A female friend recently posted an article by a woman writer about motherhood. The article was entitled “Children are NOT life’s flowers” (referring to a famous Russian saying which means that children are what makes life beautiful).
A number of women contributed comments under this post. The discussion revolved around the image of an ideal mother and how we real mothers should relate to it.
It is amazing that in the current atmosphere of bringing out into the open so many issues, motherhood is not much discussed. Sexuality, gender and abuse are OK to speak about and question. At the same time, it is only within medical profession that such issues as “baby blues” or post-partum depression are valid topics.
Mothers are still expected to be loving, calm and sacrificial under any circumstances. Mothers are judged easily. You raise your voice at your child – you’re a bad Mother. You choose to go to an evening class instead of taking your child to a club – you’re a bad Mother. You leave you child by the TV in order to win an hour for yourself – you’re a bad Mother.
The same friend posted a joke around the same time on the same social network website. It went: ” ‘Mom, Mom, I’m thirsty!’ ‘Mom, Mom, I am hungry!’ ‘Mom, Mom, I want to go out in the park!’ ‘How wonderful it is to be a Mother’ – thought the Dad lying on the sofa.”
In this whole ideal motherhood discourse no one mentions responsibilities of other parties: fathers, extended family, society, politicians. Mothers are expected to be perfect on their own.
As a result, most Mothers carry this guilt and self reproach most of the time. The pressure of the societal expectations beats Mothers’ self-respect and a deep internal intuition that they are not actually to blame.
I believe that women, as well as men, actually do know right from wrong. It is the external circumstances that drive them to behave in ways detrimental to themselves and other people.
In the famous Kalama Sutta, the Buddha says:
… don’t go by reports, by legends, by traditions, by scripture, by logical conjecture, by inference, by analogies, by agreement through pondering views, by probability, or by the thought, ‘This contemplative is our teacher.’ When you know for yourselves that, ‘These qualities are unskillful; these qualities are blameworthy; these qualities are criticized by the wise; these qualities, when adopted & carried out, lead to harm & to suffering’ — then you should abandon them.
And the Buddha says something similar about the skillful qualities, the qualities to adopt.
I feel that women have seen, through their own experiences, that sacrificing themselves at all times indiscriminately for the sake of their children leads to harm and to suffering. They know that pretending to be what they are not or to feel what they don’t feel is unskillful.
How many stories we have heard about women blaming themselves for not loving their newborns from the first second they see them. This self-reproach can lead to many psychological problems.
Due to the myth of Happy Motherhood women expect some sort of a miracle: to fall in love with a being they never saw before, having just experienced the most stressful experience of labour and birth. They know that this is unreasonable, yet they just can’t admit this to themselves. As a result, psychological violence against themselves follows.
And although religious teachings can offer the right advice, in most cases just advice is not enough. Any move away from societal conventions towards the truth requires an effort, spending extra energy. And this is exactly what Mothers in our society don’t have.
Any religious practice requires that little extra effort, which we often lack. This is where the support from a community of like-minded people becomes indispensable. However, communities also can run out of energy and fail, just like individuals.
Mothers, women and general and all people must be supported in the societal and governmental level. All people should be sure of their survival and well-being, and that of their loved ones. Otherwise, even if they know exactly which qualities are skillful, they can’t practice them if they are overwhelmed by the injustice of their situations.
Oxana Poberejnaia is a frame drummer, writer and an artist at http://poeticoxana.wordpress.com. She was an Officer of the University of Manchester Buddhist Society while studying for a PhD in Government, and had been involved in organising the Manchester Buddhist Convention. Oxana is exploring the Sacred Feminine through frame drumming, working with her menstrual cycle, and shamanic journeying, while keeping the practice of Buddhist meditation. Her world music band Soma can be found here.