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Projective identification with a grown-up daddy

Father is delighted to have a more clearly defined role, to take care of Eric, while mother cares for baby. However father tends to push Eric to use his intelligence to do things which are far beyond his current knowledge or capacities. Eric also has a strong wish to be big, like daddy. This wish is entertained in part to avoid his infantile jealousy of baby.

Eric at twenty-nine months: Father announces to me that he and Eric have put together every single one of the many puzzles which Eric has. Eric has fixed every single one of the pieces of a two foot long Noah's Arc puzzle by himself. Now as he does it again, he says proudly to us "I'm doing very well.” He is delighted about being an older child who has skills, who can do things which baby can't do.

Father sings the alphabet song with Eric and shows him some letters of the alphabet. Eric correctly picks out the letter for baby's first initial. But then father spends fifteen minutes trying to help Eric learn how to tell the time on a puzzle clock. When Eric can't tell the time, father gets impatient with him, saying, "Oh, I give up.” Eric is totally crestfallen. He feels lost.

He becomes quiet and sheepishly says, "I can't remember.” He rubs his head very worriedly.

Then he throws all the puzzle pieces composing the clock into a disorderly pile.

If Eric can't be the boy who does very well, knowing things like father, he feels he is nothing, he fails, he becomes like a baby again. He becomes miserable with the fear that there is no place for his "baby self” because a new baby has taken his place. However, a little while later, Eric tries to get out of his vulnerable position of being a baby who doesn't know how to do things. He recruits me as an ally to observe his "big boy like daddy” activities. This time his activities are musical and physical rather than intellectual.

Eric at twenty-nine months: When Eric hears mother talk about her friend who sings, Eric struts around singing, "la, la, la.” He then says, "I'm kicking my ball, it's a big ball.” Hearing mother offering coffee, he demands, "Mummy, I want a cup of coffee.” When mother says "You don't like coffee do you? Have some ribena or juice”, he answers, "No.” Then he firmly repeats his request, "I want coffee.”

Here we see Eric's attempts to possess and control the father's grown-up capacities to tell time and fix a complicated clock puzzle. He ignores his own preferences, saying he wants what father drinks—coffee. At the same time Eric disowns and projects his baby feelings into baby on mother's lap. Only the baby is to have the baby position of wanting mother's milk, or Ribena or juice. Eric projectively identifies with father in order to postpone a confrontation with jealousy that his baby self experiences in relation to the new baby.

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