Friday, 16 May 2008


I have just come across the following quote on parenting, mothering to be specific, and had a strange, split personality, somewhat uncharacteristic response to it. I'll let you read it and then try and make some sense of my reactions...

“[Mothers can] put their own lives and interests on hold as a sacrifice to their children. As noble as this seems, [it is] a sort of negligence: withholding who she is - the best part of herself - from our children.” Monte and Karen Swan

Intellectually, the point is well taken and holds some deep wisdom and truth. But here's the bit where intellect and 'gut' response part company.

Does it seem to you others who parent that sometimes there is just no getting it right?? Parenting, for me at least, is pretty full of second guessing and worrying about whether you are getting the part where you lead these tiny people into life even close to right. Its often all I can do to get through the day and keep all of this worry and even guilt from overtaking me. It horrendously immense and frightening and in my darker moments it threatens to consume me completely.

I know this sounds bleak and defeated but in actual fact its not at all.
When I talk to other wonderful mothers I find that below the surface, when we are brave and supported enough to give them voice, these feelings exist in so many of us. These truths of mothering don't stop us from feeling joy, having fun, parenting with depth, wisdom, integrity and calm. But some days not being overwhelmed by the enormity of it all takes all the reserves I have. This is a time that I am moving through. My feelings will shift and change as they have always done. This period of my life that is indeed focused around my children and me in my role as parent, is not putting 'me' on hold, but rather adding a building block, a dimension to my whole self.

And this is my point here. I have not lost my independence, my sense of self, my identity as a woman. It has only been made deeper, more dynamic by this as with every new experience. I am not consumed, I am enriched. I am not 'sacrificed' nor am I 'negligent'.

My intellect chimes in here with the argument that for some women raising children has meant that they stop pursuing goals they hold dear and subjugate themselves to the needs of others. Believe me I am the last person to use my soap box to say that this is the role and calling of motherhood. I would suggest however that its is not about the mothering, but rather about how we integrate children into our society and communities.

So here for me is the bottom line. Is the best counter critique to the problem of potentially loosing ourselves to the worry and strain of raising children to call us 'negligent' for allowing this to happen? I mean, god, what a word to use masquerading as support for mothers! To tell us to let go some of the worry and blame by, well, blaming?

Give us a break. However we do it we are doing our best. Not judgement slipped in under the auspices of tough love, but rather warm tea (or a stiff brandy), a non-judgemental shoulder to cry on and some laughter about this crazy journey that one way or another will make us the women we should be.


Louise said...

“[Mothers can] put their own lives and interests on hold as a sacrifice to their children. As noble as this seems, [it is] a sort of negligence: withholding who she is - the best part of herself - from our children.” Monte and Karen Swan

Hmm, interesting point, but I bet whoever wrote it didn't have kids!!

I do feel that I have "sacrificed" part of who I am to become a parent, but I chose to do it, and therefore the sacrifice was not a negative thing. I also "sacrificed" my freedom by marrying my husband!!
There are times when I feel I am simply someone's mother and nothing else, and this loss of identity upsets me, but I try and ride these times out by putting the things that make me ME into my parenting.

I love cooking - I teach my child to cook; I love creating - I paint, photograph and play music with my child. I go to women's groups where our children play together in a creche while we have some "me" time, doing projects or just chatting.

I do not withhold "the best part of myself" from my children, rather I use it to make me a unique and (hopefully) fun and interesting Mum.

Granted there are some hobbies one cannot involve pre-schoolers with (arc welding for one), but you can still do it while your child is getting good social skills and learning to deal with "Mummy not being there", at the local creche.

Who says you have to miss out, just because you're a parent!

daydreamymama said...

I completely agree with you. First of all, the whole experience of mothering is much larger than this quotation allows for. "Their own lives" is just too vague. Isn't mothering part of our own lives? and also part of our "interests"? (I'm more interested in my son than I am in anything else in the world right now!) Of course, there are careers and hobbies that are put on hold while the needs of small children take priority in our lives. Nothing "negligent" about that.

I can see the positive intentions in it, though. I suppose there are mothers who believe that they ought to shut themselves down completely, and just become a caretaking automaton, thinking that that is good for their children, when of course it's not. If you're not being a person, how will your children learn how to be people themselves? Learning how much to put your children first and how much to take care of yourself is an ongoing balancing act, and it changes all the time.

I don't know the context of this quote, but it gives me the same dual response you had to it. And using the word "negligent" may not be the most effective way to reach mothers, many of whom are too hard on themselves to begin with!

a li'l bit squishy said...

During my teenage years, I chastised my own mother for giving up the interesting parts of herself in order to be our mother. My loving, wise mother told me that she did not feel that way. She gave nothing up for us, instead we became part of who she was, sure there was the transition and the adjustments to balance but all were choices that she made for herself and for us. On those days when I feel like I've lost part of myself to motherhood, I remember this conversation and instead feel richer for those in my life. Negligent, I am not, and neither are the other mothers I am proud to know. My life is not on hold, it is meerly different from what one might imagine it to be without children. And since it is not without children, there is no point in imagining what it would be like. Thanks for your reaction Kate! And writing about it so that it could become yet another interesting point of discussion.

Poppins said...

Well, in their defense, the authors were writing specifically about homeschooling mothers, and that does shift the focus a little. Especially when you think of many of the fundamentalist homeschoolers who really do believe in the concept of sacrifice.

When my kids were young, I was swimming in their ocean. But as they've gotten older, it's become more important to be a vibrant pursuer of my own interests.