE needs to start at home. Whatever the child feels at home, s/he imbibes it for the rest of their life. So, if as a mother you feel the need to be heard, understood and loved; expect the child to need the same. Many times, mothers feel restricted in their homes due to their children while the whole world around them seems to be out in the sun for fun. At such times, one needs to tell the same to the child in decent words so that as the child grows s/he appreciates your point of view without any grudges.  This is also how the child will learn the art of honest human connection. 

It is the modest, steady responses that see us through day after day, that stretch in to a life of close and loving relationships.

According to the English psychologist John Bowlby, the fulfillment of physical needs like sustenance and shelter is a secondary drive in the parent-child relationship — love is the primary one. It’s not just a matter of the warm body holding the bottle; it’s not object love at all. We love specific people and we need them to love us back. And in the case of the child’s tie to the mother, it matters that the mother loves the baby and that the baby knows it. It matters to the baby to know who loves it and whom it loves in return. 

When you are a very small child, love needs to be as tangible as warm arms around you and as audible as the lull of a gentle voice at night.

All of us, even as babies, are a bundle of feelings and desires, he said. Our positive emotions grow best in an interactive sense, fostered by how we react to others and how they respond to us. A baby, a child, even an adult, needs at least one person interested and responsive. We grow best in a family with an environment cultivated by someone who thinks we matter.

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