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August 26, 1988 - Image 61

Resource type:
The Detroit Jewish News, 1988-08-26

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Marsha Mitnick of West Bloomfield enjoys activities with her children, Scott (left),

The benefits to children of feeling
constantly sheltered and looked after
by no means end with infancy. "Every
child needs someone around who is
crazy about them:' says Cornell
University psychologist Urie Bronfen-

A bedrock of commitment


True enough, the generously at-
tentive mothers of an earlier genera-
tion often assumed an air of after-all-
I-did-for-you martydrom. The fictional
mother in Portnoy's Complaint, Philip
Roth's famous 1967 novel, was bitter-
ly described by her son as "vying .. .
to be the patron saint of self-sacrifice."
But in real life, this so-called flaw was
usually concealing an unmistakable
bedrock of commitment. Whether in
the kitchen prodding her children to
eat their greens, at the book-laden
dining room table spurring her
children on to finish their homework,
at the piano urging her budding
Horowitz to practice, or in the
backyard making sure that the

Rachel (right) and baby Emily.

neighborhood bully was held at bay, High standards
these were mothers who really cared
The traditional mother of
about their kids and weren't afraid to
was much more than an
show their feelings.
indulgent parent, of course. She was
Such totally invested mothers also a constant goad, nudging her off-
may indeed have spawned guilt-edged spring to grow up whole — to become
neuroses in some children. But as the as my mother would put it, "a credit
late child analyst Selma Fraiberg, to your family and the world!' She
author of The Magic Years (Scribner), pushed her children hard to realize
once reminded me, such problems are their highest potential for honesty,
at least curable. "In contrast," decency, and "clean living!' She ap-
Fraiberg observed, "there is little you proached parenthood with a firm set
can do to erase the anger, emptiness of values, and there was nothing
and despair that so often haunt wishy-washy in her messages to her
children denied the lifelong benefits kids when they strayed from the path.
of early nurturance and affectional "My mother;' recalls an Irish col-
bonds!' Moreover, the so-called vic- league of mine, "seemed to walk
tims of the devoted mothers of every around with the Ten Commandments
ethnic group often turn out to be printed on her forehead. When it
remarkable human beings. Among wrinkled in a frown, then we knew we
the products of these mothers' unflin- were in real trouble!'
ching devotion are found the builders
No doubt many of the children of
and leaders of civilization, not the
demanding mothers grew resent-
assassins and destroyers — the
Leonard Bernsteins and John F. Ken- ful at times. But in the final analysis,
nedys of the world, rather than the these kids were lucky. They never had
Lee Harvey Oswalds and Charles to stop to figure out just exactly what
was expected of them. And as they

grew, they had a firm base from which
to judge their actions. If they
wandered from the straight and nar-
row, at least they knew what they
were wandering from. "Listen," my
mother would say, "what you do when
you grow up is your business. But for
now, dear child, it's my business!'
As it turns out, my mother must
have been onto something that
psychologists uncovered only decades
later. Studies show that children do
indeed tend to make their parents'
business their business. When
youngsters are asked to try to im-
agine what they will be like as adults,
they typically project a portrait of
their parents' dearly prized values.
Although it may sometimes seem to
take an awfully long time, eventual-
ly our children are inclined to adopt
for themselves those basic principles
that, they are certain, mean a great
deal to their elders.

Clear messages

In eliminating all uncertainty
about what they expected, the


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