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An interview with Angela Barron McBride

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MMO: In your 1973 book -- which is not a self-help guide -- you suggest mothers might be curious about why they feel what they feel and when they feel it, because the nature and intensity of our emotional reactions to the everyday disappointments and frustrations of family life can tell us something about where to look for our growing edge. How so?

Angela Barron McBride: I do think that strong emotion, out of proportion to the realities of a situation, can be a clue to unresolved feelings which, if left unexamined, can get in the way of being an effective mother. The more you understand "where you're coming from," the more you're not likely to be blindsided by repressed thoughts and feelings.

MMO: In A Potent Spell: Mother Love and the Power of Fear, psychologist Janna Malamud Smith writes about the possibility of "the free mother." Can mothers be liberated?

Angela Barron McBride: It is difficult for the individual to be free of social constraints, including unrealistic expectations for how selfless the "good mother" should be. I do think it is possible, however, to be your own person in that role by using the experience to explore your own unvoiced expectations and fantasies. In the process, you can learn to become comfortable with being the "good-enough mother." That's my idea of "freedom"!

MMO: If you were to re-write The Growth and Development of Mothers today, is there anything you would add or approach differently?

Angela Barron McBride: I am both a psychiatric nurse and a developmental psychologist so my own predisposition in The Growth and Development of Mothers was to explore the psychology of the experience. In the ensuing decades, I have come to appreciate how much individual psychology is shaped by the larger society. For example, American society is shaped by the myth of rugged individualism; this value system has, in turn, shaped American motherhood where the responsibility is placed on the mother's behavior not on whether the society supports the mother.  With birth control, we have come to see motherhood as an optional experience, an individual choice, and I've heard people say unfeelingly, "I don't see why I have to baby-sit my sister's children; she chose to have them and I didn't." Our belief in rugged individualism has caused us to laugh at the notion of "it takes a village." But it does take community supports to be an effective parent, and I would emphasize this fact much more if I were rewriting The Growth and Development of Mothers at this point in time. Individual parents shouldn't have to create their own basic support structures (e.g., safe, affordable child and after-school care).

mmo : February 2006

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