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Stephen B. Poulter work The Mother Factor is a valuable guide and self-examination tool for knowing our inner emotional scripting that secretly operates within our bonding styles in later adult life. Filled with stories from clients' situations and teasing self-exploring questionnaires, the book is helpful for fostering self understanding and better interpersonal communication. However, if used to find faults in our long passed-away mothers without a genuine desire for change in our inner core, the book can be counter-productive. Mature and self-directed use can show us our deeply in-scripted feelings concealed within the inner layer of self that according to the author are our deadly blind spots. The paradigm developed as five mothering styles are conceptualized in such order that helps to understand facts about early human interaction with mother and its subsequent adult relevance. It is true that most of us just sleep-walk through life without ever knowing how our mother's emotional legacy shaped our adult relationships and events around us. The single most important factor in emotional functioning and development is our experience as child with our mother and how that communication and role-playing took place.
However, for an educated critic, it is hard to understand why it isn't our father, teacher, brother, sister or the driver who took us to school. Why a single variable of early interaction with a mother can be isolated from our past totality of experiences in a broader environment. Our first love indeed was our mother and she taught us how to say hello to our teacher and new guest at home in the evening but the two of us were not alone and especially in a culture where an entire joint family is busy raising a child, the paradigm can only be partially useful. Are early mother's emotional scripting and, children emotional functioning in adult life linked in a reciprocal and direct way in which the author has described? Is there such a cause and effect relationship as is between Ozone and Greenhouse gases? The answer is obviously no, but is the correlation as powerful as genes are to intelligence? The answer can be tricky like all answers to such human questions. The book is not hardcore scholarship, purely scientific discourse or like the great original works of Freud, Sartre or William James. However, it is useful in its own unique way written for a wide range of audiences based on certain well established research findings in the area family dynamics.
The five mothering styles paradigm presented is only helpful if treated with care and personal insight. In my case when I started reading the book; unfortunately, the same evening I had a heated argument with my wife (a Psychologist herself) when she lost the mail and failed to deliver the book to me on the same day. After the argument I started to think of myself as the victim of "Perfectionist Mothering Style" and may be now emotionally responding to my wife and asking her to be perfect. Specially, when there was more proof of my feeling of shame in front of our college cook for not wearing proper jacket walking with him in the garden later. But all of a sudden the realization came that I felt less guilty on certain occasions as well, the remedy proposed by Pouter and further that the present shame was not related to the emotional scripting from my mother but was the result of a suit-cutting advertisement, that I happen to watch with interest, not to mention the BBC Lifestyle channel's self-education on how we dress-up and why. Things I am watching a lot these days.
Afterwards, I started thinking about the "Unpredictable Mothering Style" and saw myself like Debbie and Linda in the book. As I thought I am yelling most of time and enjoy in-depth talk with codependent people who have just broken up. When I discussed this pattern with my wife she was very happy and thankful that I finally arrived at my destiny and enlightenment after seven years of our marriage. My daughter and twenty years long kept best friends were of the opinion that I am pretty cool-headed and anti-yelling in even tough times nullifying my wife's initial assessment later to my solace. The next obvious step was to check out and read the questionnaire to probe whether the "Me-First" narcissism pattern of emotional bonding is apparent or subconscious in my life? There is certainly a constant feeling of superiority within as a result and the harsh criticism of my TV talk show producer the other day qualifies me for this kind of victim-hood. However, it was certain later the same evening that the bits and pieces of narcissism I expressed out there didn't came from my mom but from a movie or from my sister may be during our learning days.
The "Best-Friend Mothering Style" was the only tool left for my self-examination as it was beyond any doubt and lapse of memory that in the seventh grade my mother recruited me as her confidante to spy on my elder brother and in my present life I must be looking to peers and friends as nurturing motherly figures subconsciously. Even If that is not true then my mother must have been a "Complete Mother" after the exhaustion of the remaining available possibilities there is nothing left. But the question is "was she?" and "is she?" Well as there is no such thing as a complete human let alone a "Complete Mother" There can only be a journey towards subjective growth and my mother was only a human she has to go through all the four not-so-good mothering styles to arrive at the fifth and acceptable last one. The best I can do now is to forgive her and myself before moving on. I wonder if there is existence of a paradigm for "the Complete Mothering Style" the parenting role of nurturing, compassion and guidance laying out there for people to catch up with. If someone finds it, I wish the same paradigm is applied to a good teacher, brother, co-worker and to the newspaper guy out there at the door.
The book is useful no doubt, but it shouldn't be quoted as a scholarly discourse in classroom assignments and in scientific conferences at the professional expert level. For professional Psychologists the key is; it misses out on great theoreticians like Freud, William James, Carl Jung or any of existential Psycho-analysts. The only scholarly work that has been quoted is the work of John Bowlby, British Psychologist who according to the author only claimed that the greatest human experience is growing-up in a family. I doubt whether anyone will ever question him on such broad poetic statement based on profound Philosophical and literary esthetic judgment. The problem is it is true but how do we go on understanding it further if at all it is needed? Most novelist and literary writers have tried to explore the same fact but the process adopted by the author is certainly different and more closer to scientific method if that is even possible here. From the point of view of a professional scientist the in-depth philosophical paradigm used by the author is from empirical Psychology and case studies. But the method leaves a lot to be desired from the point of view a trained scientific mind. It sounds too narrow, restricted and even bone skeleton at times. Too many stories and little understanding, I wonder whether facts of the stories and understanding of the same stories with different interpretations can be treated as two different things. A trained Psychologist needs to take up the challenge and look for some scientific basis of the idea? Whether the idea can become genuine science of human understanding can be established later?
© 2009 Samin Khan
Samin Khan, Philosophy Lecturer Postgraduate College Kohat, Pakistan