Q. Your book has rather a shocking premise: that mothers often feel anger and hostility toward their children. What made you want to write about this?
A. About 15-16 years ago, I had a series of women patients come to see me around problems deciding whether or not to have children. For very, very good reasons, all three of these women did not want children, really deep down. It got me thinking about some of the issues around motherhood and feelings about children and the fact that I as a mother had not felt lovingly positive every single moment of every single day when my kids were growing up.
Q. So you wanted to explore the negative feelings of mothers?
A. It’s a combination of feelings that often coexist. You love your children enormously, and you can’t wait for the baby sitter to arrive so you can get the hell out of there and go to a movie. It’s completely normal.
Q. Why do you think we are so ambivalent about parenting?
A. Anything that we care about we also might lose, so there are always mixed feelings. It’s part of human psychology.
Q. Yet it’s still difficult for us to discuss these not-so-positive feelings about our children.
A. Everyone’s afraid to say that they have gotten angry with their kids or gotten impatient with their kids or wished they hadn’t had kids.
Q. What is the impact on children of mothers who feel guilty about these negative emotions?
A. The consequences are I think a lot of suffering on the part of mothers. I think it’s very hard on women. They need to relax more for their own sake and for their children’s sakes. If we weren’t caught up in this kind of incredible parental perfectionism, it would be easier all around.
Q. You describe a continuum of women’s reactions to these societal expectations that we all raise perfect children. Can you explain this?
A. In the book, I talk about women who in the face of their own mixed feelings tend to blame themselves — they become depressed and anxious — as opposed to women who tend to blame the child and become angry and, in extreme cases, feel that the child is their punishment.
Q. What about fathers? Do they fit these patterns, too?
A. I’m sure they do sometimes, but I wasn’t writing a book about fathers. That’s a whole other venture.
Q. What do you suggest that women do if they’re feeling overly anxious about their role as mother?
A. Talk to someone. Get some help with it. These are not things to be ashamed of. One can talk to one’s friends if they’re not caught up in the same set of worries, to other women, to older members of the family who may be very helpful. When the situation becomes more serious than that, when there’s major depression or anxiety, I think therapy is indicated and can be very helpful.
Q. You’re a grandmother now. Do you find that role any less ambivalent than motherhood?
A. Grandparenthood is unalloyed joy. Whereas parenthood is also a joy, but with alloys. There are [still] some periods of ambivalence. I love to see them and I’m not sorry to pack up and go home after a day or two. I think all grandparents know that. That’s one of the joys. You come over to visit, and then you go home and their parents have to take care of them.
Interview was edited and condensed. Karen Weintraub can be reached at email@example.com.