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

Motherly Love
We have already dealt with the nature of motherly love in a previous section which discussed the difference between motherly and fatherly love. Motherly love, as I said there, is unconditional affirmation of the child’s life and his needs. But one important addition to this description must be made here. Affirmation of the child’s life has two aspects; one is the care and responsibility absolutely necessary for the preservation of the child’s life and his growth. The other aspect goes further than mere preservation. It is the attitude which instills in the child a love for living, which gives him the feeling: it is good to be alive, it is good to be a little boy or girl, it is good to be on this earth! These two aspects of motherly love are expressed very succinctly in the Biblical story of creation. God creates the world, and man. This corresponds to the simple care and affirmation of existence. But God goes beyond this minimum requirement. On each day after nature—and man—is created, God says: “It is good.” Motherly love, in this second step, makes the child feel: it is good to have been born; it instills in the child the love for life, and not only the wish to remain alive. The same idea may be taken to be expressed in another Biblical symbolism. The promised land (land is always a mother symbol) is described as “flowing with milk and honey.” Milk is the symbol of the first aspect of love, that of care and affirmation. Honey symbolizes the sweetness of life, the love for it and the happiness in being alive. Most mothers are capable of giving “milk,” but only a minority of giving “honey” too. In order to be able to give honey, a mother must not only be a “good mother,” but a happy person—and this aim is not achieved by many. The effect on the child can hardly be exaggerated. Mother’s love for life is as infectious as her anxiety is. Both attitudes have a deep effect on the child’s whole personality; one can distinguish indeed, among children—and adults—those who got only “milk” and those who got “milk and honey.”

In contrast to brotherly love and erotic love which are love between equals, the relationship of mother and child is by its very nature one of inequality, where one needs all the help, and the other gives it. It is for this altruistic, unselfish character that motherly love has been considered the highest kind of love, and the most sacred of all emotional bonds. It seems, however, that the real achievement of motherly love lies not in the mother’s love for the small infant, but in her love for the growing child. Actually, the vast majority of mothers are loving mothers as long as the infant is small and still completely dependent on them. Most women want children, are happy with the newborn child, and eager in their care for it. This is so in spite of the fact that they do not “get” anything in return from the child, except a smile or the expression of satisfaction in his face. It seems that this attitude of love is partly rooted in an instinctive equipment to be found in animals as well as in the human female. But, whatever the weight of this instinctive factor may be, there are also specifically human psychological factors which are responsible for this type of motherly love. One may be found in the narcissistic element in motherly love. Inasmuch as the infant is still felt to be a part of herself, her love and infatuation may be a satisfaction of her narcissism. Another motivation may be found in a mother’s wish for power, or possession. The child, being helpless and completely subject to her will, is a natural object of satisfaction for a domineering and possessive woman.