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Menzies, I.E. (1975). Thoughts on the Maternal Role in in Contemporary Society. J. Child Psychother., 4(1):5-14.

(1975). Journal of Child Psychotherapy, 4(1):5-14

Thoughts on the Maternal Role in in Contemporary Society

Isabel E.P. Menzies


This paper focusses attention on society's relationship with death and considers how this affects the role and functions of the mother, particularly in the care of the baby and very young child.

Society's Relationship with Death

Freud's agony and disillusion arising from the First World War led to his perspicacious comments in Thoughts for the Times on War and Death (1915), perspicacious and also, unfortunately, predictive for the future. He comments on our defensiveness against realising the inevitability of our own death or that of people close to us, and adds that this defensive attitude to death “has a powerful effect on our lives. Life is impoverished, it loses in interest, when the highest stake in the game of living, life itself, may not be risked”. The paper returns many times to this point, i.e. that an inadequate relationship with death diminishes the quality of life.

Matters have become no better since, with the Second World War and the development of destructive weapons that beggar the imagination. Many psychoanalysts and other writers have commented on society's difficulty in confronting the meaning of death. Gorer in Death, Grief and Mourning (1965), describes death as a taboo subject, having largely replaced sexuality as such. Mention of death is sometimes treated as an obscenity. Such attitudes inhibit the process of mourning as described, for example, by Freud (1917), Abraham (1924) and Melanie Klein (1940) as do the relative lack in contemporary society of public mourning rituals and private support from friends and relatives.

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