Saturday, 23 January 2010

That deep maternal urge . . . to kill your child

True love, I’ve grown to believe, is when you experience someone else’s pain as your own. There is no synaptic pause between their grave news and the summoning of empathy. Your reaction is visceral, involuntary: a winded blow when your wife loses her job, a sickened disappointment when your daughter is the sole girl not asked to the party. The proper seat of love is not the heart but the guts.

It would be a foolhardy woman who claimed a mother feels a child’s suffering more than its father. So I’ll let a man do it. Simon Carr, whose wife died, leaving him to raise his sons alone — and whose memoir The Boys Are Back in Town has been made into a film — said this week he believes a mother is more protective, less able to permit risky japes, because the child’s body came from her own body, flesh of her flesh, and will always be so. Certainly when my sons were small I found myself grasping my own knees after they fell.

And I’ve come to wonder how much of modern overweaning coddling of our kids, never letting them free to roam, is not motivated so much by fear of what might happen to them, but self-protection: a terror of the bereavement we know would obliterate our own lives. The mortality of one’s children, the notion that they will ever die at all — even years after your own death — is, as Martin Amis says in Experience, “immensely onerous to contemplate”. Read more
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