A few years ago it was 10:00 p.m. and I was already in bed. I think it was summer and the days were long, so my girls were still frolicking around the house. Back when our girls were about ten years old, that rarely happened - that I went to bed before them. At our house we were always strict rather than relaxed about discipline at bedtime, but that day I was exhausted - the weather had changed, or maybe the eclipse season had arrived.
Then, the front door opened. It was my husband, the girls' father. He quickly realized I was in bed. So he asked in his humorous way, which I really love: "What've you done to your mother, girls? Did you totally demolish her?" No one answered immediately, which was soooo our girls. So he asked again. Then (predictably) our firstborn, then in her preteens, rose from her messy, fussy cave. She stated in a clear, firm voice: "No, we didn't demolish her, dad. She demolished herself." As I lay in my bed and heard all this, I felt heavenly. I was proud and delighted. I thought to myself, "Maybe my parenting work is done. At least to some degree, and in a pretty good way."
Of course, I was wrong as I had no idea what challenges the future would bring, but at least I tried to indulge my feeling of parental awesomeness for a few seconds or so.
Growing up in dysfunctional families, feeling seriously fucked up
Growing up in a messed-up society and dysfunctional families leaves its mark. We cannot hide from our biography, even though we can certainly work through it. Before the processing takes place, like in good therapy, it's often intense and overwhelming to be ourselves...
For example, we've problems with our bodies. We find it difficult to recall, regulate and process our feelings. We don't trust our senses and even doubt our perception. We judge ourselves for being "complicated" and sometimes it's even worse because we feel that we're a burden, an injury or a danger to others.
It also happens that we've problems with boundaries; either we lack them, we build walls around ourselves, or we show them in a crazy, unpredictable way. Often we don't feel comfortable with ourselves or with others. We either avoid people, or cling to them, or alternately cling and avoid them.
We also regularly underestimate the positive influence we've on others, and we overestimate the fatal effects of our behavior on other people and the world itself. We tend to engage in catastrophic thinking and compulsive thought loops that keep us from taking the next smart step, doing something good, or simply admitting a repressed, painful emotional truth.
Moreover, we find it difficult to take a stand, and when we do take a stand, we've to deal with enormous feelings of guilt and shame afterward, so we often condition ourselves to... well, not take a stand at all.
Not funny at all, is it? Growing up in a messed-up society and dysfunctional families leaves its mark and more. We find it difficult to tell others our truth because we often doubt our own truth. Inwardly, we trade on our experiences for nothing, because we not only witnessed but experienced that our subjective, individual truth was something that made our parents or peers or teachers or other not-so-innocent bystanders angry, resentful, sick, sad, angry, murderously violent, envious, insensitive, or just plain ignorant.
And the most very painful, especially for the very talented among us: it's also difficult for us to be creative, because creativity is an essential need for self-expression of a strengthened self.
You don't have much of a strengthened self after surviving the madness of a dysfunctional family. But when we start a good therapy and do the inner work to heal the wounds from the formative years, we experience that some wounds heal amazingly fast and completely, leaving literally no trace. Yet, there are some that leave scars, and those scars become painful, especially when the weather changes, just before the rain.
Why Mother matters so much
In the psychoanalytic paradigm, a woman's relationship with her child is "a repetition, a compensation, or a reactive shaping of the unconscious dynamic the woman had with her own mother." For our record, in psychoanalytic language "the mother" is also called "object", in contrast to the "subject", which is a baby, a child, a person itself. That's, whatever emerges in our relationship with children, and in whatever form it's intense - whether in their presence or in their absence - there's a high probability that our relationship with our own Mother is playing itself out.
For women, the relationship with their mother seems to be quite colossal. Our ego - the way we perceive, organize our perceptions, and think, and our felt self - the complex way we experience ourselves in our bodies and relationships, were originally created through millions and millions of energetic, physical, and emotional exchanges between Mother and us.
These exchanges, coupled with our mother's energetic-emotional and spiritual reality, form the conditioned background for how we later experience ourselves, others and the world.
Some relationships, some mothers, undoubtedly support the uniqueness of their children and create a creative environment in which the spiritual essence of the child can come to fruition. They allow girls to develop their authority. They honor the uniqueness of their daughters who're different from themselves while supporting their daughters' need to be just like their mother. They can dance into this paradox and love and cherish the impeccable beauty of the Soul in their daughters.
Many mothers, however, are not capable of this. They are not able to love or like or accept their daughters.
When the mother is not able to feel or see her daughter as different, as unique, as an individual - and she also makes no serious try, no intentional effort to achieve this... life is not easy for a little girl.
As this little girl becomes a mother herself, the role of a mother is predictably a source of severe stress. There's little joy, much of anxious worry. Little pleasure, lots of private, hidden emotional pain.
A woman like this begins her journey into motherhood as a "wounded mother." From the beginning, she may doubt her "capacity," her ability to be a mother. She often has great difficulty feeling the support she receives on her journey to motherhood from her partner, the child's father because she's so unaccustomed to being supported and so anxious to protect her childhood wounds.
When we grow up in messed up and dysfunctional families, this is exactly what happens. We experience self-doubt in many areas of our precious lives.
One of the most devastating forms of suffering is self-doubt in parenting.
I hardly imagine anything more heartbreaking than the irrational or not-so-irrational sense that we have failed our kids. Our own flood of unloving thoughts condemning us as parents, mercilessly regretting and regurgitating past events, contracting under the heavyweight of guilt and shame: all the things we did wrong, all the opportunities we missed, all the talents and possibilities we messed up or failed to nurture in our children...
The fact is that we all make mistakes. We're not perfect. The fact is, if we suffered as children and didn't have good parental care, we repeat the mistakes in a certain form in our children. Even though we did plenty of therapy, we shouldn't delude ourselves that we're done and deal and not reinforce some patterns out of the unconscious blue. Because when we were victimized, we learned some pretty dysfunctional behavioral models...
As mothers, we need to be aware we'll never get everything right, and we don't have to.
We're human. And our kids actually needs us unperfect - that's their developmental reality (and issue for another article!).
Did you know that thinking about ourselves in a role of mothers and being honest about the impact we've on our children is the first step away from the narcissism of our parents?
What sets us apart from our mothers (and fathers) is our ability and willingness to think about ourselves and then, when we've thought about it, act differently. We've to look deep enough inside ourselves and really make a difference in how we treat our children - that's the hardest and most challenging part! But we'll never be able to heal everything. We only can make amends, we can pay our debt, and we can to a certain degree change the lives of our children, our families, and our communities.
We must come to love ourselves. We must simply meet ourselves and accept ourselves as we're, and not expect from ourselves any form of perfection.
When I became pregnant with our first daughter, I began to have serious doubts about being a good mother. Working on my relationship with my own parents helped me move from a lot of terrible inner pain and crippling doubts to a much more positive, realistic, warm, grounded, and joyful idea of being a mother.
I'm glad that so far our daughters show little to no signs of feeling emotionally responsible for me. Because that's exactly how I've felt about my own mother all my life. I'm glad that our daughters are able to separate themselves from me because I was never able to do that as a child. I felt extremely responsible for the adults in my life. Even now, in my forties, when the weather changes or eclipses move in, my emotional scars begin to move as well. They begin to whisper and then scream out, probably the lingering emotional truth of my childhood.
Practice self-compassion instead
Our human inner worlds are created through emotional exchanges going on through our life - or lack of it. Emotional energy - or lack of it, is something that rides humanity. It builds how we perceive ourselves and other people, and it defines the way we think and how we act.
Basically, there's nothing wrong with having emotional scars, you know. It's okay to work on them, to heal them, to take care of them. In my humble opinion, after all, the world sucks because of the lack of felt self-awareness, of the embodied experience of self and others. This world with all the oppression and violence against the planet is fucked up because people don't allow themselves to feel the pain and glory of a child, the trees, the animals, the pain and glory of Mother Earth.
The world is pretty much screwed because people won't let the truth about their own childhood pain into their consciousness. They avoid feeling, so their bellies and wombs go numb, their hearts turn to stone, and they perceive everything through the glasses of a cold, unloving mind.
I know how it feels since I've been there years ago and I never want to go back.
So when the weather changes and the time of eclipses arrives, every tear we cry, every unloving thought we dismiss and heal with much effort and self-compassion... all this releases the emotional flow between our daughters and us. It affects them and us and all of us. It changes our intimate relationships. The work we're doing. The collective, after all.
Your emotional work is important to all of us.
Yes, you do have my sincere gratitude for every tear you cry, every tiny part of the wound you heal, every scar you nurture, nourish... in all the loving ways your beautiful heart is capable of. And let me tell you, you aren't a bad mother... If you read this, you think, you reflect. You do this challenging task of parenting and inner healing in your structured, non-linear, chaotic way.
You are a good mother: because you care.
This means, you think of yourself, you think of your child, and you consider your relationship in a way that's not self-centered. You're trying to understand your child's world and what impact your words and actions have on your child. That's what it means that you care. True caring is making an effort to do things differently when we make mistakes. True caring isn't becoming thoughtful and then approaching your child with remorse and behaving the same way the next time. Keep doing it. You're doing great! Through trial and error and stormy nights, you persevere. And I know you won't give up. Because giving up is not an option, at least not for witches, warriors, all those shining souls... for all of us, the people who really care.
Love and blessings,
In a nutshell
For many women, being a mother isn't a simple and only beautiful thing. And many find it hard to admit that to themselves. But it's only through the truth - and nothing but the truth - that we eventually find ways to love and respect ourselves - even as mothers. For me, you are a good mother because you care, period. I love you for this!