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The Art of Loving by Erich Fromm Read Online (FREE)

Closely related to the development of the capacity of love is the development of the object of love. The first months and years of the child are those where his closest attachment is to the mother. This attachment begins before the moment of birth, when mother and child are still one, although they are two. Birth changes the situation in some respects, but not as much as it would appear. The child, while now living outside of the womb, is still completely dependent on mother. But daily he becomes more independent: he learns to walk, to talk, to explore the world on his own; the relationship to mother loses some of its vital significance, and instead the relationship to father becomes more and more important.

In order to understand this shift from mother to father, we must consider the essential differences in quality between motherly and fatherly love. We have already spoken about motherly love. Motherly love by its very nature is unconditional. Mother loves the newborn infant because it is her child, not because the child has fulfilled any specific condition, or lived up to any specific expectation. (Of course, when I speak here of mother’s and father’s love, I speak of the “ideal types”—in Max Weber’s sense or of an archetype in Jung’s sense—and do not imply that every mother and father loves in that way. I refer to the motherly and fatherly principle, which is represented in the motherly and fatherly person.) Unconditional love corresponds to one of the deepest longings, not only of the child, but of every human being; on the other hand, to be loved because of one’s merit, because one deserves it, always leaves doubt; maybe I did not please the person whom I want to love me, maybe this, or that—there is always a fear that love could disappear. Furthermore, “deserved” love easily leaves a bitter feeling that one is not loved for oneself, that one is loved only because one pleases, that one is, in the last analysis, not loved at all but used. No wonder that we all cling to the longing for motherly love, as children and also as adults. Most children are lucky enough to receive motherly love (to what extent will be discussed later). As adults the same longing is much more difficult to fulfill. In the most satisfactory development it remains a component of normal erotic love; often it finds expression in religious forms, more often in neurotic forms.

The relationship to father is quite different. Mother is the home we come from, she is nature, soil, the ocean; father does not represent any such natural home. He has little connection with the child in the first years of its life, and his importance for the child in this early period cannot be compared with that of mother. But while father does not represent the natural world, he represents the other pole of human existence; the world of thought, of man-made things, of law and order, of discipline, of travel and adventure. Father is the one who teaches the child, who shows him the road into the world.