What meaning and associations does the word ‘Mother’ have for you?
Painful memories? Loss? Regret? Guilt? Love, care and support? Safety? Cuddles and understanding? Jealousy? Cruelty? Constraint or restraint? Longing?
There are many types of mothers on the maternal spectrum and their offspring live out their lives as a reflection of what they have absorbed from the mirroring (attuned care and response) they received from their mother – whether that mirror was clean and gleaming with pride, or dirty, cracked and distorted. For some there wasn’t even a mirror at all and they sought substitutes as best they could.
Our early relationships – primarily with our mother or other significant care-giver (to use the professional term) – determine our style of ‘attachment’ with others, and the path of our later relationships, our inner sense of security, and how we cope with our inevitable losses. Indeed, we know from studies of Epi-genetics that the way we were treated and, more importantly, the thoughts and meanings we ascribed to these, will even have affected the expression of our DNA, as well as setting up our baseline of happiness, and the feel good body-chemicals such as Oxytocin, Serotonin, Endorphins and Dopamine, which are all life-affirming and conducive to good mental-health.
The somewhat stereotypical image of a warm, cuddly and attentive mum, preparing delicious meals and guiding her children through life with a compass of loving care, kindness and compassion; and teaching them how to love and be loved; how to calm and soothe their own emotions; how to bolster their own self-esteem and resilience, is sadly all too rare. This style of mothering would in reality depend upon the type and quality of mothering she herself had received from her own mother, and so on back in time.
Fortunately, there are women who take, or make, the opportunities to change what might otherwise be a negative outcome for their children, and they do things differently, and bring up their children in a better way then they’d experienced themselves. They are to be commended for breaking a destructive cycle – and for changing society in their own small way. We need many more thousands of adults, and mothers in particular, (including foster and step-mothers) to become wiser, more insightful and more aware of the ways in which they can improve the lives of the next generation.
Nowadays many mothers are restricted, by time and money, in their choices and consequently their availability for their child(ren) is reduced. Other mothers chose to have full-time childcare, or boarding schools, for their offspring due to their own career needs or personal preferences. These children are then predominantly ‘mothered’ by someone paid to do the job (which is an interesting tangent – for another time and blog perhaps).
For those of us who didn’t have the ideal stereotypical mother described above I have a few questions? If the Mothers Day card you’d bought, or made, had a truthful message on it what would it say? Why wouldn’t you then give this card and message to your mother (assuming she’s still alive and able to read)? What’s the worst that might happen? Is that your grown-up self answering, or the compliant conditioned child who is afraid of upsetting her?
Our relationship with our mother is fertile ground in the therapist’s office – and for good reason.
Most mothers do the best they can with what they know and have – psychologically, emotionally and physically. We can’t pass on what we don’t have. However we can become aware of the deficits – or ‘gaps’ as I call them in my book ‘The Ripple Effect’ Process – and set to the task of understanding how these have shaped who we’ve become; what still lies buried that might come up to the surface and get in our way; and what we can do about that to ensure that we don’t – as I was shocked myself to realise I was doing 25 years ago – repeat the same words and reactions as our own mother, and pass this poison down to the next generation?
We can instead educate ourselves, make sense of our own experiences, and integrate these insights into a new way of being that frees us up from looking into the dirty cracked mirror, from our past, each day, and enables us to be the best parents we can be.
On this designated day (see my blog on http://www.maxineharley.com for my thoughts on contrived and designated days!) we should also spare a compassionate thought for those women who cannot be mothers either by nature’s design or other reasons.