Countries and cultures all over the world celebrate Mother in some way.
It may be a healthy way. It may be a distorted, ritualized, or even an unhealthy way.
Perhaps it’s the personal mother who is celebrated. Perhaps it’s the idealized mother who is celebrated. Perhaps the normalized mother. Possibly it’s the essence of Mother we need.
Our mothers have an impact on us as individuals and on us as a society … whatever society we live in. Both consciously and unconsciously, our mothers have an impact on our personal lives, and an impact on the life of our planet.
There is no perfect mother. We are all human, and we all make mistakes. If someone pretends to be perfect, she teaches her children they have to be perfect. Because they never can be perfect, she teaches her children they can never be good enough. She also teaches them there is no process in life or human relationship. The mother who is human – imperfect but a good enough mother in all the ways children most deeply need – teaches her children it is possible to make mistakes and create a repair for the mistakes they’ve made. She does that with them when she makes a mistake. She helps them do that when they make a mistake. This deepens their trust with her, with themselves, with process, and with life itself.
When have you seen that from a mother in public life? From a mother or a father in public life? It is sorely lacking. Especially in these times.
Just as important as that acknowledgment of a mistake and the repair that needs to follow, is the mother who realizes she has made a mistake out of her own wounding, acknowledges it, and gets the help to do her own inner healing work instead of continuing to act out her wounding with her children, family, and others. This deepens her own and her children’s faith in real repair – for their relationship with mother and for their ability to do the same. It is a profound and wonderful role model for everyone in her life who witnesses her in the process of healing inside and out.
When have you seen that from a mother in public life? From a mother? From a father? It is tragically lacking in our world. Especially in these times.
But … I remember a time not long ago, reading about two public figures who did acknowledge – to themselves and apparently to others – that the work they did in the world was an acting out of their defenses against their wounds. It was a good example of the possibility that we may do important work in our outer world, yet it may unconsciously be a way to hold at bay the pain of our wounding as children that is still alive in our inner world.
Gloria Steinem acknowledged that “being a social activist can be a drug that keeps you from going back and looking at yourself. You keep trying to fill up this emptiness.”* How courageous! How honest! How real! And what a model for our world. Was anybody listening? Did anybody get it? She was acknowledging out loud that she invested herself in a cause in the outer world to avoid the pain still alive in her inner world.
I once led a workshop called Conscious Activism from the Inside Out on the topic of outer activism as a defense against inner activism. As people explored how they used social and political activism to hold their inner world at bay, I was also helping them realize that it is possible to do the inner healing and also help in the outer world. And that it was of great concern how frenzied and distorted the outer activism can become as a defense against the inner. All we have to do to see an example of that is to look at the political scene in the United States today.
Betty Friedan offered an acknowledgement similar to that of Gloria Steinem in a later edition of The Feminine Mystique. She wrote about her hatred for her mother, and then admitted, “It was easier for me to start the women’s movement than it was to change my own personal life.”
These were the “mothers” of the women’s movement. Their acknowledgments don’t discount the actual good done by and through the women’s movement. But they may explain the roots of some of the harms. Here’s a perfect example of no mother being perfect. But by their taking responsibility for the deep roots of their unconscious intentions, these mothers of the women’s movement … freed themselves to do their inner healing and offered a profound model to those who came after them. Who knows how few or many of the “daughters” and “sons” of the women’s movement welcomed and utilized that model in their own lives and their own activism? This brings to the foreground the understanding that the unconscious intentions of avoiding their own inner pain contributed to the unsustainability of many of the outer successes they achieved.
For example, if each of them had first worked with the young pain of not having choices over their own minds, bodies, hearts, and souls … they would have modeled for all those who worked with them and came after them to do their own inner work and then the outer work.
How many other women have made these acknowledgments? How many men have done the same? How very different our political scene would be today if both women and men did their inner work before bringing their energies to such important arenas in our outer world!
But back to mothers … and a deep hope that more mothers – both in private life and public life – will do their own inner healing work for their own sakes, for the sake of their children, and for the sake of our world.
This is my Mother’s Day wish.
This is my Mother’s Day prayer.
© Judith Barr, 2016.
* from the synopsis for the HBO documentary, “In Her Own Words,” https://www.hbo.com/documentaries/gloria-in-her-own-words/synopsis.html
WHAT YOU CAN DO TO HELP KEEP OUR WORLD
SAFE FROM THE INSIDE OUT
Whether we are mothers or not, whether we are activists or not, whether we are men or women, old or young, single or married … we all need to very carefully explore and heal the wounded currents within us that affect our lives, our relationships, our world.
This Mother’s Day, make a commitment to begin that crucial healing journey. Or to take that next big step in it. As you reflect on your own relationship with your mother – past and present – allow yourself to feel whatever arises within you … committing not to act out on those feelings but rather to feel and explore the roots of those feelings. What are the earliest feelings you can recall in relation to your mother? And … when in your here-and-now life do you feel those same feelings? About whom in your here-and-now life do you feel that same way?
When exploring, we may find we need the help of a skilled, caring therapist to truly heal many of our deepest feelings about our mothers. Even to bring into consciousness for healing feelings we can’t remember or don’t consciously connect with our relationship with mother. Commit as well to find that help when you need it.
Whether we are parents or not, we all need to do the inner work necessary to explore and heal our inner wounding…for the sake of our families, our communities, and the children in our world – and the adults they will someday become.