Mummy, Mum, Mother, Mama ..... what responses do these words evoke in us? Warmth? resentment? Shame? Our relationship with our mother is arguably the most important of our early lives. It effects how we think about ourselves, how we judge ourselves and influences how we behave in our future relationships.
Winnicott’s discussion of a mother’s gaze has long been held as being key. If mum sees us for who we are and not for who she would like us to be, if we can see ourselves reflected in her gaze then this gives us a good starting point. Today, however, it is not uncommon to see feeding mothers focussing on their mobile phones rather than their babies. It will be interesting to see in a few years time whether this has any effect the infant’s sense of okayness or sense of self.
How many of us think, “Well, I am not going to be like my mother, I will do things differently,” and then hear our mother’s words and intonation coming from our own mouths? How many of us are still umbilically linked to our mothers? Even, sometimes, after she has died... Has she let us go? Have we let her let us go? Our primary relationship as an infant may still, unconsciously, be our primary relationship now. We may recognise this in ourselves or in those clients whose chief loyalty is not to their partners or their children but to the woman who gave birth to them. The unconscious contract between mother and child.... “by all means love your partner too but love me more, always”..... the ties that bind.
How can we healthily separate from our mothers and integrate the good and the bad into our life experience? Many of us can still be blocked, can still struggle when mother rings up, and we hear ourselves falling back into the familiar child/mother dialogue, experiencing the familiar uncomfortable or comfortable feelings. Freud called this type of behaviour repetition compulsion. We just don’t seem to be able to help ourselves, we struggle to stay in “adult”. We can hold resentments about past hurts and perceived unfairness. “Why did she always prefer my brother/sister?” “Why did she always criticise my body?” And, it may be that we have experienced cruelty and rejection from the one person who should really be guaranteed to love us unconditionally (although, according to which law, I do not know...). How do we then find a capacity within ourselves to let go of the possibility of a different past and move on in the knowledge that we can be strong, feel good about ourselves, reach our potential and shine on every level?
The pressure to be a good mother is huge.... as soon as we take that step, we set ourselves up for inevitable failure on some level. One has only to look at some of the current popular blogs about mothering: ‘Hurrah for Gin’ and ‘The Unmumsy Mum’ to get a sense of how different the reality of current motherhood is from the idealised “Madonna and Child” , or the Bisto Mum.
There is no training to become a mother, yet one could say it is the most important job in the world and the impact of the child-mother relationship often effects us into adulthood. There is inevitably going to be wounding whether this is intentional or not. This wounding can shape who we grow up to be. Finding the gifts of the mother are sometimes more difficult but they will be there and can even grow from the wounds we have experienced.
Siobhan Tinker and Brian Graham are offering the workshop: Wounds and Gifts of the Mother at the Psychosynthesis Trust on Saturday, 11th March. For more information, please contact Siobhan at firstname.lastname@example.org