30 Jan 2012

The Motherly Art of... Self Doubting

 (originally published in 2011)

Again a mums’ issue to be discussed in this post dear readers. It is an issue that touches me on a deep level not only on the home front but also in my private practice. More specifically, something happened today that completed so to speak the puzzle (more on this later).
Lately, I had been working on the preparation of the Groups for Pregnant Women and New Mothers. I was reading tons of articles, followed forum discussions on the net and visited blogs. Too many blogs...

Initially I was thinking of assigning the title “Mummy Wars!” to this post, but then I reconsidered. I wasn’t so much interested in the phenomenon of the dispute between the 2 basic mum attitudes, but was rather fascinated by the passion with which these women express themselves, the cruelty inherent in their comments and communication, the feeling of “cast” when they are on the same “side”, and generally a very intense feeling that the issues of motherhood constitute a really hot, lava-like domain. I do not wish to exclude myself from this phenomenon. Not in the least. Reading all these blogs and coming face to face with this fiery absolutism, I began to have hot, very hot feelings indeed.
So I stopped, sat down and started thinking. I do have to reveal at this point that “motherhood” has direct and many (Oh so) indirect links to “female sexuality” and to “female identity”.
Please repeat after me:

I suspect that at this point, you probably have an inkling as to where I am heading.
A woman’s attitude towards mothering or motherhood is at the same time a statement and a revelation. She states who she is, how far she can support, feel at ease or live in the awkwardness of her sexual identity, if she is going to be like her mother or not, if she can differentiate herself or remain fused with her family of origin, if she can exist as a person in her own right without the “motherhood” attire, if she “can” reproduce. If, if, if....
All ifs point to one (and boy is it a big one!)

If she is Worthy, - of Worth.

Of worth to whom, or rather for whom? For herself? Her immediate environment? Society?
Worthy according to what standards?

Our grandmothers were “worthy” if they had a tidy house, well-fed and groomed children, food on the table, and a “pleased” husband.

Our mothers were “worthy” if they had us on “timetable” gave us  “formula” and let us cry our eyeballs out in order to avoid spoiling us.

We are “worthy” if we breastfeed for at least 2-3 years, “wear” our children in slings and engage in a good family co-sleeping pattern.

Do you see how times change?


Where is the voice of our grandmother who wanted to educate herself?
Or our mother’s voice who wanted to breastfeed and hold us close to her bosom?
And where is our voice who is thirsty for caresses and oh so accustomed to “rebel” on “schedule” and to find all the answers online?

I believe it is pretty evident that the grandmother’s desire for education became the mother’s goal to go to university/work and thus “schedule” us (the daughters) in order not to stand in her way. How about our repressed need for closeness with the mother? Will it not be passed on to our children? Which set of needs will we burden them with? What goals of ours will they need to act out despite their needs?

At this point, I am directing you to what happened today at the office, concluding with the message I want to convey in this point (.. be patient, good things need to built up!)

Today is the third time one of my patients of 4 years, lay on the infamous psychoanalytic couch. She was feeling “stuck” lately, in a manner of such force that she started having psychosomatic problems, her back, her shoulder her neck. In other words, she was arresting her psychic growth with her body. On my side, I strongly felt that she needed to “lie down”, to let go – and so I made the suggestion of the couch. She took on the “challenge” with great curiosity and expectation, which was soon transformed into a really intense emotional experience. She remembered her mother who was trying to teach her how to swim by dropping her in the water without arm floats , in order for her to “learn” though she could see that the girl was afraid and was crying.... That is how she felt with me now: I was a demanding therapist, impervious to her fear, throwing her at the deep end by changing her habitual form of therapy, making it difficult for her (the patient lying on the couch does not have visual contact with the therapist and feels thus less control of the situation). She couldn’t see me, she had lost her sense of security and my support, she felt lonely and distanced from me.
While she was speaking, I was re-assessing my therapeutic move. Did I do the right thing? Did I rush her? What does my logic say? My intuition? How can I best handle this situation? I need to contain my anxiety, I thought. I believe I took the right course in making this decision, and If I can handle my stress, then so will she. If I am close enough and If I am sensitive to what is happening to her and me then she will be safe. And if the need arises, I will find another solution.
Driving back home, I had a very intense insight. What had really made me angry with all these mother blogs and forae was their “certainty”. The excruciating “confidence” these mothers had for all they do and think. The “not questioning” of it all, the “non self-reflecting”, the unwillingness to hurt their ego or narcissism, the act of not realising one’s mistakes. Do I think they are bad mothers?
I understand them and feel for them. I can be like that sometimes. As mothers, we desperately need to “know” where we stand. To find support for all we do, justify our actions with articles, research, organisations, professionals. We are in great need because we are in the eye of the storm , dealing with unchartered waters, with our own traumas, with the tangible and emotional demands of another human being-in-the-making, who for better or worse is in our mercy.
Our children however are not a matter of seasonal “trend”, and as a Greek mother suggested in the greek version of “Reflections of Motherhood”, Google does not have children  http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=taDqKWWPDAY.  The best I can do as a mum is to pave my child’s way according to my beliefs and personality, to be brave in my self-reflection and self-criticism facing them head on and to doubt myself, my actions and my motives (but always reach a decision in the end). I intend to learn from my mistakes, to be willing to adjust my course anew, and to leave enough space for my child to express his/her nature.
I am putting thus, wholeheartedly and unashamedly on the table the idea of “Self Doubting”. And I believe with resolve that it is a very important ingredient of the recipe that  makes a mother “Good enough” (Winnicottian term). Or do I?

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