Tag Archives: mother

Maiden, Mother, Grandmother identities

When you are a maiden, you have a name of your own. It may have your paternal name with it, but it is a distinct name, and it is yours. People will call you by that name.

Babies do not automatically call their parents mother, father, mummy, daddy. You have to teach them. You may have to teach them by naming yourself as mummy in front of them. It is easier for the child to learn that you are mummy if they do not hear other adults calling you by your name. Your maiden name. And so you may start calling the father of your child ‘daddy’ and he may call you ‘mummy’ and to other adults in your life you may also be ‘mummy’ for the benefit of your child. I didn’t go this way, but I’ve seen it done.

Granny is not a life change that results from your own action in the way that becoming mummy does. Being granny may mean that the people who once called you mummy are now calling you granny so that their children learn to call you granny. Other adults in your life may choose to reinforce this. You may find yourself calling our own offspring mum and dad for the benefit of the grandchild.

Of course there’s a similar pattern for men. However, men have traditionally had roles and identities outside the household. People to call them by their names and treat them as distinct individuals. Inside the house, trapped in the domestic sphere, there is a lot less room to be anyone other than mother or grandmother. Not a specific, named identity. Not a distinct person. A title. A job description. A loss of personal identity into the ocean of mothers and grandmothers.

Names have power. I wonder how many of our female ancestors lost their sense of personal identity to the titles given them.

Mother Nature

She feed us and gives us a place to live, free of charge. Like inconsiderate teenagers, we leave our crap lying about wherever we drop it, we wreck her most precious things, seldom bother to apologise and show no gratitude. We expect her to give everything, and assume we need offer nothing in return. We collectively envisage Mother Earth as the kind of mother who will say ‘never mind dear, have another sweety’ no matter what we do to her, to each other, to ourselves.

Even the most tolerant and indulgent mother has her breaking point. The moment of saying, “No more of your shit. I am not paying your way and clearing up your rubbish and putting up with your lousy attitude any more. Get useful, start contributing, or get out of my house.”
Of course the teenage git has alternatives. A friend’s couch to crash on, social housing. Hell, they could theoretically even get a job. We have nowhere else to go. If Mother Nature decides she can’t put up with any more of our uselessness, there is no couch to crash on.

The spring equinox is past, and there is snow on the hills of the Forest of Dean. The wind is so cold my hands hurt from being outside. This is climate change, and we’re told this morning we can expect twenty years or so of drought and flood just from the excess carbon in the air RIGHT NOW. Are we working to reign in that carbon addiction? No. Do we have any chance of holding at current levels? No. Are we in serious trouble already? Yes. Are the politicians busy trying to save the species? No. Far more important to keep shuffling the imaginary money around so that they can claim an every bigger piece of the pie.

Well, Mother Earth may not be making much more pie. Standing outside today it was pretty obvious to me that Mamma is pissed. Mamma doesn’t want any more bullshit excuses about GDP and how we can’t harm business. We are running out of time to put our shit in order, while Mother Earth taps her foot impatiently and reminds us that there is a door, and she can boot our sorry arses through it any time she likes. Actually boys and girls, extinction is an option. For us.

Maybe one day the leaders of the world will wake up and realise they need to get cleaning and fixing as a matter of some urgency. Maybe it will occur to all of us that, like any other mother, Mother Earth has finite patience, finite resources, and we have been taking the piss for far too long.

Tiger mother growls

One of the most natural things for a mother, in any species, is to protect your offspring. Be it the mallard flying at seagulls to stop them eating her chicks, or the fox running to draw you away from her cubs, mothers protect. Millions of years of evolution, survival and instinct are behind us when we do it. Of course for the modern human mother, it’s not quite the same, but all the drives are still there. The urge to protect and defend can come out in all kinds of ways, some more helpful than others.

You can’t wrap a child in cotton wool and insulate them from all risk, harm, or danger. Not if you want them to grow up and be viable, independent adults. They need to learn which risks are worth taking. They need the space to run and play, which can mean falling off bikes, and out of trees. Bumps, bruises, cuts, scrapes and often broken bones ensue from the natural process of growing up. Knowing when to hold them safely in the nest, and when to let them explore the rest of being alive, is hard. Apparently it doesn’t get all that much easier with practice.

I have heard it said that dads do not experience the protective urges in the same way and are better predisposed to support the child in the risk taking aspect of their development. This makes sense to me, and the idea that between two parents, or the wider culture of family and tribe, there should be balance between protection and support. Getting the child to cycle is usually a dad/uncle/granddad sort of job. It’s not to say men aren’t protective too, but I think they risk assess in very different ways.

There are things we cannot protect our children from as they grow. They will go out into the world and make their own mistakes. They will get hurt. Bad things will happen to them. We cannot individually make all the world as safe for them as we could when we were toddler-proofing the house. All we can do is equip them with stories, ideas, skills and confidence so that when the inevitable happens, and they hit something hard, they have the means to cope. And then try to be there if they need us to help them pick up the pieces. My son does not have a defensive layer of cynicism of apathy. He cares. I know that when he gets out there on his own, either the world will break his heart over and over again, or he will grow the kind of skin that doesn’t let him feel much. But he’s grown up with my shortage of skin, and he knows it can be lived with, and maybe he will dare to keep caring.

The hardest thing, is seeing something I cannot protect him from. However much I may want to be the tiger mother (he’s a tiger boy) there are things I cannot do for him, things I cannot get in front of him to shield him from. And I would. Seeing fear in a child’s eyes is an awful thing. Seeing deep emotional pain that you can’t take away, and knowing that the only possible way forwards means that those young shoulders have to lift a heavy burden, and there is no way to carry it for him. All that can be done is to give him words of love and support, to be there, to listen, to trust him, to remind him that he is a brave and bold sort of tiger and that he will come through. Nine is a very young age at which to be tested to your limits and beyond. It’s a very young age at which to have to stand up to adults, fight against a system and bear responsibility for the shape your future is going to take.

There are plenty of children who face far worse. The ones growing up in war zones, or who have to watch famine and disease kill their families. The ones who cannot do anything as their father beats their mother. The ones who live in fear, in pain, with hunger and all the misery the world can inflict. And there are also the mothers who are not tiger mothers, who have succumbed already to despair. In nature, mothers eat their offspring when they feel too threatened. Human mothers get that most dreadful impulse too. There are the mothers who kill, the mothers who neglect, or who are so damaged that they simply cannot do the job. There are tiger children who do not have anyone to growl on their behalf, and because I have no skin, that thought makes me want to weep.

There are days when all I can offer him is my tiger growl, to tell him that he is not alone, even if he does have to deal with some very hard things for himself. I can only hope it’s enough.