Let Your Child Grow Up

Cut those apron strings, is this doctor’s warning, or “momism” will turn our youngsters into infantile neurotics

FRITZ KAHN July 1 1949

Let Your Child Grow Up

Cut those apron strings, is this doctor’s warning, or “momism” will turn our youngsters into infantile neurotics

FRITZ KAHN July 1 1949

Let Your Child Grow Up

Cut those apron strings, is this doctor’s warning, or “momism” will turn our youngsters into infantile neurotics


WHEN you count up your love affairs, do not forget to begin with your mother (or, if you are a woman, with your father). The first woman you loved was not that pretty highschool girl, nor the girl you flirted with that summer at Lake Lamour. In 90 cases out of 100 she was your mother.

The child’s natural rival in his love for his mother is his father. “We must stop playing now, because father is coming home . . .” “I haven’t any time for you now. You know that papa comes home at six . . .” “Tomorrow is Sunday, and I will have to go walking with your father . . .”

Father, father, father—the word resounds in the child’s ears. It is always the father who disturbs the peace. He is joint possessor, the stronger possessor, of the mother. The little tyrant, who wants complete possession, suffers his first defeat at the hands of his sire. His father is the first enemy he comes to know, and for him he feels the emotion of hate for the first time.

This sequence of events is typical of any child’s early years. Freud named it the “Oedipus complex.” The Oedipus myth is a powerful work of art, just as Hamlet, Faust and Romeo and Juliet are. It should not be taken literally.

Oedipus grew up without knowing his parentage. He killed a man, who happened to be his father, and married a woman, who later proved fo be his mother. He sentenced himself to a fearful punishment for his unknowing crimes—he made it impossible to do further wrong by blinding himself.

Freud plucked the Oedipus myth out of ancient Greek literature and made it serve as a symbol, a catchword to express the relation between mother, father and child. For it contains three elements that are typical of this relation: fixation on the mother; antagonism to the father; and withdrawal from life as a self-inflicted punishment.

Let us look at several examples to see how the Oedipus tragedy is acted out in real life. I have purposely not picked spectacular cases from the medical journals. Instead, I will tell about cases which I happened to notice privately. In this way you will be able to recognize similar cases in your own experience.

If you observe the people around you, you realize that certain types of marriage occur again and again. One of these is that of a strong woman to a weak man.

The Mother Picks the Wife

STRONG WOMEN are not married—it is they who marry. And they look for weak men who are wax in their hands, who will not threaten their desire to dominate. They are the women who say, “My husband doesn’t eat that” (although he may be very fond of it). When one is a doctor s wife she receives the patients at the door with, “Well, didn’t the radiation treatments help you?” If her husband owns a store she keeps the books. She lays out the tie that her husband is to wear, and reminds him when the income tax is due.

This mother’s love, which is usually not satisfied by the weak father, is concentrated on the son.

It is frequently a very active, demanding love and may be dangerous, even injurious, to the son’s development. Like the trainer of a gifted race horse, she urges him on to glorious accomplishments.

The father is simply tolerated at the side of the brilliant son, and he can consider himself happy if they take him along when they go out. This type of “patricide,” tempered by civilization, may be observed countless times in every circle of society.

The son’s life follows a course as consistent as the flight of a bomb. The strong egotistical mother, rejoicing in her son, holds him like a spider in the web of her love. Because of his attachment to his mother the son remains sexually infantile. He is usually

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afraid of marriage and remains single.

The mother will complain pathetically, time and time again, “It is my greatest wish to find a good wife for George.” (Notice that she wants to find the wife ! ) But she will jealously guard against the wife being found.

My friend John’s life is a good example. John’s father was unassuming; his mother positive and domineering; John highly talented. Thanks to his intellectual gifts, a good education and his mother’s clever manoeuvring he held a good position with an impressive tille while he was still fairly young.

But he remained to her a boy. Johnny had to live at home, for, “Where else could the boy find such á good place to live?” And, of course, Johnny had a weak stomach (in 96% of the cases it is his family life, rather than his stomach, that is out of order).

When you called up his home the mother answered: “Johnny is not at

home. You know how terribly hard he works—till 11 at night in the office. And tomorrow he is going to speak before 4,000 people. You probably read about it in the paper. You will be there, won’t you?”

Finally Johnny married the woman his mother had picked for him. Naturally, for he had inherited his father’s compliant disposition. He was then married to two women, and his mother remained first in his heart.

At 8 a.m. the telephone would ring in the house of the young married couple: “How did Johnny sleep?”

The next day: “The radio says the

weather will be bad. See that Johnny wears a scarf. 1 have just knitted a beautiful one for him” (stab in the heart of the young bride, for she does not know how to knit). The day after: “So Johnny has left already. What are you cooking today? But Johnny does not eat that . . . Do you really put enough butter in his vegetables? It seems to me that Johnny doesn’t look as well as he used to.”

These conversations are so common that you can hear thousands of them in every city of this unhappy world. The telephone wires between young married couples and the houses of their parents ought to be cut.

In the third year of her marriage the young wife committed suicide.

No one was unhappier about it than the mother. “To think that this had to happen to my Johnny! Such a fine man . . . and such a perfect husband. Did you see the fur he gave her for Christmas? . . . To think that she had to do this to my boy. How he suffers! But now I must do everything I can to brighten his life again ...” After a short interlude Johnny was once more single.

That is fate’s revenge for patricide. A son should not interfere with his parents’ marriage and push his father aside. He should not make up to his mother for the things which marriage to his father has not given her.

The Oedipus in America

The Oedipus complex works with women, too.

Years ago I became acquainted with the family of a musician, an old man at the end of his life. His two daughters worshipped him as though he were a god. In his home you felt as though you were in a hero’s mausoleum instead of the house of a living man.

The daughters had already prepared museum cases, and reverently preserved every sheet of their father’s notes. The world did not recognize

thier father’s works. Quita rightly. They were typically decadent music. But the daughters believed with rocklike faith in their father.

Of course, they remained single. Marriage had no place in their lives. From childhood on their sexuality was sublimated to the adoration of their sire. While they were still in school they were already condemned to become old maids.

Once your attention has been called to the situation (and that was the purpose of these examples) it will be easy for you to recognize similar cases among people you know. Each case is different: in one it is the father,

in another the mother; here a son and there a daughter; one case is clear and evident, another confused and only to be guessed at; one is tragic, another comic.

How many families live under the Oedipus formula? The U. S. Army has made known the frightening fact that of the young men rejected for military service during World War II, 1,875,000 were psychoneurotics, and of those who were accepted another 600,000 had to be sent back because they were psychoneurotic. Two and a half million psychoneurotics among the youth of the United States between the ages of 20 and 25!

For the psychoneurosis of American youth the army adopted Philip Wylie’s famous word, momism. It is not yet in Webster’s, at least not in the 1944 edition. But you will probably find it in the 1954 edition, and it may be defined as “a widespread hereditary U. S. disease, for which the nation is paying in general immaturity.”

War is a pitiless disaster, like the sinking of a ship. Both reveal, with unsparing truth, a man’s real instincts under the weak veneer of civilization. War disclosed an unexpectedly wide distribution of the Oedipus complex in the families of the United States.

You hear nothing about the American father. He is pushed aside, “murdered.” You hear only of sons and mothers.

In the Name of Hygiene

No sooner had the decisive victories been won than hysteria, “the cry of the womb,” rose up throughout the U. S. The chorus of mothers sounded in unison, like the lament in a Greek tragedy: “Bring the boys back!”

The very expression “boy” for a man whose beard is already growing is “psychoneurotic.” The military leaders then had to fight, not the defeated enemy, but the aroused mothers.

The army that won victory after victory at the front had to surrender back at home. History was treated to the unusual spectacle of a victorious army breaking up in haste, against tin.* will of its leaders. It melted away, not because of defeats, but because of mother love.

Where were the fathers? Where were the fathers’ protests? Nothing was heard from the fathers. They have been pushed aside.

The first experience nature grants to man is his mother’s breast. It is a pleasure that extends over a number of months and is one of the deepest necessities of life. As Freud has shown, it is crucial in the child’s development.

The newborn baby comes into the world with two elemental needs, warmth and food, and with two deadly enemies, cold and hunger. That is why it is born with two instincts: the urge to cling to its mother and the instinct (that is, the innate ability) to seek and nurse at its mother’s breast.

The human female never loves so much in her life as she does during the weeks after the birth of a child.

She is never so beautiful as when she is holding the nursling babe to her breast. That is why the great masters have painted women as “madonnas.”

I n order that the mother may patiently accept the child’s tyranny and not grow weary of it, the suckling at her breast gives her a pleasurable sensation; and thus both enjoy each other. During these nine months, when the mother and child live together in the utmost intimacy and mutual enjoyment# both react to instincts deeply implanted in them by nature. In the child it is the first phase of sexual experience; in the mother an animal instinct for protecting, feeding and mothering.

In the name of so-called hygienicprogress many mothers and infants were robbed of this important phase in their lives. Instead of lying on his mother’s breast and being allowed to nurse like a little animal (which is the privilege of the mammal, painfully acquired through a long period of evolution), such a child had a sterilized rubber stopper pushed into his mouth

the first, gift of civilization.

Instead of enjoying his mother’s milk (a unique and irreplaceable product of his mother’s body, related to him by blood and especially suited to his needs, a living fluid laden with mysterious powers), he had poured into him a solution put together by chemists, a “formula.”

And the mother, instead of happily holding her baby, lay in a hospital bed, her bosom bound, sipping purgatives and belladonna pills “to take the swelling out of her breasts” as though there could ht; anything more beautiful for a young mother than the swelling and flowing of her breasts.

Today there are few madonnas; in another 1,500 years there may lxno women with breasts. While their children are fed, measured, and weighed by sterile apparatus under germicide lamps in scientific institutions, the women can sit at their adding machines and behind the bars of their ticket windows, no longer hampered by frontal curves, with one less drawback in their competition with men.

In both mother and child the unsat isfied instinct raises a cry, a lament for the “lost paradise.” Unsatisfied instincts are the source of neuroses.

The child’s sexual development is hampered by the repression of the first phase (which is a very essential one, according to Freud), and he is in danger of remaining infantile. The basis is laid for that immaturity in young men which is so widely spread and so generally deplored.

And a feeling of guilt wells up in the mother, although she is unconscious of it. and will deny it. emphatically. A decade later, when in the course of nature she should he leaving the boy. she seeks to appease this sense of guilt by subjecting him to tardy and overemphasized mot bering.

The sterile rubber nipple that inferior imit at ion of a genuine nipple wit h which civilization first deceives the newborn child —is symbolic of the life before him.

It is the first, of countless “substitutes” with which civilization pacifies the 20th-century citizen of the earth, in the name of progress, hygiene, moral! it y and other high-sounding phrases, instead of satisfying his needs in a natural manner. Instead of being placed on a live animal (what a joy to ride and love a donkey or pony!), he is put on a rocking horse of wood and plush. Thus he learns at an early age to deceive himself and others, and to pretend there is life where everyone knows there is none.

Later, instead of experiencing real adventures, he reads “true stories” that

everyone knows are fictions. Instead of loving someone herself the young girl titillates her imagination by reading the “true romances” of a fictional girl.

Modern man is so taken up with business and family affairs that he has little time to adventure. What does he do with this precious leisure? He squanders his scanty free hours by sitting in a darkened theatre following the pretended adventures of paid actors. Instead of making music himself (which requires a long, hard schooling in patience, taste and artistic knowledge), the “profiteer” of civilization shoves a record into a machine.

Instead of walking upon the living floor of the forest and breathing the scent of pine trees he hurtles over the dead pavement of our highways in a metal coffin called the automobile. When he reaches a new city, instead of mingling with the people and enjoying their strangeness, he goes “sightseeing” in a bus, listening to the chant of a glib professional guide, not daring to think his own thoughts or experience an original sensation, hurrying past each “sight” (for the next party is waiting)—that is what the descend-

ants of Marco Polo and Sinbad the Sailor call traveling.

“Momism” is a newly coined word. But momism itself is not a new disease, and it is not limited to the U. S. In other times and other lands it has been sporadic, but among Americans it has become epidemic because of the allpowerful and all-leveling influence of mass production—mass production not only of goods but also of ways of living.

Love Them, and Leave Them

The human mother must once more become an animal mother, so that she may again become human. Love them first, and then leave them (leaving does not mean to cease loving).

When your child is a baby be as animal as nature will let you. Like the lioness, allow no one, not even the doctors, to tear the child from your breasts. Be an animal, be a mammal. The honorable name of your race comes from “mamma,” the mother’s breast, and you have no right to be called “mom” if you have not been a real mom, nursing your child naturally. Live out your mother love to the

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full during this first and most beautiful period of motherhood—I have seen women weep because they could no longer feed their children.

Then, when your child has grown up and wants to leave you, you will not cry after him with unsatisfied passion and buried guilt, in your hysteria appearing as the caricature of a mother, instead of the divine madonna.

It is a painful operation to separate yourself from your child. It is not a day of pure happiness for the mother when “her boy” goes away to boarding school or college and his bed remains undisturbed in the evening and quiet reigns in the house next morning. The father does not experience unalloyed joy when “his girl” stands before the altar on her bridegroom’s arm. Behind I his mask of happiness he suffers.

Like everything else, children must he loved at the right time and in the right manner, and the love must ripen as the child matures. You should not hold a boy in your arms as if he were a baby, or feed a grown man as if he were a schoolboy.

Above all, we must learn that parents exist for their children, not children for

their parents. The pleasure of conceiving a child gives one no right of possession. The child comes into the world as a son or daughter, but being a son or daughter is merely a passing phase, not a life duty.

Sons should be brought up to he not good sons but. good citizens; for the good son may be a bad citizen but the good citizen will never be an unsuccessful son. The daughter should be not a good child to her mother but a good mother to her children. She should be brought up to love not her father hut her future husband.

Send Them into the World

Children are not born to be the playthings of mothers and aunts when they are babies, “the pride of their families” when they are in school, and later “the support of their aged parents.” (How strange that our social order ties this economic ballast to the feet of children!) No, children are born to live, to live their own lives, and parents exist for the sole purpose of helping them achieve their own lives.

In bringing them up the aim should be not to nurture Oedipus complexes

by too much love, but to discourage them; not. to demand dependence on the home, but just the opposite. If the family connection becomes too strong break, it—so that the daughter who depends too much on her father will not remain with him, single; and so that sons will not long for their mother’s cooking, but for the experiences the world has to offer them.

The “momists” of the last war sat around in the evening writing long letters to their mothers about how good the cookies tasted, and how well the knitted slippers fit. Instead they should have been discussing the “iron curtain” with their comrades, or preaching philosophy as descendants of a great past and pioneers of a new and free future. Those would have been occupations and attitudes worthy of grown men, and the mothers should have been content with a short postcard. You lose nothing if you give.

It is a greater joy to the mother, as well as t.o others, to have a hero out in the world rather than a psychoneurotic at home by the hearth.

It is better for children to neglect their parents for life than to neglect life for their parents. ★