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The Monster Within

The Monster Within: The Hidden Side of Motherhood

Barbara Almond
Copyright Date: 2010
Edition: 1
Pages: 312
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  • Book Info
    The Monster Within
    Book Description:

    Mixed feelings about motherhood—uncertainty over having a child, fears of pregnancy and childbirth, or negative thoughts about one’s own children—are not just hard to discuss, they are a powerful social taboo. In this beautifully written book, Barbara Almond brings this troubling issue to light. She uncovers the roots of ambivalence, tells how it manifests in lives of women and their children, and describes a spectrum of maternal behavior—from normal feelings to highly disturbed mothering. In a society where perfection in parenting is the unattainable ideal, this compassionate book also shows how women can affect positive change in their lives.

    eISBN: 978-0-520-94720-7
    Subjects: Sociology

Table of Contents

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  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-vi)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. vii-viii)
    (pp. ix-xxiv)
    (pp. xxv-xxvi)
  5. CHAPTER ONE The Ubiquity of Maternal Ambivalence
    (pp. 1-21)

    Ambivalence is a combination of the loving and hating feelings we experience toward those who are important to us. Maternal ambivalence is a normal phenomenon. It is ubiquitous. It is not a crime or a failing. This book is about maternal ambivalence.

    “Admitting to Mixed Feelings about Motherhood,” by Elizabeth Hayt, appeared as the lead article in the Styles section of theSunday New York Timeson May 12, 2002—Mother’s Day. Here was one expression of the current groundswell of revolt against the idealization of motherhood in the 1980s and 1990s resulting from the enthusiasm and perfectionism of the...

  6. CHAPTER TWO Motherlove: The Power of Maternal Desire
    (pp. 22-37)

    A character in Joanna Trollope’s novelOther People’s Childrentries to warn his daughter about the perils of becoming a stepmother:

    It’s as if stepmothers have come to represent all the things we fear, most terribly, about motherhood going wrong. We need mothers so badly, so deeply, that the idea of an unnatural mother is, literally, monstrous. So we make the stepmother the target for all these fears—she can carry the can for bad motherhood. You see, if you regard your stepmother as wicked, then you need never feel guilty or angry about your real mother whom you so...

  7. CHAPTER THREE The Subtle Ambivalence of the Too-Good Mother
    (pp. 38-50)

    My patient Dorothy and Rosamund, the heroine of a fictional case story, both entered maternity in states of emotional depletion and inhibition. Through the experience of motherhood both grew and developed into more fulfilled and responsive people. They became the good-enough mothers Winnicott describes—notwithoutambivalence, but with enough real love and sensitivity to respond in flexible and realistic ways to their children. I take Winnicott’s description of the good-enough mother seriously, since no mother is without needs, and these needs don’t always mesh with those of her children. It is this conflict of needs that leads to maternal...

  8. CHAPTER FOUR “Before the Beginning”: Women’s Fears of Monstrous Births
    (pp. 51-72)

    My interest in maternal ambivalence began when I was treating a patient who feared any baby she had would be a “monster.” Thinking about other women with similar worries, I realized that maternal aggression is frequently handled by being experienced as residing in a demanding and insatiable child, often described as a monster. Why does this word come up again and again? I think it is because children’s needs and demands do exhaust parents and do provoke intense anxiety in them. Around these anxieties—which are about theextremityof children’s needs and feelings—images of monstrosity proliferate.

    Images of...

  9. CHAPTER FIVE Women’s Reproductive Fears: More Clinical Examples
    (pp. 73-88)

    My patient Amanda first alerted me to women’s fears of pregnancy, childbirth, and mothering. My interest in her story sparked my investigation into Mary Shelley’s story, illustrated in her classic horror novel,Frankenstein. Now I would like to offer more clinical material to illustrate that it is not unusual to fear childbearing. The situations of other patients support different parts of my hypothesis about women’s reproductive fears. Although not all of them feared monster children, all did struggle with issues involving family relationships and various aspects of femininity. Their stories broaden our view of the problem.

    Sarah and Phyllis were...

  10. CHAPTER SIX Rachel’s Story: Internalized Ambivalence and the Dangers of Hidden Guilt
    (pp. 89-104)

    Rachel was a woman who handled her ambivalence by blaming herself. From the outside she looked like one of those women who had it all—a good job in a respected profession, marriage to a fellow professional, a thin and attractive body, an active social life, and two bright, healthy children. She did all the things devoted mothers are supposed to do—reading to her children every night; planning play dates, birthday parties, excursions to the park and zoo; and arranging her work schedule to allow for visits to the pediatrician and meetings with her children’s nursery school teachers.


  11. CHAPTER SEVEN Whose Fault Is It? The Externalization of Ambivalence
    (pp. 105-140)

    Rachel felt that her negative feelings toward her children were all her fault. If she were a different, a better, person and mother, her children would have been spared all their anxieties and insecurities. She minimized the role of their genetic endowment and temperaments butdidrecognize their differences. She understood that some sources of difficulty are inborn, but like so many mothers with perfectionistic expectations, she felt that she should be able to rise above the troubling impact of their temperaments and personalities on her own inner states of mind. No matter what they did, what they were like,...

  12. CHAPTER EIGHT When Fears Are Realized
    (pp. 141-153)

    Therapists who work with children see maternal ambivalence as a serious problem for the child, sometimes astheproblem. The problem it creates for the mother takes second place. Even in the mother’s psychotherapy, the therapist’s concern about the child may compromise empathy for the mother’s conflicted situation. Women’s reluctance to talk about hatred—the negative side of their ambivalence—has a real basis in society’s idealization and protection of children. At the same time, the strains of raising a difficult child tend to be left mostly at the mother’s door. Think about Harriet inThe Fifth Child. Her husband...

  13. CHAPTER NINE From the Child’s Point of View
    (pp. 154-164)

    Some children adopt a monstrous or negative identity, as a whiny brat, perhaps, or an unremitting troublemaker but basically as a needy and demanding person who can never be satisfied. Such people, as patients, usually prove to be caught up in a desperate bid for parental attention that was inadequate earlier in their lives and was often accompanied by a disruption in attachment. This bid can have a vengeful underside in the form of a stubborn claim that the problem can never be repaired.Monstrousmay seem an extreme term; perhaps I think of it in this way because several...

  14. CHAPTER TEN Vampyric Mothering: From Stage Moms to Invasive Moms
    (pp. 165-184)

    The spectrum of maternal ambivalence extends, as we have seen, from the normal occasional hatred of a demanding, inconsolable baby, a baby one otherwise feeds with pleasure, through various degrees and forms of maternal-child disturbance. At the end of this spectrum is vampyric mothering, which I consider to be, in its extreme forms, maternal ambivalence at its most destructive. I conceptualize this kind of mothering as having two divergent but frequently overlapping characteristics. The first is a feedingfromthe child to obtain gratifications the mother is unable to obtain in other ways. In its milder forms, this is the...

  15. CHAPTER ELEVEN The Darkest Side of Motherhood: Child Murder
    (pp. 185-209)

    AccompanyingNewsweek’s July 2, 2001, shocking headline, “‘I Killed My Children’: What Made Andrea Yates Snap?” was a photograph of a smiling family: Andrea, her husband, Rusty, and their four young sons. At the time this photograph was taken, Andrea was pregnant with her daughter, Mary. On June 20, less than a year later, Andrea Yates, exhausted and suffering from postpartum depression and psychosis, drowned all five of her children.

    The front page of theSan Francisco Chronicleof Thursday, October 20, 2005, carried a story about Lashaun Harris, a twenty-three-year-old single mother who threw her three sons, ages six,...

  16. CHAPTER TWELVE What Happens Later: The Fate of Maternal Ambivalence
    (pp. 210-224)

    I have explored the spectrum of ambivalence in motherhood from the bright to the dark side by looking at many examples, both clinical and literary. What is the fate of maternal ambivalence in the whole life cycle, childhood and beyond? What happens to mothers when children grow up and gain independence, leave home, develop careers, go to work, get married, and have children of their own? In this chapter I want to review some of the changes that can occur in the mother-child relationship in the more or less “normal” course of development. I emphasize both positive opportunities for growth...

  17. CHAPTER THIRTEEN What’s a Mother to Do?
    (pp. 225-244)

    Recently I went for a walk with a colleague who talked to me about her patient Rose. Rose has one child, a daughter, whom she hates. My colleague is having trouble dealing with Rose’s feelings about her daughter, as well as her own feelings about Rose. “She must feel like a monster,” I remarked. “That’s exactly right,” my colleague replied. “That’sexactlyhow she feels! How did you know?” I knew because I have been thinking about maternal ambivalence for years. The kind of discomfort Rose is enduring almost always accompanies feelings of hatred toward children, especially one’s own. The...

  18. NOTES
    (pp. 245-250)
    (pp. 251-254)
  20. INDEX
    (pp. 255-265)
  21. Back Matter
    (pp. 266-266)