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Mad Mothers, Bad Mothers, and What a "Good" Mother Would DoThe Ethics of Ambivalence$
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Sarah LaChance Adams

Print publication date: 2014

Print ISBN-13: 9780231166751

Published to Columbia Scholarship Online: November 2015

DOI: 10.7312/columbia/9780231166751.001.0001

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Motherhood’s Janus Head

Motherhood’s Janus Head

(p.27) Three Motherhood’s Janus Head
Mad Mothers, Bad Mothers, and What a "Good" Mother Would Do

Sarah Lachance Adams

Columbia University Press

This chapter illustrates the experiences of women who are neither pathological murderesses nor self-immolating saints. Their feelings about their children are varied—a loving mother can be mean, a content mother can be deeply resentful. Narratives of maternal ambivalence reveal how women describe passionate love for their children paired with fantasies of suicide, infanticide, or accidental death as the only way out of motherhood. The existence of maternal aggression, depression, and ambivalence in various times and places does not prove its universality, nor deny its relationship to cultural pressures and constraints. However, this research, which spans historical time periods, cultures, races, and classes, shows the apparent prevalence of maternal ambivalence. The chapter presents the Janus head as an accurate image of maternity. The Roman god Janus is a figure with two faces looking in opposite directions; the ambivalent mother holds two perspectives at once.

Keywords:   motherhood, maternal ambivalence, infanticide, cultural pressures, Janus head, maternity

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