I’ve been reading Lois Tyson’s Critical Theory Todaytext lately, preparing to teach our senior seminar.  She’s added a section on Jacque Lacan to the chapter on psychoanalysis.  It will be interesting to teach, because as a feminist mother of two, I have strong feelings about his use of the word “mother,” particularly his assertion, as summarized by Tyson, that adults are often trying to recover an “object petit a” which is related to the pre-verbal relationship with the mother.

Having had two babies and seen them come wailing into this world, I might assert that it’s not the mother that babies want, it’s the immediate satisfaction of their needs for food, warmth, safety, & entertainment.  Babies want omnipotence over self-satisfaction.  And we grant them that.  We share their commitment to meet their needs as quickly and thoroughly as possible.  We want them to live in this space of no hunger without food, no chill without warmth, no question without answer.  Mothers and fathers, and grandparents, and babysitters, rise to meet the needs.  As a mother, even as I wished that my babies had more patience as I helped them into bed or found a quiet place where I could nurse them, I felt their needs in my bones, in the strings of nerves running from hand to head.  Others might argue that this is unique to mothers, that it is their role, but I see this level of attentiveness in some fathers, too, and in some grandparents–anyone who spends a significant amount of time with a child.  My argument is that it is better for society, and better for the world, if several parents have this attentiveness to children, and then, that several caregivers can help children gradually take responsibility for articulating their own needs.  The day comes quickly when even mothers want their babies and toddlers to realize that others in the world exist.  The mother exists.  It’s only when she exists that a child can have a relationship with her, and to exist, the child must acknowledge that she has a will and a set of needs that are hers apart from (and sometimes in conflict with) the child.  Then the real mothering work begins.  Then a mother comes into being.  Before that moment, we are not “mothers,” we are caregivers of all kinds who simply give warmth, food, and freedom from pain to an infant.  Lacan.  He frustrates me, and I’m sure other feminists have felt the same way.

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