Mother Love, Maternal Ambivalence, and the Possibility of Empowered Mothering

Hypatia 32 (1):152-168 (2017)
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Dominant cultural ideologies of motherhood define the nature of mother love. Recent developments in motherhood studies, and the work of a small number of feminist philosophers and scholars of motherhood, have challenged the tenets of these ideologies by daring to speak the “unspeakable”: that mother love is often and for all mothers, whether consciously or not, permeated by powerful negative and conflicting emotions termed maternal ambivalence. In this essay, relying on recorded personal narratives by Bosnian women who are raising children born of wartime rape, as well as recent studies on empowered motherhood, my aim is to show that maternal love, like love in any other close relationship, encompasses and assimilates healthy ambivalence, and can inform maternal care in a constructive and positive manner. I argue that the acknowledgment of healthy maternal ambivalence as an integral aspect of mother love involves honoring the mother's subjectivity and validates her personhood, and as such it opens up the possibility of redefining mother love in terms that are empowering to mothers.



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