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Kestenberg, J.S. (1956). On the Development of Maternal Feelings in Early Childhood—Observations and Reflections. Psychoanal. St. Child, 11:257-291.

(1956). Psychoanalytic Study of the Child, 11:257-291

On the Development of Maternal Feelings in Early Childhood—Observations and Reflections

Judith S. Kestenberg, M.D.


Although Freud wrote several papers on the development of female sexuality, his references to maternal needs are few and far between. When they do occur, they disclose a concept of motherhood which is consistent with his interpretation of female development. Freud could readily accept new contributions of female analysts to this subject. He considered the female psyche quite enigmatic, possibly more accessible to understanding by women than by men. But he could never agree with theories of the universality of early vaginal sensations. In one case he did find a possible evidence of such an occurrence (Freud, 1925), but as a rule he thought that memories of early vaginal sensations were displacements from other libidinous zones. To Freud, the little girl was essentially masculine up to the time she turned to her father because of her disappointment in her mother, who had failed to give her a penis. The girl's early preoccupation with dolls was explained in terms of the young child's need to reverse the mother-child relationship. Freud consistently called activity masculine and passivity feminine, but conceded that the activity involved in the little girl's maternal play was "the activity of femininity" (1931).

While the relationship between maternal activity and femininity remained somewhat obscure, two sources of a baby image emerged clearly throughout Freud's writings: the "anal-baby" associated with the passive feminine attitude, and the penis-baby equation derived from the active masculinity of the phallic phase. In discussing the fantasy "A Child Is Being Beaten," Freud (1919) made a fleeting reference to the girl's identification of her clitoris with a child. The vagina, emerging late in female development, was considered a successor to the rectum or its subtenant. Its symbolic representation was that of a receptacle for the penis. Inasmuch as the wish for the child is eventually replaced by the wish for the penis, the vaginal cavity became also a host of the child.

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