Elisabeth Badinter, L’Amour en Plus (I): on maternal love

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In her work L’Amour en plus Badinter puts in question the authenticity of maternal love, and analyses the cultural influences which have built such a feeling. The book starts with an overview of maternity before the Enlightenment in France and ends with the 20th century. The first part of her research is focused on the 16th and 17th centuries when maternal love as known today was almost inexistent in society regardless of social status. There was no appeal for kindness, the child was mainly a nuisance which caused the common practice of abandoning the newborn with nurses. In the lower classes the child was left with a bad-paid nurse who often did not care about the child which actually died before the first year of life; among the high classes, parents use to choose the nurse more carefully, but some of them did not ask for news during the 4 years the child used to be away from home with the nurse. When the child came back, he had probably never meet his or her parents, and shortly after the child was put in a board school after which he/he was supposed to marry or enter religious or military life. Badinter insists in the main aim of the parents: getting rid of the child.

The second part of the book focuses on the late 18th century when, due to economic and political reasons, a new discourse begins to safe newborn lives which meant to avoid foreign nurses and keep the child at home. The new nation was in need of more -and healthy – population, therefore, a lot of propaganda was made to convince fathers and mothers of the value of parenthood. This policy was based on capitalist principles: every citizen is a source of wealth, a producer, so it is necessary to reduce mortality. A new concept was created: maternal love; mothers should breast feed their own children and fathers should become their mentors. Two main discourses were built in order to change mentalities: to men it was insist on economic reasons, to women on equality and happiness, which shows that the beginning of this new fashion was no less selfish than the previous one:

‘Soyez de bonnes mères et vous serez heureuses et respectées. Rendez-vous indispensables dans la famillie et vous obtendrez droit de cité’

To make parenthood easier, a new concept of marriage and family attitudes were also necessary, it was the turn of l’amour-amitié, and the marriage for love from where having children was the happiest fruit. This discourse was supported for the enlightened idea of earthly happiness which argued that only through freedom happiness can be achieved. Therefore, marriage should be based on free choice of the spouses which became equal as they both were free. The new mother appeared, she is now responsible for the education of her child, that is, of the nation.

In this context the modern family was created; the nuclear family and the importance of intimacy which may help to built friendship among the family members was a result of political and economic interests.

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