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The Evolution
of Childrearing Modes

Lloyd deMause

This excerpt is from an address that was made to the British Psycho-Analytical Society and the Heidelberg Psychoanalytic Institute, an edited version of which was printed in Volume 15 Issues 1 & 2 1992 of Empathic Parenting.

In "The Evolution of Childhood" I suggested a list of six evolutionary stages of childrearing modes, along with the dates that I had empirically found were the earliest evidence of these modes in the historical record. They are as follows: (4)

1a. Early Infanticidal Mode (small kinship groups):
Dates of evolution in the most advanced countries. [Two charts].
Each of these six psychoclasses co-exist in the modern world today.

The central task of early infanticidal cultures was to find ways of living with the emotional consequences of mothers who used their children as poison containers. (5) Because the child was experienced as being unified with the mother, control was achieved more by body language than by severe physical discipline _ leading anthropologists to imagine that they were more "permissive" than modern parents. (6) Later childhood was often filled with homosexual sex play, since the children were afraid to separate from their mothers and confront heterosexuality. (7) The infanticidal clinging of the symbiotic mother prevented individuation so effectively that innovation and more complex political organization were inhibited. (8)

1b. Late Infanticidal Mode (early state to antiquity):
Dates of evolution in the most advanced countries. [Two charts].
Each of these six psychoclasses co-exist in the modern world today.

As the child's symbiosis with the infanticidal mother began to be reduced, children were sent out to others at an early age, where men used them as poison containers _ both sexually and as sacrificial victims and as warriors. (9) The sexual molestation of children, encouraged by parents, was universally accepted. Eroticized whipping, torture and homosexual assaults on boys by men became common, as men attempted to rid themselves of the guilt they felt for the increased material surplus generated by the early state. (10) Early states began child sacrifice, at first mainly to child-killing mother-goddesses, from Astarte to Kali. Organized warfare eventually played the same role as child sacrifice in killing the young "to satisfy the gods"_that is, the internalized parents.

2. Abandoning Mode (beginning with the Christian era):
Dates of evolution in the most advanced countries. [Two charts].
Each of these six psychoclasses co-exist in the modern world today.

Early Christians, says the author of the Epistle to Diognetus, were odd: "They marry like everybody else, they have children, but they do not practice the exposure of new-born babes." These Christians began Europe's two-millennia-long struggle against infanticide, replacing it instead with abandonment _ sending children to wetnurse, to monasteries, to fosterage and to other homes as servants. Parents who physically and emotionally abandoned their children may have been resented, but at least those children who survived the experience didn't internalize a completely murderous superego. The long swaddling period also acted as an effective emotional abandonment device.

Early Christian penitentials began to disapprove of sexual assaults on children, although they actually continued to be widespread, even in monasteries.(11) Overt child sacrifice was ended by this new abandoning psychoclass through the use of the group-fantasy of Christ as a poison container _ a son who was sent by his father to be killed for the sins of others _ and religious warfare rather than direct sacrifice became the main approved ritual for killing one's children.

3. Ambivalent Mode (beginning with the 12th century):
Dates of evolution in the most advanced countries. [Two charts].
Each of these six psychoclasses co-exist in the modern world today.

The later middle ages ended abandonment of children to monasteries, began child instruction manuals, initiated legislation to punish the sodomy of boys, expanded schooling and in many other ways began to tolerate the child as an independent being with rights. I have termed this psychoclass "ambivalent" because they were able to tolerate extreme love and hate for the child without the two feelings affecting each other. The resulting individuation and reduction of cultural splitting defenses produced the advances in learning and technology associated with the Renaissance and Reformation.

4. Intrusive Mode (beginning with the late 16th century):
Dates of evolution in the most advanced countries. [Two charts].
Each of these six psychoclasses co-exist in the modern world today.

The intrusive parent began to unswaddle the infant and to bring up the child themselves rather than sending them elsewhere in order to allow closer emotional bonds to form. This increasing freedom and individuation _ separate beds for children even became common _ meant that new means of control had to be invented. Since infants were now allowed to crawl around free rather than being swaddled and hung on a peg behind the stove, they had to be formally "disciplined" to control the feelings injected into them, and so were prayed with, threatened with hell, punished for touching themselves and in general turned into the guilty Puritan child so familiar from early modern childrearing literature. Nevertheless, because intrapsychic problems of the intrusive psychoclass were beginning to be worked out internally rather than projected onto the external world, reality could be manipulated far more effectively, producing the explosive modern takeoff in scientific advance, technological progress and economic activity.

5. Socializing Mode (beginning late 18th century):
Dates of evolution in the most advanced countries. [Two charts].
Each of these six psychoclasses co-exist in the modern world today.

As parental injections continued to diminish, the rearing of the child became less a process of conquering its will than of training it, guiding it into proper paths, teaching it to conform to the parents' goals, socializing it. Hellfire and physical discipline disappeared and were replaced by more gentle methods of guidance. The socializing mode is still the main model of upbringing in the West, emphasizing the use of psychological rather than physical discipline, the mother as the perfect parent to both spouse and child and the father as reliable provider and protector rather than as being bonded mainly to other men. The socializing psychoclass built the modern world, and their values of nationalism and economic class warfare represent the goals of most people today.

6. Helping Mode (beginning mid-20th century):
Dates of evolution in the most advanced countries. [Two charts].
Each of these six psychoclasses co-exist in the modern world today.

The helping parent tries to assist the child in reaching its own goals at each stage of life, rather than socializing it into adult goals. Instead of the emphasis being on forming "habits that are useful later in life," the child is empowered to explore its own capacities as it grows. Both parents are involved in relating to and empathizing with the child in order to help it fulfill its expanding and particular needs. The child is made to feel unconditionally loved, and its personal integrity, physical space and sexuality are inviolate to adult intrusion. The first few young adults who have had helping mode childrearing whom I know are more empathic and less driven by material success than earlier generations were at their age. Nationalism, war and wide disparities in economic conditions seem to be tolerated less well by this helping psychoclass.

Each of these six psychoclasses co-exist in the modern world today. Indeed, much of the political conflict of modern nations occurs because of the vastly different value systems of the six psychoclasses. Regardless of the changes in the environment, it is only when changes in childhood occur that societies begin to progress and move in unpredictable new directions that are more adaptive. That more individuated and loving individuals are ultimately more adaptive is understandable -- because they are less under the pressures of infantile needs and are therefore more rational in reaching their goals. But that this childhood evolution--and therefore social evolution--is terribly uneven is also understandable, given the varying conditions under which parents all over the world have to conduct their childrearing tasks...

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(4) DeMause, Foundations, pp. 60-63. The dates of each mode have been shifted somewhat earlier in this formulation because I have found evidence for the earlier onset of the modes in my research during the past two decades; see deMause, "On Writing Childhood History." (5) For sexual use, see deMause, "The Universality of Incest;" for body contact, see J. W. M. Whiting, "Environmental Constraints on Infant Care Practices." in R. L. Munroe, R. H. Munroe and B. B. Whiting, editors, Handbook of Cross-Cultural Human Development . New York: Garland Press, 1981. (6) The best psychoanalytic description of this mode of childrearing is Paul Parin, Fritz Morgenthaler and Goldy Parin-Matthey, Fear Thy Neighbor as Thyself: Psychoanalysis and Society Among the Anyi of West Africa . Chicago: The University of Chicago Press, 1980 (7) Barry D. Adam, "Age, Structure, and Sexuality: Reflections on the Anthropological Evidence on Homosexual Relations. " Journal of Homosexuality 11(1985): 19-33.
Lloyd deMause is Director of the Institute for Psychohistory, Editor of the Journal of Psychohistory and founding president of The International Psychohistorical Association. This excerpt is from an address that was made to the British Psycho-Analytical Society and the Heidelberg Psychoanalytic Institute, an edited version of which was printed in Volume 15 Issues 1 & 2 1992 of Empathic Parenting (ISSN 0825-7531). DeMause's articles "The Universality of Incest" (Fall 1991 issue of the Journal of Psychohistory) and "The Evolution of Childhood" (Chapter I of the book The History of Childhood which he edited in 1974 (ISBN 06-131848-5 ) together cite over 400 references from which the data presented in this paper are taken.

Text by: Lloyd deMause
The Institute for Psychohistory
140 Riverside Drive, NY NY 10024

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