“I became a mother when they put my daughter on my stomach, just after giving birth, says Élise, in her forties. During the pregnancy, I was aware of carrying a child, I talked to him, I paid attention to a lot of things, but I still didn’t feel like a mother. I would even say that before, I did not imagine myself as a mother at all. »
By giving birth to her daughter, Élise was born a parent. A generation that is not so obvious, according to sociologist Gérard Neyrand, author of The Evolution of Knowledge on Parenthood (Fabert, 2017). “It is not enough to have a child to become a parent. It takes both the acceptance of one’s status and the creation of a bond between parent and child during a process that psychoanalysts have called parenting, he explains. In most cases, this bond is built even before birth since, today, children are generally wanted. »
For Félix, father of three children, if a bond was forged during pregnancy, he only felt like becoming a father when he “became aware of and felt the expectations of the baby and the responsibilities” that fell to him, confides he. The transformation did not take place at birth, a period when according to him “the child is not yet waiting for the help of a father”, but later, “at the time of the first questions and the first exchanges” .
The arrival of a child is a “tsunami”, says psychoanalyst Myriam Szejer, and it sometimes takes time to become a parent. “It is a physical and psychological upheaval, conscious and unconscious, which often surprises with its violence”, analyzes this birth specialist, author of La Parole auxbabies (Language, 2022). However, the process is different for the two parents and more or less long depending on each.
“The woman goes from daughter to mother and changes status in filiation, which requires a psychological readjustment,” she underlines. By receiving the baby in her arms, with her addiction, she will understand that it is primarily her that he is addressing and that it will be like this for a long time, which may panic her. Hence the famous “baby blues” three days after childbirth, where the mother feels depressed and destabilized when faced with a baby who is beginning to express a need.
This upheaval also affects fathers, sometimes to the point of destabilizing them. “As they did not carry the child in their body, it is curiously through this body that they will express themselves. Angina, falls… they can go so far as to take risks, multiply excesses with their friends, or even, in the most extreme cases, take on a mistress”, observes Myriam Szejer.
The birth of a child therefore upsets the benchmarks and brings about a new adult that must be tamed. Claire, mother of a 10-month-old girl, felt like she had to relearn everything when she returned from the maternity ward. “Everything was new for my baby, but also for me, says this thirty-something Parisian. I felt like a new person, with the awareness that nothing would ever be the same again and that everything became a first time: when I went out in the street with my daughter, when I took her to the park, to a family lunch, at the restaurant…” Surprised by the novelty, Claire took the opportunity to re-explore her neighborhood and decided, for example, to go and breastfeed her daughter in different places in the park to invest her new life as a mother.
Beyond the psychological process, the birth of the parent also goes through the recognition of society. The declaration of birth, or the adoption procedure, plays this role. “What is important for being a parent is the desire to create a bond with one’s child and for society to recognize the legitimacy of this desire”, underlines Gérard Neyrand.
Being “psychologically” and “officially” a parent is not always enough to fully live out one’s role as an educator. “In the past, we just asked families to keep as many children alive as possible, today we expect a lot more,” observes Nadège Larcher, psychologist and co-founder of L’Atelier des parents. “Since the 1970s, we have been talking about parenthood, both in terms of rights and duties but also of personal experience on how to be a parent and support your child. It’s a huge change, she recalls. From now on, it is no longer enough to feel like a parent, you also have to meet society’s expectations and develop your parenthood because you are not the same parent with a baby as you are with a teenager. »
Élise, mother of a 15-year-old teenager, confirms: “When the children grow up, the relationship changes. Today, my daughter has become distant and aggressive and it’s not always easy to manage,” she admits. Thus, the parent must reinvent himself throughout his life to accompany the development of his child, in the same way that he also becomes “a new parent” at each birth.
“I had the impression of being reborn each time, remembers Félix. The emotions were still just as intense, but it was different for each child. If the feeling is not always the same, it is because the adult evolves, too. In addition, “each birth, with its place in the siblings, awakens the personal history of the parent”, underlines the psychoanalyst Myriam Szejer who always marvels at the desire to give life. “Even if today young people say they are pessimistic about the future, with climate change and the war in Ukraine, they continue to procreate…”