Posted By Clod on June 12, 2012
In the book she co-authored with Stephan Poulter, “Mending the Broken Bough” (Berkley, 1998, $13), family therapist Barbara Zax identifies different styles of mothering. There is no pure type of mother, she said, but most mothers have one distinctive style along with bits of each of the others. The book is about mothers and daughters, but mothers of sons may want to take note as well. The first four types illustrate problems; the last two describe healthy mothering.
Me-first mother — Everything in the relationship is about the mother. She needs attention and takes up all the oxygen in the room. The child spends her life in the mother’s shadow, trying to meet the mother’s needs. She grows up without faith in her own ability to do anything. When faced with a decision, she’s stuck.
Supermom — She’s overly cautious and obsessed with keeping her daughter safe. She has a lot of anxiety and does not think that the world is a safe place. She compensates by attempting to do everything perfectly. The daughter is also very anxious and has limited options because she’s afraid to take risks.
Always-look-good mother — The daughter’s looks are more important than who the daughter is as a person. Appearance is everything and the mother focuses only on the surface. The daughter calls the mother to tell her about a really bad day at the office. Mother replies by telling her what she really needs is a good haircut.
Distracted mother — There are many reasons why a mother may be very distracted: She’s raising a child on her own with too much to do, too little time and too little money; she has a very successful career that takes up all her energy; she’s severely depressed; she’s a substance abuser. The mother just isn’t in the room and can’t tune into the child’s needs. The daughter feels neglected and without worth.
Responsive mother — Ratchets the empathetic mother up a notch. Mother has the capacity to reinforce her daughter’s dreams. There is an atmosphere where there’s permission for differences. Child has an inner sense of security about her decisions and she knows it’s OK to make mistakes.