24 Apr 2012

What, no app for motherhood?

Motherhood apparently has no app yet. According to this article, mothers should stop the whining and... "woman it up". Mothers of the newer generation are portrayed as spoilt children who want an app for everything, motherhood included. I think this article really describes the essence of "deconstructing mummy" by refuting it. And although proof by induction is a fine mathematical concept, it is not very funny to still see the prevalence of the mother-image as "unsung hero" (-heroine if you allow me). Mind you, that is also the type of mother the media likes. The new "olympics" ad for pampers, is admittedly really touching, but hey, mother is again the unsung heroine that gets an "olympic" thank you at the end. Well, if your son or daughter is part of the olympics, then be proud, but should you be defined as a mother, is it a success, a huge bonus for your "job"?
  When I started "deconstructing mummy", I wanted to tell mothers that they matter. That they can whine, complain, ache, share, and "sing" themselves all that motherhood is for THEM. Culture and even our own internal representations of motherhood, treat mothers as a medium and not an end in themselves. Advice is given on "how to" do motherhood but very few ask "who is" doing motherhood.
Motherhood is not a job. I really don't care how a mother is defined. Is she stay-at-home, working, single, black, white, all I hear is blah, blah, blah. A mother is a mother and although we are biologically programmed to long for and expect mothering, a mother is not really a given. That is something that becomes consistently apparent in my practice as a psychotherapist, where mothers of all shapes and forms, ages and generations parade in my ears. Most mothers are far from being a "given" hence the survival of psychotherapists... Should a mother be a given? Yes, to her child, but not to anyone else. What I mean here is that providing good mothering needs help. No mother who respects herself as a person and as a mother expects a "pat on the back" or payment for services rendered. But she does expect to be treated as an entity. By the same token, no mother should be encouraged by society to live her life through her "olympian child". And I do believe that no mother would complain to be a "chauffeur", "entertainer", "cook" etc. if she also had her own space, time and way to just be herself without thinking of everybody else or worrying about what to do next. Some mothers forget about their children when working and really welcome the break, some pour themselves a gin and tonic before giving their loved ones their daily bath( if I am relaxed, they're relaxed- a friend once said) and some just ponder about motherhood by blogging late at night. I am privileged to closely experience a lot of mother stories through my work. In their meandering labyrinth of differences they all share one striking similarity. No mother wants to be a hero(ine), or acknowledged as one. They just want to be a person as well as a mother and combine the two in one singular normal self with needs, weaknesses, wants and sometimes well, "olympic" successes.

19 Apr 2012

New Mothers. Humans not saints

 Humans. Not Saints. I chose this title because I wanted to give you the gist of this post straight away.
Good enough mothers, not perfect. The number one associate of a new mother’s anxiety is guilt. Am I doing it the right way? Do I give enough? Am I present? Am I spoiling it? Am I? Am I?... Usually the inner guilt is accompanied with the well known outer guilt (your mum, mother-in-law, friend, husband, tv shows and parenting magazines, sometimes the lady on the bus).
The pressure can at times be extreme, the responsibility of a bringing up a child, the house that needs tending to, work, finances, the partner, bills, messy hair, clothes that don’t fit, and the ever elusive personal time or space... I really don’t think I should make this list longer to make one realise that a new mother is like a new driver asked to drive on the highway on the very first lesson.
Things come in pairs and the life as a new mother has its fair share of tension. Tension usually “pairs off” with aggression. And aggression is taboo where motherhood is concerned. A mother should be good, nurturing, sweet and patient. Well, the news is that a new mother feels aggression towards her newborn when she can’t take the crying anymore due to exhaustion, towards her partner who is “baptised” with intricate swear names either internally or externally, towards her own self (well known and ever present guilt), and towards the whole universe if no one else is there to take the blame. 
And yes, she does have the right to feel this way. 
Truth to be told, she doesn’t really help herself feel better if this aggression remains without being understood. But we do need to acknowledge that it is normal for a new mother to feel this way. This is also the first step to do something about it and to free herself from the imprisoning image of sainthood that can only create suffocating relationships with a destructive content.
Now you may ask me, where is all this aggression coming from? Although there are usual suspects ( the relationship with her mother, the way a woman relates to her identity, sexuality, personality), in the end each mother has her own unique story-labyrinth that triggers emotional pain and hence aggression.
She also has her own beliefs, fantasies, desires hidden or overt as to how she wants to bring up her child. Some want to breastfeed briefly or for a long period, some not at all. Some want to provide material goods for their offspring, some, freedom and some their continuous presence at home. Each mother has her own way to give and to exist for her child and this should be respected. Respected in its entirety.
There is however one small but significant detail: children or rather newborns need very specific things in the first year of their life. The first year of life is a vital year, where the mother lays the basic foundations of relating. In other words, the mother is the first person who teaches us relationships and help us or not to achieve our most basic sense of security and the core of our self. Let me stress that it is not solely the mother who does this but the mother-in-relation-to-her-baby, meaning that relating is a two-way process.  So although there are very different pairs of mothers and babies relating, there are a few things that all people involved in the mothering dance share. And these simply (or not so simply) are to listen to your baby’s needs and satisfy them in your best possible and swift way, to be there constistently with your mind, your heart and your instinct as well as your physical presence (as much as is feasibly possible),to put your babies needs first above your own when the two clash, and to always ask yourself, “who am I doing this for?” without hurrying to give an answer and when you do answer be open, honest and brave, even if the answer hurts your feelings or self-image.
Motherhood is not what we call a “no-brainer”. Our children don’t need a dutiful slave or a self-absorbed mother who can’t get over herself and uses her child as a trophy or as her extension. Most importantly, they don’t need a mother who has just stepped out of a tv commercial and has no crinkles on her skirt or her heart. What they do need is a mother with her own personality, daring to make mistakes and being humble enough to learn from them. A mother who has her own unique love to give and who walks her own path to motherhood. So If I had one and only advice to give to new mothers that would be: be truthful to yourselves and listen to your babies, their bodies, their sounds, their eyes, their embrace, their anger or discomfort. Be “good enough” (D.W. Winnicott), and leave perfection for those who don’t get reality. Most importantly, enjoy as much as you can this experience that you have chosen consciously or unconsciously.....

4 Apr 2012


This is the translation of the interview conducted from Maria Athini in February 2011 on behalf of www.babyspace.gr regarding the Motherhood Psychology  Groups.

The groups you are facilitating focus on the psychology of the mother, not the child’s. What led you to concentrate on the mother?

The mother is the first human being who teaches the world to her child, the first to set the foundations for the child’s sense of self, security, self-respect and personality. At the same time, a woman, already from the onset of her pregnancy goes into a process of intense psychological change. I call it “psychological earthquake” – this in my opinion is the term that best describes the intensity of feelings and of psychic upheaval experienced by a mother in the making. It is imperative that a mother gets the necessary and sufficient support during this time. A mother’s care should come as a top priority in our society. The mother is the beginning. A psychologically healthy mother makes for a psychologically healthy child.

Which do you think are the main issues a woman that has just become a mother is called to deal with, and how can this group help her in her efforts?

A mother’s work is multifaceted. As I said, leaving aside the physical tiredness, the hormonal changes and the fear of the unknown, a new mother goes through a lot of psychic tension and change. To start with, there is a lot of burdening social anxiety with regards to what constitutes a “good mother” – this is an unavoidable, automatic thought that comes from the mother’s environment and of course the mother herself. Most people have advice at hand as to how a mother should act to be good. Very few people wonder how a mother is feeling inside. Mothers are literally bombarded by internal feelings of anxiety, guilt, aggression towards themselves and their child, shame and doubt if they do the right things or have the right set of reactions. They feel tired, their bodies have changed, the pregnancy days where the care from their environment is usually there is long gone and they suddenly are deemed to “know everything” because “mothers always know what to do”.... The relationship with their partner has also changed, their “good old self” is no longer the same, there is limited if at all freedom to do as one pleases and generally speaking, nothing is the same anymore.

Another task that the new mother is faced with is the re-examination of the relationship with her own mother. Most women don’t want to turn out like their mothers, yet there are so many unconscious psychological identifications with one’s mother that sooner or later come out. The relationship with one’s own mother is one of the most pivotal and painful issues we discuss at the groups sessions. So, all the above are themes we look at closely within the group. The women-mothers or mothers-to-be, soon realise that they are not “weird” or “abnormal” or the only ones having feelings of difficulty or anxiety and this immediately leads to psychological relief. So the groups help women lighten the load through sharing and through realising their unconscious (i.e automated and not-realised motives all of us have) aspects that in the end sabotage her relationship with herself and her child. The biggest mistakes happen with the best of intentions. The women participating in the groups are encouraged to face their self with honesty and courage, setting a healthy base for their new life with their child and family.

In our times, many women read, ask and get information from experts regarding the care of their children. Why then as mothers do we feel guilt so often?

As I mentioned previously, most mothers “breathe” anxiety. The "expert following" relieves them from the pressure of “knowing” what to do. The downside of this is that most mothers are “childified” i.e regress to the state of a child who is passive and asks to be told. They typically ask 2-3 experts, they get confused and in the end feel passive and dependent. So the guilt remains as the woman has not gone into the trouble of thinking and psychically working as a mother, being able to withstand the tension, get the information and judge for herself. In short, in order to become a “confident mother” (as confident as a mother can get!), she needs to see herself as a woman-mother and not as a child-mother. That means independent thinking, understanding your guilt, filtering and processing the expert information. All these are not automatic, but constitute rather a process. A mother is made, in my opinion, and she needs help in this process.

How can a modern woman deal with her new role, her work and keep some time for herself? What does she have to leave behind in order to do everything within the limits of 24 hour day?

This is different for every woman. I want to make again clear that in order for a woman to feel at ease with her new self, time is needed. It is something a new mother can achieve gradually, using this time to observe herself, put things into perspective and then into practice. It is indeed very hard for a woman to be a mother, a wife, a friend, a professional, a sister, a daughter or her self! A 24 hour day cannot be stretched and seems very small. However, I firmly believe both from my professional and my personal experience that if she starts to feel balanced inside even in a small way, then she can figure out a way to get some time for herself. For example, if she succeeds in feeling less guilty when she leaves her child, she can schedule some time to get a treatment or meet a friend, this in turn renews her energy and she can come back to her child feeling better and thus able to give more. All our relationships are important during this time, because they make us who we are. If we stop being in touch with our selves and get lost in motherhood, then what message do we give our child? I need to remind you at this point that for a very long time, the mother constitutes the bridge with the outer world for her child. I am letting you figure out the consequences of isolation....

Do fathers want to join the group?
It occurs sometimes that the fathers feel a bit “jealous” in a sense of wanting to participate- and I can’t blame them. They too have their own anxieties and worries. However the groups are women-only as this allows for freer expression and different dynamics in the group. However, your question pinpoints to an important need for the fathers to be heard. I should maybe take it under consideration and form a group for fathers.

Could you give us some more information regarding the logistics of the group?

Yes. The groups are closed and are done in series. That means that the members in the group start together and finish together. The groups last approximately for 8 sessions (around 2 months) and meet on weekly basis for 1.5 -2 hours. This period of time is in my experience the bare minimum as women need more time to work through some issues. Some groups may last just 8 sessions, some others more. There is a clause however that the initial commitment of a member is for those 8 sessions.

We do have a specific agenda to work with, but the order or the time spent on each theme differs. Each group of women is unique and I treat it as such. The agenda is more or less the following:




SEXUALITY AND THE BODY (Breasfeeding, Weight)


THE NEW SELF ( Transition, Changes, Aspirations, Work)

My basic aim is to really get things going and encourage the women to open up, to be heard, to share and ultimately understand their self.

Going back to the practicalities, each group has a maximum of 7 people in order to have enough time and space for everyone to speak. For more information email: deconstructingmummy@gmail.com