Love and work - Freud's famous measure on mental health...
Freud famously said that to be mentally healthy one had to be capable of love and work.
I was rather taken aback at a work day lately when a young mother arrived to help. She started helping for about 5 minutes. Then said she was hungry. (She had seen the hot dog roll ect in the kitchen). I said ‘Oh, haven’t you had your breakfast yet?’ Then said why didn’t she get a roll to eat. So she went off to have one.
She disappeared and as it was still early not many people had arrived yet so I went on working and preparing the walls on my own. A few people were outside working on the jungle gym and some other tasks. After a bit I went out and saw a two women (one of them the young woman who had gone to get some breakfast) taking to one of the ECD pracs. I went up and asked if something was the matter. The ECD Prac said that these two mothers ‘refused to do anything until other parents arrived.’
I explained that it was a work day and everything done was for the good of their children – did it really matter if they were the first – could they not feel proud of being keen to help their children? (I realise now that actually these women had come really only because of the possible free food – from discussion and chagrin latter that we had only provided lunch and not breakfast.)
Now part of me was a bit indignant – it was their kids school for which they pay a pittance – R100 a month, where the ECD pracs get something like R1200 a month as wages. And here I had (for free) worked extremely hard to fundraise for, buy for and organise for something for their children (therefore –in my mind – for them if they cared about the wellbeing of their child.) My own toddler self coming out of course!
The other part of course got thinking.
(By the way – quite soon other parents and community members arrived and set to work with a cheerful will – The first young mother sort of did a little and then mooched around chatting, drinking tea, asking if she could have a toilet roll of 4 I had brought to cover the extra need of the day - I had to refuse – it was not mine to give-and sitting looking a bit hard done by)
So back to my thinking...
This young woman lives in shack, is a single mother and gets a child grant which is probably all she gets. She was a teen mother, didn’t get very far in school, has a facial (will not say what it is) challenge. I realised I was looking squarely at someone who did not have the mental health to love or work. Parents may 'love' their children but the attachment may be an unhealthy or too tenous one. I doubt very much that her attachment to her children is a healthy one . I wonder if she is capable of that – probably she had an insecure or toxic attachment to her own mother (if she was even able to have one at all).
And certainly she is unable to work. She seemed to tire almost immediately of any task and be unable to actually manage even simple tasks. It appeared to make her feel very unhappy to be required to do work at all. It brought up upset, resenting feelings.
And she had come for the food (she could not have been thinking of her children as they were not with her). And had taken umbrage at the fact that it had not been ‘good enough’. I wonder if she can experience anything done for herself or her children as ‘good enough’. Whether her needs are and were so traumatically unmet in her childhood and still that she can never ‘have enough’.
Of course, realistically, she does not have enough. I mean though, emotionally – she does not have the resilience needed to love and work. She may not be psychotic – but she simply cannot cope with life. Her inner life must be so impoverished.
I think there are quite a few young parents out there like her or perhaps not so ‘ill’ as she is. All providing a much less than adequate childhood for their children...
A quick aside: I see other people living in similar situations but they take pride in working, their children and their shacks.
But because we have too many parents like this complexly unfortunate young woman we need children’s centres that provide stable, emotionally healthy, playful learning experiences – and what we are starting to provide now – parenting support – only in a small way at present but we do need to grow this.
Just will take money and effort...
Anyone out there want to help with either?