I have been examining the role of Mother this week in particular my role. Mother the carer, mother the love giver, mother the housekeeper, mother the giver of unconditional love and mother Roma who wasn’t very good at tough love! And why now – well I have been feeling ill this week and what one wants more than anything when you are sick is your mother. And mine was very good at mopping my brow and holding the sick bowl. So, as I lay in my bed feeling grotty I wanted my mother.
Evelina our lodger who sadly I had to ask to leave so I could have the room – and yes, I feel very guilty – was also thinking about her mother. Close to tears and with no job and no home she decided that the best option was to go home to Bulgaria to her mother for a while. “What I need right now,” she said, “is my mother.” Sometimes besides chicken soup mother is the best penicillin.
Maybe it is because we spend 9 months growing inside our mothers, then we are dependent on her for our survival and this cements a particular kind of bond even with those mothers who aren’t that nice to their children. When I worked at Mayaro Ranch School with severely disturbed delinquent boys their mothers were their idols. It didn’t matter that they abused them, that they were drug addicts, criminals and thoroughly unloving mothers, in the boy’s eyes they were ‘the mother’. And wo betide anyone who would dare to suggest otherwise.
And if you don’t get that mother love as a child which I believe is vital to a healthy life, then you spend a good period of your life chasing it and re-enacting unconscious destructive behaviour. I don’t think my brother got the unconditional love that I did from our parents. Their expectations of him were different – well they actually didn’t have any expectations of me – and Brian just couldn’t live up to what they wanted from him. He wasn’t a happy man and spent his life chasing the love he didn’t get from our parents. Science supports the notion that warmth and affection expressed by parents gives children a lifelong positive outcome. Which is what the boys at Mayaro Ranch School didn’t have.
I was amazed when I watched a documentary which showed scans of the brains of two toddlers of the same age. The brain of a three- year-old brought up in a nurturing environment was significantly bigger than the child who had who had suffered extreme emotional trauma and neglect. I remember thinking this should be a prerequisite to all expectant parents before they give birth. I had considered myself knowledgeable but hadn’t realised that emotional neglect could physiologically affect the brain.
I was fortunate in that I did get this nurturing and love from my parents, so it came naturally for me to give it to the children – unconditionally. But that doesn’t mean that I was necessarily the most effective mother. I was way way too lenient. Hopeless at tough love and still am. “You should have hit us when were naughty, you were much too soft on us,” said the boys adding “we will be much stricter with our children.”
The daughter of good friends of mine who were hippies used to complain that her parents music was too loud and she hated the smell of their wacky backi . They though they were bringing her up in a relaxed laid back environment in contrast to their own upbringing but clearly it wasn’t what she wanted
Mothering isn’t just about being good at holding the sick bowl. With 2 out of 3 boys back at home the honeymoon period is over. I have always had this fantasy about the ‘happy family’ where everybody pulls together and likes each other. I think I watched too many episodes of the Walton’s the American television series. They were one big happy family living out on the Prairie with not much money but plenty of love. John Boy was the eldest son and carried much of the responsibility of helping his parents around the home and looking after his younger siblings. Every series would end with the lights going out and they would all be saying good night to each other. That, Jane Austin and Enid Blyton shaped the way I thought my life would be. Clearly I was going to be let down.
My three boys have always fought, and they still fight. They are wonderful young men, feisty, independent and ‘always right.’ COVID has catapulted me right back into the mother role of trying to keep the peace. So having briefly gone back into therapy I am working on ridding myself of the rose coloured spectacles and accepting that life is not the Walton’s, we are not one big happy family, the boys are not going off on Enid Blyton holidays together and that as much as I loved Tod he was not Prince Charming and the likelihood of any Prince Charming coming into my life is as remote as the likelihood of me climbing Mount Everest.
Wish me luck in sorting this out.
“Let’s be careful out there”