Parenthood is ambivalent!

Parenthood, in the core, is an ambivalent experience.

Indeed, all intimate relationships are ambivalent: the vicissitudes of love and hate are inherent to the experience of needing and of being committed to another person on whom we depend and by whom we are intimately known. At the best moments, intimacy creates a warm sense of security and closeness. At the worst moments, it is suffocating or perilously in danger of being lost. The person we need the most, can hurt us the most, or we can hurt them, and both of these form dangers lurking in the background of love.

The intensities of love and hate that are generated by intimacy need to find containment in a relationship, and when they cannot, people break up – whether in the explosiveness of passions overwrought, or in the boredom of passions long shut down. But parenthood is a relationship defined by the ‘awareness of being responsible for the child’ (v/d Pas). The asymmetry of this arrangement further pressures parents to act as containing, strong members of the dyad, even when they feel like the screaming baby themselves.

Societal discourse on parenting, whether in the form of developmental psychology, parenting books, or neighbors with opinions, does not allow or look favorably upon parental ambivalence. This makes it even harder for parents to come to terms with their conflicting feelings, now overlaid with guilt.

Roszika Parker and Susan Kraemer are two excellent authors on the subject of maternal ambivalence, and their work formed the inspiration for my own work. I deal with parental ambivalence in the following publications:

Making Sense of Parenthood: On ambivalence & resourcefulness Making Sense of Parenthood

I approach the issue in more depth in these articles, one in English and one in Dutch: (versions with higher resolution are available on request)

Ambivalence in parenthood, on creativity and destruction

Ouderschap en Ambivalentie liefde en woede