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Waterman, B. (2002). The Eros of Parenthood: Explorations in Light and Dark by Noelle Oxenhandler New York: St. Martin's Press, 2001; 321 pp.. Fort Da, 8(2):99-109.

(2002). Fort Da, 8(2):99-109

The Eros of Parenthood: Explorations in Light and Dark by Noelle Oxenhandler New York: St. Martin's Press, 2001; 321 pp.

Review by:
Barbara Waterman, Ph.D.

Sitting down to write this review, I experience the converse of math anxiety, namely poetry anxiety. I believe it is no accident that in attempting a dialogue with this compassionate, wise, profound, and poetic book on parenting and its author, Noelle Oxenhandler, that I should fall into this pocket of panic about doing them both justice. Building upon her article in the February 19, 1996, issue of The New Yorker, “The Eros of Parenthood: Not Touching Children Can Also Be a Crime,” Oxenhandler attempts to reclaim the healthy aspects of the Eros of parenthood in the wake of a societal hypervigilance regarding child sexual abuse, which has led, in her opinion, to the proverbial “throwing out the baby with the bath water.”

In her analysis of the intense physicality and attraction between parent and child, Oxenhandler holds the tension between various sets of opposites — light and dark, connection and separateness, similarity and difference, asymmetry and mutuality, power and surrender, recognition and obliteration, abuse and caring — and manages to apply them creatively to the various conundrums parents experience with their children. Organized around different themes having to do with the parenting journey, the book contains stories, narratives, metaphors, allusions and critical reflections that comprise the gifts and agonies of parenting. Like a spiral going deeper and deeper, the unfolding dialectic between attuned parenting — metaphorically held by Goldilocks's discovery of the “just right” — and the potential for damage from intrusive or detached parenting reaches a crescendo over the course of this manuscript.

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