Medicine: Too Much Mother

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He that spareth his rod hateth his son; but he that loveth him chasteneth him betimes. Modern psychiatrists disagree with Solomon's technique, agree with his principle. One of their greatest problems is the overly protective mother who, in an excess of affection, turns her child into a sissy or a tyrant.

In a learned series of articles in the quarterly Psychiatry, Manhattan Psychiatrist Dr. David Mordecai Levy tells how tight apron strings, excessive mothering, make problem children.

Out of thousands of mothers interviewed at an institute for child guidance, Dr. Levy chose 20 choice examples of overprotective mothers—nine overdominant, eleven overindulgent—for detailed study. Typical child-tyrants made these mothers prepare meals at any capricious hour, threw their food on the floor if it displeased them, insulted their mothers and spit at them.

Maternal overprotection resembles an obsession neurosis, but Dr. Levy's 20 mothers were not neurotic. Practically all vere stable, responsible, aggressive, strongly maternal women. Frequently there was sexual or social incompatibility with the husband. Many of the mothers had serious responsibilities in their own childhoods, such as housework or taking care of brothers and sisters; some had been deprived of normal affection from their own parents. Any combination of these influences, on top of the natural maternal bent, was likely to produce overconcentration on a child. If the mother was over-stern, her child was apt to be a namby-pamby; if she was overindulgent, she reared a tyrant-child.

In general the husbands of the overprotecting mothers were stable and hardworking, but—unlike their spouses—submissive. They did not usually interfere with the mother-child relationship, even when they disliked it.

In all but one of the 20 cases Dr. Levy presents, the child's history was followed into late adolescence or adulthood. Two of the cases:

Failure. The mother, a chronic "baby-carriage pecker" since childhood, resigned herself to having no children after eight years of sterility, then conceived. She kept her son on bottle-feeding until he was five, babied him in other ways. At 14 the boy was referred to a child guidance institute by a teacher for impudence, defiance, tantrums, gambling. The mother refused to mitigate her control in the slightest. Result: at 25, the boy was married to a model who supported him, was still lazy, bad-tempered, irresponsible, a braggart.

Cure. At four, this boy still sucked his thumb and wet his bed, was afraid of dogs and so timid that he accepted protection from his two-year-old brother in fights with other children. But the mother responded to institute therapy, which encouraged mothers and children in outside interests. The boy, when last seen at age 15, was doing well at school, was a good swimmer, had a girl, showed every promise of leading a normal life.