Monday, February 4, 2013

Goddesses in the Dust: The Mother

An archaeologist unearths the divine feminine, one archetype at a time...
Held by mom. Torino, Italy.
There's a saying I've always heard about mothering: 

You're only as happy as your unhappiest child.

How true.
The Return of Persephone. Frederic Leighton, 1891
This was so for Demeter, whose daughter was tricked to spend part of her life with Hades in the Underworld. As Persephone pined away in the darkness of the shadowy realm, her mother suffered too, letting nothing grow during the months her daughter was away.

Things are no different in the modern age. When our children make friends and earn good grades, mothers feel good. But when our children have trouble socially or falter in school, it can pierce the heart of the mother.

Yet I think the way in which mothers respond to their children's needs is influenced by the larger social conventions of  each generation.

My mother loved her children, but she was raised in a period when one did not show excessive emotion to a child, and the issue of discipline was left in the hands of a dominating and controlling father. It was an era when you were on your own when it came to many things: doing your homework, dealing with painful and confusing issues of adolescence, applying to college.

Fast forward to the 21st century.

Many accuse today's mothers - and fathers - of over-parenting and smothering our children. Helicopter parents, kids tied to the apron strings, children who often don't leave home until well into their twenties or even - in the midst of a financial crisis - their thirties.

How did we go from a school of mothering that allowed kids to play outside and run all over creation by themselves well after dark to a world in which many children exist in hermetically sealed environments - picked up and deposited in carpools, delivered to their front doors to go directly to a steady diet of homework, excessive amounts of extracurricular activities only to rise at dawn and do it all over again? The pressure on today's kids to succeed - to become mini-adults with packed resumes by age 18 in order to get into the perfect college to get the perfect job - is as crazy as the relative lack of attention parents paid to their children's futures when I was growing up. 

Somewhere between the lackadaisical mothering style of my parents' generation and the overbearing nature of today's mothers, we made a 180 degree turn.

And somewhere in between is where we find the balance we need. Not only for the children - who need unstructured time outside to play as well as supervision when they struggle with schoolwork or social issues, but for mothers too - to find a healthy place where they can distinguish their own needs and wants from those of their children.

No matter what generation, the mother archetype endures.

What I know in my heart, is that my mom did her best. 

Now, all these years later with kids of my own, all I can say is:

so am I. 

25 comments:

  1. That's all we can do - our best. It is not easy being a mother; no one can prepare you for it - not even your own mother. It is one of those things which you have to experience for yourself - and try to walk the narrow path between being a good mum and smothering your kids with too much attention.

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  2. aside from the wisdom of your words...I think it is funny going from the bright eyes of your first family portrait into the cool shades of the second.

    Also...nice smiles!

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    1. didn't notice that til you mentioned this - but yes - we were visiting my daughter who was studying in Egypt where even in November the light is powerful!

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  3. Whilst I'm not a parent, I was and I suppose will always be a child to my parents no matter what age I am! I can't help thinking the press has a lot to do with today's degree of over protecting of children. They concentrate and bombard us with negatives; have us believing the world is so much fuller of 'bad' things/people than ever before yet if you listen to the statisticians it's the opposite.

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    1. agree Annie - much of our modern day media tends to focus on and inflate fear-related issues because that is what sells. if we are not already there, we are in danger of becoming prisoners of the illusions we help to generate and perpetuate.

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  4. (((! i believe you)))

    what is this strange thing you refer to as pressure to succeed? :)

    i think we need to step back and look at what we think success is, what we think this life's experience is for. only then can we begin to live ourselves, never mind parent.

    we do what we know, don't we, what we intuit, what we derive, hopefully, from a philisophical approach to the meaning of life? i can't imagine what my children might become but i hope for them to be thoughtful. i hope for them to consider how it is that they are here inside of this one incredible opportunity.

    last night tucking my children in i laughed to james. we do not have much money. we choose this. and even if we did, i can not bear to be wasteful with heat and so we keep our home at 64 degrees at its upper limit. my children put on their winter hats to go to sleep. even in these simplest of ways we need to call our children to suffer so that they might learn a more rightful way of being in the world. there is no living without suffering. what injustice we inflict if we teach them otherwise.

    loving you and your thoughtful ways)))

    xo
    erin

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    1. what is this thing called pressure to succeed? a very nasty thought-form generated by a relatively narrow band of the world, considering how large and varied this planet is. it is the byproduct of a - mostly private - educational system where children receive wonderful - but narrow - learning opportunities but where the meta message is getting into college. a whole industry has been incubated on this system which in turn feeds the fear of parents who want their kids to get into the 'best' colleges (best being a very relative term). somewhere between my generation and the current one the path to the grown up world became fraught with fear - some of this is due to economic realities, but there is no doubt that colleges, private schools and the college board and other educational testing industries benefit from the climate of fear. parents fear their kids won't make the same living as they did so they do everything they can to assure their child will have all the benefits they did. but as you said, this is all relative and this definition of success is not only narrow but damaging. there need to be a balance struck in raising our children between doing too much and not enough. if kids don't have a chance to fall down and learn from their own mistakes we are doing them a terrible injustice. perhaps a lot of the reason many parents push their kids to do well academically and try to avoid any pain is rooted in their own unmetabolized psychological issues. also we don't have enough role models to understand that there are multiple types of intelligence in this world and our educational system worships at the altar of only a very tiny portion of that intelligence. i believe that the rising numbers of children with learning disabilities will alter this, because the way - and what - we are teaching our children will be forced to change in the future. we need to think outside the box and explore nontraditional ways of raising our children. in a world that is overloaded with aggression, acquisitiveness and paradigms of excess we need to promote paradigms that include the spirit, the earth and how to achieve balance.

      it takes courage to be the kind of parent who can listen to their own voice and step out of the herd, and i admire anyone who does that. I am smiling inwardly here as i read about your thermostat setting. i grew up in minnesota and my dad kept ours at 45 degrees F (of course it was −35 outside). i woke up every morning to see my breath crystalizing in the air above my bed. "builds character," i can hear my dad's voice still echoing in my head!

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  5. Amanda, I had an interesting morning with my daughter before I dropped her off at school. I thought about writing a blog post about it but have decided to write a little less about the more personal aspects of my life because of the conflict I've consistently felt over the years after putting it out there. So far, I'm having an easier time of it just blogging about writing. It's a buffer, I suppose, for the parts of me that feel overexposed when a new person starts following, a way for me to mitigate the strong oscillations of wanting closeness with those with whom I have journeyed well and feeling vulnerable to, essentially, strangers. The vagaries of online life.

    Anyway, you are someone with whom there is no oscillation so I will tell you a bit about this morning. I was curling my daughter's hair and we were both distracted with conversation. Then, I was trying to get her to take five bites of her banana ('You need the potassium') and in the midst of the mild hullabulloo (sp?) I grabbed the wrong end of of the curling iron and felt the surprising singe on my index and middle finger. I cursed (she's heard it all) and jumped back, racing to the fridge to get ice which promptly stuck to my skin. When I came back, I was laughing at myself and she with me but then she refused to eat more of the banana. It escalated and we ended with me losing my temper and dumping the rejected banana in the bathroom trash, frustrated that food has always been an issue (she's notoriously finicky and hence, very slender.) I didn't curl the other half of her hair and we climbed into the car in a huff. She went to school wearing the badge of my clipped fuse in the form of curls on one side but not the other. I felt (feel?) like a terrible mom knowing she, at such a tender, self-conscious stage of her development, will wear her hair only half-curled, today.

    I have no conclusions or answers or moral or anything. Just a swirl of emotions in response to my morning that have been pricked by your beautiful post.

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    1. oh suze. how many mornings have i felt the exact same thing. the drop off at school with a less than pleasant mood between you and your child and the rest of the day to monday morning quarterback it. there is something in this image of half curled hair that will stay with me for a while. in fact, i can see a story in there incubating for you.

      i relate to your concerns about sharing too much in a blog. i go back and forth. there are times when i feel bold enough to post something personal but i, too, feel like a theme can act as a safety barrier. we don't always find ourselves in the same mood, so a blog will reflect that - after all we are not robots. being a writer necessitates sharing and being brave, and we all take our own path through that dark forest. goddess knows i find myself in the midst of that forest every day. that's why it's so very nice to meet you in the clearing and swap survival stories.

      xx

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    2. 'that's why it's so very nice to meet you in the clearing and swap survival stories.'

      That perfect, perfect image did my heart a universe of good.

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  6. Suse, for all you know, your daughter be become the star attraction today and start a new hair styling trend in school.
    The best parenting school is our own children...and believe me, you learn all your life.

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    1. so true paul - we'll see if half-curled hair becomes a trend!

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  7. Beautiful photos..lovely post.
    Victoria

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  8. Great pics and a great tribute to motherhood!!

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    1. honored by your visit, sir thomas! (any relation to that richard III guy who was recently dug up in a parking lot?!!)

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  9. I love the photo of your mom and you. You’re reaching out and she’s supporting you without holding you back – that embodies motherhood. I also like the relaxed, happy photos of you with your children. It looks like you’ve found the right balance.

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    1. you've given me a new way to see this photograph. thanks, sarah.

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  10. I love the profound connection with the quote about a mother only being as happy as her unhappiest child and the Demeter-Persephone story. How perfect. I am the youngest of 8, and my mother was only as happy as her unhappy son who was very conflicted.

    I agree with all that you've said here. I come from a similar emotional background with my parents, and I agree: they did the best they knew. I think the key "middle ground" is to a) love our children with all the attention we can muster and b) let them fail (and suffer, as Erin says). The problem in the 21st c. as you point out is that parents do not want their children to fail, and they want to remove all obstacles to their success. They don't recognize that we must fail and suffer to become compassionate beings.

    It's such a big and fascinating topic. Wish we could all sit and discuss over coffee or tea.

    It's a wonderful photo of you and your mother. Then the two of you and your kids, in light of what you've written, are quite poignant. Thank you.

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    1. beautiful idea ruth - wouldn't that be lovely, to have a chance to dig deep into these topics over tea.....

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  11. Dear Amanda, and actually, all the rest of you - I also wish we could just get together over a cup of whatever, Ruth. Don`t we all have the same or equal experiences, haha, that half-curled hair. I am now in the grandmother state which has taken much of my guilt feelings and concerns away. I always wondered about all the mistakes I made while bringing up our daughters - and now I see they don`t act much differently. And also a thing I love: As I have been "teaching" children English in my neighbourhood (here in Germany), where we mostly played and had loads of fun, these now older kids still write me after years and tell me they remember every minute and actually can speak fluent English. It has prompted me to start writing a book called "Mrs. Schmidt`s Wondrous School of English", but I think this title goes for every mother`s job as well. Educating children is a wondrous school. For both sides. Cheers to you and all your commenters, Amanda!

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    1. put me first on the list of readers for Mrs. Schmidt's Wondrous School of English - the magnificent title alone will sell it... xoxo

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  12. A most enjoyable post, Amanda, followed by thoughtful comments and conversations. I know a couple of your followers, and yes, indeed, it all feels as though we have been friends from school, just catching up.

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    1. yes, a school that is in a constant state of flux, one for a new age.

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  13. Oh my goodness such beauty reigns in your family! That last photo was priceless! perfect observation on today's parenting style. I am a helicopter parent, I confess, the internet, predators on the streets don't get me started. I was raised as you were and I am still trying to find that balance. Amanda, I do enjoy them though, and we laugh so much. I started my parenting journey where most parents are seeing their kids off to college. So late, very late. Hopefully they will be alright.

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  14. My old boss, the clinical director of Child Psychiatry at a major university, told me that in psychiatry they say "a good enough mother" because there is no perfect mother. Most mothers do the best they can and even though it is never enough it is good enough, for it is all we are capable of as fallible humans.

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