Mothers who outsource the care of their sons to other women may be inadvertently raising adulterers. Or so claims Dr. Dennis Friedman in a book that has kicked up a bit of a ruckus in Britain. A Fellow of the Royal College of Psychiatrists, the doctor argues that men become womanizers because their mothers left them with nannies.
According to Friedman, having two women care for a baby boy may cause his little brain to internalize the idea that there are multiple females to meet his needs. "It introduces him to the concept of the other woman," he said in London's Daily Telegraph. He explicates the relationship in his book The Unsolicited Gift: Why We Do The Things We Do, which explores how a mother's love for her offspring can determine how those children behave as adults.
Girls are affected by nannies too. Not having her mother around creates in the infant female a "vacuum of need," says Friedman, which she might try to fill in later life with substance abuse or promiscuity presumably with those married men in her social circle who were also raised by nannies.
But it is the thesis concerning boys that has been more controversial. Having two maternal objects, says Friedman, "creates a division in [the boy's] mind between the woman he knows to be his natural mother and the woman with whom he has a real hands-on relationship: the woman who bathes him and takes him to the park, and with whom he feels completely at one." This dual-woman life, one for family and one for catering to his every need, might become a set pattern in his mind, so that when he grows up and feels like his needs are not being met, he strays beyond the home.
Friedman suggests mothers should not work, or if they must, should not return to work until their children are at least 1 year old. Critics, and many, many working mothers, quickly pointed out that he offers no statistics for his theory (as in, exactly how many nannies Tiger Woods must have had), nor does his proposal seem particularly practical, since many women have little choice but either to return to work after having children or to not feed said children. Additionally, it rankled many women that Friedman lays the blame for men's fidelity issues on females. If it's not the inattentive wife who drives a man into another woman's arms it's his inattentive mother.
It also doesn't make developmental sense, says Dr. Jean Mercer, professor emerita of Psychology at Richard Stockton College in New Jersey, who specializes in infant development. "Babies don't form attachments solely to their mothers they become attached also to fathers, grandparents, nannies, child-care providers, older brothers and sisters, or anyone else who interacts with them socially and frequently participates in care routines like feeding and bathing." These relationships are healthy and part of normal development. And becoming attached to a nanny doesn't equal becoming detached from a mother, or that the two are interchangeable. "A nanny or other person is added to the existing relationships most babies have."
It's unclear how wide a cross section of society Friedman used to draw his conclusions, but it's possible they may have been a bit skewed. His previous three books were explorations of the psychology of a small but prominent group of people with powerful matriarchs and lots and lots of nannies: the British royal family.