What is this peculiar relationship of mother and child?
You were one and then you are two.
One spawns from the other after great pain and great invasion and the necessity of complete surrender to the project.
One has to surrender to the growth of another human being inside which is, let’s face it, only possible with the help of hormones which are telling you this is ok.
What is it to grow up in a feminist or even “post-feminist” age in which the accomplishments of the individual woman are expected and celebrated, and yet for her to be completely invaded by a process which she, thanks to knowledge and birth control, had the power to choose or to reject as a life project, and yet, with every month her body goes through the motions, reminding her of her possibility and of nature’s expectations that she say yes to this thing—to this process. And so if she does say yes, she is both more respected and recognized and less respected–she loses time and space and income with respect to her individual vocational pursuits and yet she gains recognition as participating in the miracle and magic of creating new life. She has an experience of being progressively and variously altered physically throughout the 9 months of the pregnancy and then, with great pain, she labours and gives birth, and then she feeds the child from her body with never a moment to forget to be attune, to listen, to orient herself to the project. The baby takes complete control –what/when she eats, what she does, how she organizes her time–when she gets to have moment to do basic maintenance of her body and/0r her home. The baby is both completely powerless, defenceless and vulnerable and a complete dictator–determining the activities and the quality of space that mother is in. And then this process of attunement morphs as the child’s needs and character emerge and present themselves. The child is always changing–what they want, need and are capable of doing for themselves–even their need to be in their own world or space, and their need to be respected. But the mother needs to be ready–ready at any moment to drop her activity to attend to the need of her child–to be completely flexible and, in a sense, for her own activities not to matter that much–certainly not to matter more than the changing needs of her child. For if she deigns to prioritize her work away from the child she is abandoning, she is judged. If she does not have any passion beyond her child and her role as mother then she is smothering and uninteresting. If she decides to not have children, people worry about her and/or judge her to be selfish and/or assume that she is miserable because her life did not afford her the opportunity to be a mother. People relentlessly bother her with questions about it. She weirdly might even be judged for possibly becoming selfish which is very unflattering on a woman in middle age and yet is the epitome of accepted masculinity. Selfishness is assumed and expected from men. And what about the woman who decides to leave her children? She is judged as the worst kind of traitor to her child, to femininity, to the natural order of things. We really ask how could she do it? How could she live with herself. And this in the context of knowing so many situations in which men abandon their children.
And so what is it to love a child who has so completely dominated you, and your time, and space and individuality and usurped your other projects? How do you feel about your kids? When they are good and harmonious you may feel full of love, and when they are a pain in the ass, when they are defiant, when they are making mistakes, they are a source of great resentment. How dare they not at least be an extension of myself of which I can be proud? After everything I have done, after all of my work?
And so what is it to be that child who did not ask to be born, to have a life, and furthermore who was born into a very specific universe and environment with limitations and characteristics which may or may not suit her and give her what she needs in the world. She needs her mother–more than she can ever recognize or be grateful for, and yet her mother is also her provider, her jailor, her teacher, her boss, her limits.
At a certain age, her mother also becomes a reflection on her and can be a source of shame. More on this another time….