Historian Chris Millard writes in The Atlantic about “The Dangers of Over-Policing Motherhood.” Using the case of Munchausen syndrome by proxy as an example, Millard explores the impact of shifting understandings of the emotional support offered by mothers in the twentieth century. As Millard writes,
Towering over mid-century discussions of motherhood is the figure of John Bowlby, a British psychoanalyst of children whose ideas on “attachment theory” and “maternal deprivation” became exceptionally influential. Bowlby waxed lyrical about the importance of a stable mother figure, arguing from research in foster homes that a life of instability, delinquency and psychological problems follow in the wake of inconsistent mothering. Bowlby followed other U.K.-based psychoanalysts such as Anna Freud and Melanie Klein in arguing that small children’s social relations are incredibly important, and disruption of mothering in the early years has wide-reaching psychic and social consequences.
Note the double-edged sword of motherhood here. Attracting the praise of being a “good mother” was always accompanied by the threat that you might fall from the perch at any moment and cause devastating harm to your child. Hence the amplification of mechanisms of control, censure and punishment that go hand in hand with the valorization and surveillance of parenting. Deep within the medical and psychological frameworks promoting motherhood in this period, there lurks male anxiety over female power and influence.
This concern played out over the question of how much time parents should spend at the hospital with their child…
Read the full piece online here.
The May 2012 issue of History of Psychology is now online. Included in this issue are a number of all new articles, including pieces on the history of postpartum depression, a late-nineteenth century nerve training controversy, and the use of psychology by American ministers in the mid-twentieth century. Other items in this issue include an interview with Philip Zimbardo on the 40th anniversary of the Stanford Prison Experiment, the incorporation of cross-cultural examples in teaching, and a look back at the Holocaust interviews conducted by psychologist David Boder in the 1940s. Additionally, Frances Cherry, Rhoda Unger, and Andrew Winston comment on an earlier article by William Woodward on Jewish émigré psychologists and Woodward responds. Full titles, authors, and abstracts follow below.
“Can’t a mother sing the blues? Postpartum depression and the construction of motherhood in late 20th-century America,” by Lisa Held & Alexandra Rutherford. The abstract reads,
Popular depictions of 20th-century American motherhood have typically emphasized the joy and fulfillment that a new mother can expect to experience on her child’s arrival. But starting in the 1950s, discussions of the “baby blues” began to appear in the popular press. How did articles about the baby blues, and then postpartum depression, challenge these rosy depictions? In this article, we examine portrayals of postpartum distress in popular magazines and advice books during the second half of the 20th century to examine how the unsettling pairing of distress and motherhood was culturally negotiated in these decades. We show that these portrayals revealed a persistent reluctance to situate motherhood itself as the cause of serious emotional distress and a consistent focus on changing mothers to adapt to their role rather than changing the parameters of the role itself. Regardless of whether these messages actually helped or hindered new mothers themselves, we suggest that they reflected the rarely challenged assumption that motherhood and distress should not mix.
“Delsartean hypnosis for girls’ bodies and minds: Annie Payson Call and the Lasell Seminary nerve training controversy,” by John M. Andrick. The abstract reads Continue reading New Issue! History of Psychology