Friday, March 29, 2013

The Erroneous Assumption of Mother-Love

     We're in the third wave of feminism and I'll admit, there are some good things to be said about what's out there in the feminist popular press--for instance, Caitlin Moran's "new feminist" book, How To Be a Woman. 
     But in general, I'm sick of hearing commentaries on the status of women in the world, without some penetrating truth-telling about the messed-up state of our feminine psychology, bombarded as it has been, over the centuries, with imperatives and super-imperatives about beauty and niceness and sensitivity, and especially about loving one's children forever and ever, and giving them everything you, as a mother, are and have, including your life.
     Is being a mother only about unending generosity?  How can we mothers escape this unspoken rule of motherhood, that mothers never stop loving, or giving, or holding out hope for their children?  There is no way for a woman to escape the loving-mother stereotype without garnering public scorn, except by...let's face it, dying.
     The only thing better than a living, loving mother is a dead mother, when it comes to weaving fantasies about Hail-Mary-Mother-of-God-like perfection around women who give and give, and love overtly--and repress, or experience covertly, their own true beings, which sometimes are filled with hate.
     Yes, hate.  Mothers experience hate, including toward their own "flesh and blood," but they stop the process mid-feeling, because it is anathema to the culture.  They don't stop the feeling, which is impossible to do, but they stop feeling the feeling, and they change its direction.  Hatred can't possibly be aimed at their children, not in this world, so it makes a U-turn and sallies on back to the selfsame women, these endlessly affectionate mothers.  It stabs them with a vengeance that can only be explained by the culture's prohibition against speaking the truth, when it comes to motherhood.
     "I'm ugly."  "I'm too fat."  "I'm old."  "I have wrinkles, cellulite, a big butt, small boobs, fat legs."  "I'm not smart."  "I'm flabby."  "I'm a bad mother."  "I'm not sexy."  "I don't have a career."  "I've sacrificed my family for my career."  "I'm disgusting."  "I'm worthless." "I don't deserve to be loved by anyone."  "I don't deserve to live."
     These are the noises made by woman-hate and mother-hate when they twist back on themselves, to avoid the intolerable experience of hating others--especially (horror of horrors) hating one's own children some of the time, or even all the time.  These statements, which are our internal dialogue,  transpose animosity and fury into the keys of self-hate, which give way to a set of familiar, reassuring, discordant but socially acceptable tunes.  The self-hate sounds are interpreted by others as, "She's depressed," "She's tired," "She's going through the change," "It's that time of the month,"  "Who knows what she means?"  "Leave her alone," "She's a bitch," or "Women are crazy."
     I have four children, whom I, too, claim to have loved hugely, without reservation, without even a moment to catch my breath all these years, and without ever considering, I might claim, my own needs.  I have four children, and I've told them they are more important to me than anything in the world.  They are more important than life itself.  These are the right things to say.  I believe they're true, though cliched, but I'm also aware that in saying them, I'm following a social script. 
     I would like to hop that train of pure, unbroken, merciful mother-love.  I would like to add my name to the list of self-sacrificing women who, like lionesses with their cubs, care more for their children than themselves, and would give up their lives in the jaws of gruesome predators in abundant, maternal defense of their progeny.
     I want to say that I would gladly trade the possibility of my own self-actualization for the fulfillment of my children's dreams.  I want to aver that I love my children, and have always loved them, and will never stop loving them, because these are things mothers say, no matter what, even in a feminist age.  Such avowals are major building blocks in the edifice of our cultural mythology.  They are structural necessities for carrying on, as a race.  And they are a lullabies in everyone's ears:  soft, fluffy, harmonic, comforting...and just about as honest as church hymns.
     I'd like to tell you that I'm full of pure, selfless love.  But once, six and a half years ago (I remember the exact day), I heard myself blurt out, "I hate you!" to one of my children.  How this interjection made it past the many ingrained layers of censorship laid down in a mother's armor is a story of its own, which I am not equipped to tell, but suffice it to say that there were months of lying, cheating, peer-pressure, drugs, skipping school, theft, abuse of trust, and taking advantage of forever-mother-love that configured some of the backstory, at least from my point of view.
     I shocked myself, in the midst of my fear and fury, by saying such a thing to one of my sons.  How could I?  Did I mean it?  Could I hate him and love him, both?  Do other mothers say they hate their kids, or was I the only one?  If they do, how do they cope, afterward?  How could I live with myself, from now on?  How could my son  ever trust me?   I could no longer pose as a purely loving, haloed figure.
     The angry, hateful mother has a long history in legend.  The tales of Cinderella and Snow White sidestep the truth of the hateful mother by turning her into a stepmother.  In Hansel and Gretel, the witch is the shadow aspect of the mother.  Styx, the goddess of the Underworld, is the personified spirit of hatred, who sends her children (Nike, Zelos, Bia, and Kratos) to fight with the Titans.
     Also in Greek mythology, the goddess Agave (aunt of Dionysus) turns into a maenad and attacks her son, Pentheus, in the woods, tearing his limbs apart and eating morsels of his raw flesh.   Leto orders her two children, Apollo and Artemis, to murder the fourteen children of Niobe, so great is her hatred and envy.  Medea kills two of her own children as an act of revenge.  Phaedra, wife of King Theseus of Athens, falls in love with her stepson, Hippolytus--but when he doesn't love her back, she tells Theseus he raped her, and Theseus promptly murders him.  Echidna is a Greek goddess who is half woman, half snake.  (Her children include the monsters Cerberus, Hydra, and the Chimera).
     In Hindu mythology, Kali, the consort of Lord Shiva, is represented sometimes as a kindly mother-goddess, but more commonly as a force of evil.  Her name means "lord of death," and she is usually depicted as dark, angry, and violent.
     Mothers who kill their children make headlines everywhere--such is our fascination with the dark side of motherhood.  We may consider it a pathological aberration, and certainly there is no evolutionary advantage to child-murder, but these stories gnaw at the imagination.
     In 1994, Susan Smith killed her two children in South Carolina, and newspapers cried out, "How could a mother do such a thing?"  In Texas, Andrea Yates drowned her five children in the bathtub (including a 6-month old infant), and her "murderous rage" was attributed to postpartum depression.   In 1986, Marybeth Tining, driver of a school bus, was convicted of murdering her 4-month-old.  It was the ninth of her babies who died, without explanation, in her home, and the one, finally, that put her behind bars.
     Women who kill are a strange breed and find no resting-place in the public imagination.  We "understand," so to speak, when men murder--somehow it's considered part of the warring aspect of the male psyche.  But women are equated with motherhood, whether they have children or not, and are not accorded the prerogative to hate, or feel rage, or contemplate murder.  Why not?  (What exhausted mother has not, if she were honest, wished her screaming infant dead at 3 AM--if only for a moment!--until mother-love [which is real, too] steps in, and overrides the impulse with tenderness, and saves the human race?)  How is it that women, and especially mothers, have been assigned an image that is so one-sided?
      We must make room for Kali, and Echidna, and the witch, and the wicked stepmother, in our feminine psyches, and in society as a whole.  Without a cultural admission that women, including mothers, can be overwhelmed by hate, or act out of rage, or exact revenge, or even wish, at times, that their children were dead (the idea makes one shudder, doesn't it?) (Greek myths don't lie!)...without this admission, women will never be free.
      The myth that mothers love their children "unconditionally" and will sacrifice everything for them, is oppressive and, frankly, absurd.  Do you love your job unconditionally?  Do you love your parents, or your dog, or even your all-merciful god, unconditionally?  If you answer, "Yes," then I'll wager you're a person who's deep in the throes of denial.
     As long as mothers are yoked with the burden of expressing unconditional love, as long as we are painted with halos around our hairdos, as long as we are not permitted to give voice to anger and hatred, and are required, out of propriety, to keep that closetful of dark emotions locked away in the attic (like Rochester's "insane" wife, in Jane Eyre), we will shock ourselves with outbursts like the one I unleashed on my son, and we'll continue to suffer as victims of self-hate, with symptoms of depression and guilt, with eating disorders, and obsessive thinking, and failures in the workplace.
     Make way for Kali!  Kali offers treatment for depression.  Kali, the spirit of darkness, fury, and hatred, is the antidote to our saccharine idea of motherhood, and womanhood, and an important element in the next phase of feminist achievement.   


  1. "with symptoms of depression and guilt, with eating disorders, and obsessive thinking," seems maybe you forgot about the sexual side of in using sex as an aside to the reality of any given situation...or Love.

  2. Aberrations in sexual function are usually an obsessive problem. In depression, sexual feelings are absent. These are the two poles of errant sexual expressiveness.

  3. Feminist justification for hating your children? This sounds like the manifesto of a woman about to lose it!

  4. I think you missed the point. It's probably not something people are ready to hear. You should delete the post before they think you're crazy.

  5. Read my blog, all 344 posts. Does it sound as though I'm about to "lose it?" Do I sound "crazy"? The question to ask is this: why is it so hard for you (and all of us?) to consider the possibility that the love of a mother might not be 100% pure--unadulterated by other feelings? On the level of logic, we know that can't possibly be true. Where else is love completely unconditional? This is a Christian concept, and it's oppressive. The ancient Greeks had a more balanced understanding of the human heart. But we have our own myths, and one has to do with all-loving, self-sacrificing mothers. Why do we need this myth? Why do you? It's destroying women.

  6. Love is a word that is mixed, not all one thing. Mothers have a constant love for their children but it doesn't mean they don't dislike them at times including if they steal and lie and do drugs.

  7. People are human whether they're mothers or Mother Theresa or Ghandi or Mandela or a clerk at the grocery store or your boss. Humans have mixed feelings all the time. There's no such thing as pure love or universal love.

    1. Please excuse me, though there is Universal Love as all life is connected, just as water goes to itself, and cells split, or not. Does not matter what we do not know, faith is alive in the spirit of life, all life, as in all living things as well as perhaps what we think of as inanimate objects. Problem is when we try to turn lies into truths, though yin and yang are the only truths, which is why we need to learn from the ancients as to what is true or false, and it seems we are not learning quick enough...