Tuesday, 16 September 2008

Shrink Rap: A Review

Dr Robin Altman's Shrink Rap is several things in one book: a brief introduction to the mental health problems many kids suffer with today, and a working woman's guide to managing a profession and children. I might well have bought this book to read even given our impending move, but the fact that I got a free copy absolutely clenched the deal.

I warmed to the book as soon as I read the chapter Blaming the Mother -- A Time Honored Tradition in Psychiatry. While most mothers would agree that we have a huge impact on our children, even a brief study of Freud shows you that when our offspring suffer any kind of emotional trauma, we are bound to be cast as The Bad Guys. Freud, as Dr Altman puts it, saw women largely as "a bunch of neurotic, castrating bitches desperately longing for our own penises." I'm sure some would say I'm in denial, but I've personally never bought that whole penis envy thing. The only time I've ever yearned for my own penis was on a bus trip from Guadalajara to Mexicali, when the bus driver made several stops by the side of the road for all the men to relieve themselves, but never once for the women. Clearly, when one of the underlying premises of Freudian psychiatry is that women resent not being men, we're hardly going to get a fair shake once we've become mothers.

If I were in the market for a psychiatrist (and after this move, I may well be), I would give the Freudians a wide berth and make a beeline for another woman who did not view me as a neurotic male wannabe. While Dr Altman recognizes that mothers, as primary care givers, have a great influence on their children, she also allows that "fathers, grandparents, siblings, teachers, coaches, and peers may all contribute to screwing up a child." Mothers, she points out, can have "a great deal of healing power at (their) disposal," and parents who cooperate with family, school, and society, have the most powerful influence of all. Personally, I find this commonsense and compassionate view of mothers both refreshing and reassuring.

Attention deficit hyperactivity disorder, eating disorders, autism, oppositional defiant disorder (I reckon one of my kids had this one and how I wish I'd had this book back then), bipolar disorder, and psychosis, among others, are all issues that are briefly discussed here, and, being a glutton for detail, I found the descriptions interesting and useful, if perhaps a little too brief.

I also liked the chapter on "working" versus stay-at-home mothers; having been both, I could easily relate to this. I feel uncomfortable now when I hear either side disparaging the other. Life is tough enough for mothers whichever path we choose. What a great world it would be if we could just support each other and resist the urge to take pot shots.

When my eldest was born, I pored over books with detailed descriptions of illnesses like measles, mumps, and chicken pox. I learned about teething and sleep problems and became knowledgeable about developmental stages. In fact, I read a lot of parenting books in general, but this is the first one I've seen that covers mental health exclusively. Too bad it wasn't out when my kids were small. I'd have gotten a kick out of telling every concerned person who saw me bent over my frothing-at-the-mouth toddler that she was suffering from an acute case of oppositional defiant disorder.

When we first blithely signed up for this parenting lark, most of us -- mothers and fathers alike -- had no idea what it was going to involve. We thought of cuddly babies, soft toys and people who would grow up to look and act a little like us. What we didn't think about was kids who would sick up on our shoulders every two hours, wake us up five times every single night, and wet the bed until they were nine years old. Also, while most of us may fleetingly consider childhood illnesses like German measles and whooping cough, I wonder how many of us ever imagine having kids who are too freaked out to use the toilet at night even when they can; who suffer night terrors, walk in their sleep, or are slow to socialize. Or worse still, who develop eating disorders as teenagers or maim themselves. When this happens -- as it well may, even in the best of homes -- what you need isn't some pontificating What are you doing wrong? type, it's someone who will help you through with humor and sensitivity. This book is a great start.



AnneB said...

Awk! You're still posting and you are practically minutes away from transporting yourself to yet another alien shore. I cannot tell you how much I admire this.

Re the bus story; there's a great backpacker/traveler device for women that, um, directs kidney waste in an appropriate manner and direction with a minimum of clothing rearrangement: http://www.rei.com/product/407267

I advise against taking the frugal route and purchasing a disposable paper equivalent.

Katie Alender said...

Wow! Remind me never to take that bus.

So wait, when I have kids, I'm not allowed to turn into a maniacal harpy? No fair!

Charles Gramlich said...

There really aren't many Freudians anymore in psychology or even in psychiatry. You'll find more lay people using Freudian thinking than psychologists.

Carrie Harris said...

Yo. Just wanted to let you know that I gave you an I Love Your Blog award in my latest post. It's one of those pass-it-along things in case you wanted to play. :)

Because, hey, I love your blog.

Kim Ayres said...

Years ago, I saw one of those silly wall plaques which said, "Insanity is hereditary: you get it from your kids". Nestled next to another which said, "You don't have to be mad to work here but it helps" I just dismissed it.

And yet...

As time passes there almost seems to be some kind of Zen level of truth in it

debra said...

Sometimes a framework is a helpful place to start--it can be useful in understanding, yes?
how goes the packing? When is the move?

Tabitha said...

"What a great world it would be if we could just support each other and resist the urge to take pot shots."

Well said!! :) I've done both, too, and I get just as uncomfortable when I see moms taking "sides." I wish it could just be left up to personal choice.

This book sounds really interesting. I have a sneaky suspicion that one of my children has oppositional defiant disorder...and I might have had it as a kid too. I think I'm going to check this out. Thanks for passing it along!

Anne Spollen said...

Dads seem to get off the hook so easily on all of this, including the bathroom part...

The Anti-Wife said...

Have I mentioned lately how much I love my dog?

Mary Witzl said...

AnneB -- I'm a little horrified by my desperation to write under these circumstances -- it is not admirable at all. I have no business sitting here right now; I'm almost entirely packed, but there are countless details to sort out. Still, I cannot help myself.

I've heard of that device! Next time I'm on a long road trip, believe me, I'm going to get a whole pack. I'll never forgive the bus driver or the men on that bus either. Mexican women obviously develop phenomenal bladder control.

Katie -- Believe me, if you haven't already done it, you're not missing out. I was young at the time and went 2nd class. Some of my fellow passengers were goats and chickens.

I know -- totally unfair that harpy moms are frowned upon. I went and had kids before anyone warned me.

Charles -- How are you? I heard about the storms ravaging Texas and was worried about you!

I've heard this, but I have met types that ACT as though they believe that old Freudian stuff even if they really don't. My uncle was a psychiatrist, and I know he didn't believe any of that nonsense. And if he had, my aunt would have straightened him out in a jiffy.

Carrie -- Yay, THANK you! That cheers me up no end, and I only wish I had the chance to visit your blog and revel in my prize. I'd also love to pass it along, but I may have to wait for a month or so before I can do that.

Kim -- There is so much truth in those silly sayings you find on greeting cards that it really is surreal. They all sound so hokey, but there are pearls of wisdom even in true hokiness. You know that Philip Larkin Poem 'This Be the Verse?' about parents ****ing their kids up? I've written my own version of that poem -- post kids, of course. It really works both ways.

Debra -- We're leaving tomorrow and I am pretty much a nervous wreck. But even this shall pass away -- or so I tell myself! I hope to meet you again in the blogosphere soon.

Tabitha -- Me too! I am convinced that I was an ODD kid (in more way than one), and I must have passed this on to my youngest.

When we lived in Japan, we were lucky to know a lot of working mothers, and by and large, they did not criticize stay-at-home mothers. We also knew stay-at-home mothers who were supportive and kind to us. In retrospect, we had it pretty good. There are mothers who seem to feel the need to criticize others to justify their own decisions. That seems such a shame.

Anne -- What used to drive me wild was going to swimming pools or hot springs. I invariably got the job of undressing and dressing both kids, keeping them occupied, and trying -- somehow -- to tend to my own needs during this process. The bathroom issues were usually divided in our house, but swimming pool duty was pretty much all mine.

Anti-wife -- I love my cat too! She thinks I'm the bee's knees and all I have to do is keep her dish full and give her a warm lap to sit on. She even brings me fresh meat without being asked.

Angela said...

Ugh, there's a mail order catelogue that sells something called a 'John & Jane'. Its for those long car trips where ghee, why not just pee in a bottle rather than pulling over and finding a rest station?

Sadly this product is featured year after year, telling me it's quite...popular. *shudders*

Parenting is such a growing experience. As a mother, I can say that what we get out of the process is much richer than anything we are asked to give, no matter what the situation, stay at home or working mom, no matter what the circustances--healthy, sick, easy or difficult.

Carole said...

Sounds like a good book. So many, many things out there to muddle our physic brains. I do feel a good deal of guilt when my kids (now adults) do stupid stuff.

debra said...

Happy and safe trails, Mary.

Kara said...

book reviews aside...i totally understand Nomadding...i'd do it myself if i could...but the Middle East? i mean...you'll have all these coats and socks and ear muff things and they'll be useless to you. USELESS!

ChrisEldin said...

This sounds like an awesome book.

I am really pulling my hair out with my second son. I don't know if he has ADD. He can focus when he "wants" to. Soccer for example. He's chasing crickets, doing windmills with his arms, kicking the ball out of bounds on purpose. He's 8. Every 30 seconds, the coach is trying to reign him back in. Tomorrow will be his last day because it's not fair to the other kids.

But with fishing, he's good to sit for hours and chill. I know that overstimulation gets him going. But I'm also getting notes from school. He's able and even gifted, but the teacher has to constantly remind him to do his work. Finish his work.

I don't know what to do. Is this oppositional defiant disorder? What does the book say about that? ADD? Sorry for the vent, but if you can give me a clue to go dig into, I would gladly.

ChrisEldin said...

Oh, I don't want a penis either. Forgot to say that.

Mary Witzl said...

Chris, you are not alone -- and it DOES get better. We had a kid like yours and we were tearing our hair over her. At some point she managed to transform herself, but we still get twinges of her former incorrigible self. Hang in there!