Business columnist, with a political twist, for NZ Herald

What would Freud say?

Psychologist Sigmund Freud's theories make more sense now that I'm a parent.
Psychologist Sigmund Freud's theories make more sense now that I'm a parent.

Prior to having children, I have to admit the theories of the late great Sigmund Freud, when I could understand them, were like gobbledygook to me.

Oral, anal, phallic stages of development? Sexual attraction to your parents? Penis envy? It all seemed so bizarre.

But it has to be said that observing young children up close leads to a better understanding of those strange ideas.

Even if your own conclusions are different, you can see how Freud might have come by his theories (remembering that he had six of his own kids and several hundred more to observe as patients).

One of Dr Freud's most controversial theories was one he described as the "Oedipus complex".

Between the ages of three and five, boys were erotically attracted to their mothers and tended to be hostile to their fathers.

The theory goes that not only are they jealous of their father's claim on the mother, but that they become afraid they will be punished (read: castrated) by him - after all, girls lose their penises at some stage, don't they?!

This is all of course a subconscious desire on the part of the child, and once the age of about five is reached, most boys have begun to identify with their fathers and go on to ape his way, his mannerisms and interests, and become men, eventually.

Freud considered the reactions against the Oedipus complex the most important social achievements of the human mind.

His ideas were quickly incorporated into psychotherapy.

These days they are still discussed but often discredited - it was Freud's contention, for example, that when a young boy didn't transition this phase properly - ie. didn't separate from his mother and identify with his father - that he might become homosexual.

These days we tend to think homosexuality is innate, rather than learned, and so with other of Freud's ideas, the Oedipal complex has lost a lot of its currency.

And yet, I am not alone in noticing that my three-year-old son is fiercely protective and loving of me at the moment (telling me frequently how he loves me so much, how he's proud of me etc.) and acting like jealous teenager when his father is around.

That's not to say he is always hostile to my husband - they frequently horseplay together and have lots of fun. But he gets angry, even aggressive, if his father is too persistent about joining certain activities - story telling, or general hugging, or anything else that qualifies in the unpredictable toddler mind.

Luckily my husband has a daughter who carries around a photo of her father repeating "daddy, daddy, daddy" for half-hour stretches while he's away at work.

She can only sleep well with him, not me, and can be easily placated with his manly hug.

From speaking to other parents, I surmise that this problem is not unique to our family and that boys do transition out of this phase at some stage.

Nevertheless, it can be difficult to deal with children who show a preference for one parent over an other - either mother or father.

It can be annoying for the parent who is clung to, and hurtful for the parent who is railed against.

And particularly difficult for both parents, who find themselves Googling "castration anxiety", "Theban hero Oedipus of Greek legend" and "infantile neurosis (how to prevent)" to make sense of it all!

- Dita De Boni

Pictured above: Psychologist Sigmund Freud's theories make more sense now that I'm a parent.

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Business columnist, with a political twist, for NZ Herald

Dita De Boni is a columnist, commentator and TV producer/journalist. She first wrote columns for the NZ Herald in 1995, moving to daily business news in 1999 for four years, and then to TVNZ in Business, News and Current Affairs. After tiring of the parenting/blogging beat for the Herald Online she moved back to her first love, business (with a politics chaser), writing a column for Friday Business since 2012.

Read more by Dita De Boni

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