Parenthood (International Dictionary of Psychoanalysis)
The term "parenthood" has acquired a semitechnical sense in anthropology and psychoanalysis, and it has the same connotations in both disciplines. Ethnologists began using the term in the 1970s (Goodenough, 1970; Carroll, 1970; Goody, 1971). It specifies one of three kinds of social relations that make up kinship: the relationship between parents and children (the other two kinds of kinship systems govern blood relations and relations by marriage).
The term "parenthood" also raises the issue of the child as "property." To be recognized as a child's parent, is it sufficient for a man to engender, or a woman to give birth to, the child? The English ethnologist Esther Goody, in her book Parenthood and Social Reproduction: Fostering and Occupational Roles in West Africa (1982), theorized about parenthood for the first time. She distinguished five groups of functions that individuals can or must take on in order to be considered as parents of children: (1) conceiving or engendering; (2) raising, feeding, protecting; (3) instructing, educating; (4) considering oneself responsible for what the child does; (5) endowing the child at birth with a status, a name, and a group of rights and duties. In different societies, these various functions may exist in combination or separately; adult responsibilities vis-à-vis the child are thus susceptible of broad variety of dissociation and division (the case of adoption is a classic example).
For psychoanalysis, parenthood consists of a process of psychic maturation that begins at conception for both mother and father. Therese Benedek (1973) and G. Bibring-Lehner (1959, 1961), two American psychoanalysts, introduced the term "motherhood," which they defined as all the affective processes that develop and are integrated in a woman when she becomes a mother. In France this notion was introduced by the psychiatrist Paul-Claude Racamier (1961).
In psychodynamic terms, insofar as motherhood is a mental process that cannot be reduced to physiology, the father too may be supposed to go through an identity crisis analogous to that of the mother. This is directly in line with the thinking of Therese Benedek, who showed that men and women share the same two sources of parenthood: their biological bisexuality and their common dependency on a mother or mother figure. Indeed, in men and women the urge to reproduce has a common origin (the pregenital stage); only its organization is different in each sex. Taking up a theme from "Totem and Taboo" (Freud, 1912-1913a), Theodor Reik, in his interpretation of the custom of couvade in "Die Couvade und die Psychogenese der Vergeltungsfurcht" (The couvade and psychogenesis of the fear of reprisals; 1914), emphasized that the attainment of fatherhoodhe fulfillment of an oedipal wishntails a thoroughgoing reorganization of the libido in men as well as in women. (Couvade is a custom where the father takes to bed during the birth of a child and submits to certain taboos.)
Some psychoanalysts have adopted the notion of fatherhood in connection with the psychoaffective changes that occur in fathers-to-be. Clinical experience has revealed that future fathers experience a normal crisis equivalent to that of motherhood (Carel, 1974; Delaisi de Parseval, 1981). Such crises, whose unpredictable outcome may have maturational value and may lead to a new equilibrium, should be understood by analogy with the classical psychoanalytical account of clashing instincts that eventually become integrated.
It is notable that in Western societies the lived experience of fatherhood is concealed, even denied, both in fantasy and on the psychosomatic level. These societies in effect promote an implicit ideology of parenthood in which essentially feminine moments such as pregnancy, giving birth, breast feeding, and the earliest relations between mother and infant are privileged as essential. The man, the father, remains a relatively unobtrusive presence in representations of parenthood.
GENEVIE DELAISI DE PARSEVAL
See also: Archaic mother; Benedek, Therese; Infantile psychosis; Premature-Prematurity; Racamier, Paul-Claude; Tenderness.
Benedek, Therese. (1959). Parenthood as a developmental phase. Journal of the American Psychoanalytic Association, 7, 389-417.
. (1973). Psychoanalytic investigations: selected papers. New York: Quadrangle Books.
Delaisi de Parseval, Geneviève. (1981). La part du père. Paris: Seuil.
Goody, Esther. (1982). Parenthood and social reproduction: fostering and occupational roles in west Africa. Cambridge, UK: Cambridge University Press.
Racamier, Paul-Claude. (1961). La mère et l'enfant dans les psychoses du post-partum.olution psychiatrique, 4, 525-570.
Reik, Theodor. (1914). Die Couvade und die Psychogenese der Vergeltungsfurcht. Imago, 3, 409-455.
Anthony, J., and Benedek, T. (Eds.). (1970). Parenthood: Its psychology and psychopathology. Boston: Little, Brown and Co.