Saturday, 8 August 2015

A mother's love

“Love heals. We recover ourselves in the art and act of loving."
                           (bell books, Sisters of the Yam, 2005, p. 97)

“Care can take place in a familial context where there is also abuse. But this does not mean that love is present.”
                                                 (hooks, Sisters, p. 97)

Scholar, activist, and feminist, bell hooks, has written extensively in her academic career on the topic of “love.” In her chapter entitled, “Living to love,” in her book, “Sisters of the Yam: Black woman and self-recovery” (2005), hooks demarcates grounds for insightful understanding on the function of love in healing. She especially writes for black American women’s self-recovery through trauma, after generational conditions of slavery and deprivation. She writes for those who experienced home places and spaces where love was not available to them as children, including from their mothers. Feeding and putting a roof over children’s heads can be mistaken for love. When there is violence present, which can be verbal, emotional, and psychic (not only physical), material care for the body of the child can be confused with the meaning and practice of love. hooks writes elsewhere of the “practice of love.” Love is a practice to engage with, enter, and commit to. 

This chapter (and book) is written for black women’s self-recovery. But I easily read hooks’ stories into my own white Irish mother-line, and the confusion I held for many years about my mother’s treatment of me. Caring effort was clearly there, and I clung to that. But continuing events of emotional/verbal battering went alongside this. My mother struggled with undiagnosed mental health issues, something those around her (especially me) could not easily remedy. I was often the target of her uninhibited frustrations. It took me years to realize that I can both love my mother, while not condoning how she treated me. Into adulthood, the mix of care and abuse kept me in the relationship, despite how unsafe and hurt I felt, over and over again.

Love is not abuse, “understanding love as a life-force against death enables us to see clearly that, where love is, there can be no disenabling, disempowering, or life-destroying abuse."
(hooks, Sisters, p. 97)

I write this after picking up hook’s book from my bookshelf in a random way, thinking I’d take it as holiday reading. It has, of course, become an oracle for my present theme. I’m tracking the idea of mothering as a re-couperative practice. Re-couperative for both the mother herself, and society at large. That is, mothering can be both personally and socially transformative. hook’s notion of “self-recovery” is right-on in this regard, where personal healing has social and political impacts. These themes come out of my current research, and my now 17+ years experience of being a mother. I also have many more years experience under my belt, as the daughter of a challenging mother. What I write here would be greatly expanded in further life writing, with stories and details of life lived. Also, I’d note all the ways other adults in my life cared for me, while demonstrating and practicing love in relation to me. I knew what loved looked and felt like, and what it didn’t.

The other book I ‘happened’ to read this week is titled “Maternal thinking: Philosophy, politics, practice,” an anthology edited by Andrea O’Reilly (2009). These essays reflect on the work of philosopher Sara Ruddick, now years after her original ideas were first published. To put it way-to-briefly, Ruddick philosophizes the “protective love” (and more) of mothers and mother-work, into a theory of “maternal thinking,” in ways that link mother-work to the capacity for world peace.

At this juncture of my own life, healing, and scholarship, I have a new, soul-felt, and hard-earned “view” of my mothering practice. I can now recognize both the long-term work I’ve done in healing (basically, getting in-touch-with-myself, and something-larger-then-myself, over and over again), and the ways in which I have very consciously raised and loved my daughters into their now teenage years. I truly love being with my children and family. Though I work in various capacities outside the home, my work is often creatively linked to “home.” Family and home-making are central to my life. I can say that for me, mothering is challenging, AND it is also a source of great pleasure. Is it so radical to create and live towards a happy and loving family? 

Early on in mothering, I knew I was resisting the idea that children are a “burden.” My mother-line bore and struggled with this. I recognize that my own mother-work was/is informed by the times and place I live in. I am a product of women’s liberation, in relation to work and children, having power (theoretically at least) over our bodies, who we love and when, and when we will bear children. This astronomical social shift surely means something, even as motherhood is a still complicated (and underwritten) matter in current social and economic reality. I recognize the ongoing struggles and hardships of many mothers, to care for and love their children.

There is nothing like motherhood to show you your own weaknesses, soft spots, and to unearth any hidden habits and gremlins of your family line. Your children will get at these in you, through the happenstance of their innate vulnerability, their daily need for your material care, attention, AND affection. This mix of giving your attention and affection is more then just “care” in the moment of a child’s need. Paying attention so that our own negative reactions do not override the needs of the child, we can learn to limit any internal tendencies towards anger or violence, control or neglect.

“Recognizing her children’s vulnerability, a mother may (or may not) commit herself to non-violence. If she does, she will see her child as someone not to be violated, not to be made ashamed. She will become unwilling to cling to righteous rage, to continue assault past its moment of anger. She will restore dignity to her child and to herself when she lashes out and then will extend habits of protection to include protecting her child from her own anger and cruelty.”
(Sara Ruddick, Epilogue, Maternal Thinking, 2009, p. 255)

We can cultivate and practice non-violence and love towards not only our children, but ourselves. As we do this, we heal. In giving this love, the quality of our lives expands exponentially. As protective love enfolds the family, those within it know they are safe and loved. Love becomes the cushion for all beings in its circle. It holds us. We sense and feel more, enjoy more. A field of compassion opens out to the world around us. 

I know mothers can and do heal the world, even as the practice of mothering operates without direct access to political and economic power. As mothers, we hold the keys to love, loving, and being loved, in so many ways for ourselves and for so many other people. Love generates itself as we practice its giving and receiving. 

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