Canadian journalist Donna Laframboise. Former National Post & Toronto Star columnist, past vice president of the Canadian Civil Liberties Association. New posts: Mondays & Wednesdays.
SPOTLIGHT: Some stories scorch your heart.
BIG PICTURE: Years ago, I read somewhere that the damage a bad mother inflicts on a child is more harmful than any racism or sexism that child will subsequently experience.
But we almost never talk about this in polite society. To acknowledge poor maternal behaviour is to risk being accused of spreading mother-hating, patriarchal propaganda.
In 12 Rules for Life, Canadian psychologist Jordan Peterson tells us about a four-year-boy. After his nanny was injured, this child was cared for by neighbours in the short term, including Peterson and his wife. When the boy’s mother left him at their house, she told them he refused to eat during the day but that this state of affairs was ‘OK.’
Being parents themselves, Peterson and his wife saw matters differently. Hungry children are grumpy children. They aren’t fun to be around. The refusal of this “cute, damaged kid” to eat appears to have been his way of signalling his considerable distress.
When lunchtime arrived, around a table that included four other youngsters, Peterson’s wife coaxed this boy into eating a full meal. It didn’t take long, perhaps 10 minutes. Responding to her attention and her praise, the child broke into “a wide, radiant smile” for the first time.
Afterward, Peterson says he
followed my wife around like a puppy…refusing to let her out of his sight. When she sat down, he jumped in her lap…searching desperately for the love he had been continually denied.
Then his mother came to fetch him. Peterson describes the scene this way:
‘Oh, SuperMom,’ she uttered, resentfully, seeing her son curled up in my wife’s lap. Then she departed, black, murderous heart unchanged, doomed child in hand. She was a psychologist.
We stumble across this horrible tale after Peterson has devoted a couple of pages to the pampered, self-absorbed sons other women raise. “Respect for women? That’s for other boys, other men,” he writes, “not for their dear sons.” His point is that there’s more than one way to be a bad parent.
My point is that there’s a dark side to motherhood we rarely acknowledge.
TOP TAKEAWAY: Feminism has a great deal to say about the power imbalance between men and women. It has almost nothing to say about the far greater power imbalance between mothers and their children.
|12 Rules for Life: An Antidote to Chaos
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