Do We Have to Hate Our Mothers? No, We Do Not! by Carol P. Christ


It is commonly accepted in American culture that children–boys especially–must go through a “phase” where they hate their mothers in order to grow up. We are told that the mother-child bond is so intense as to become suffocating. We are told that unless children – boys especially – reject their mothers, they will not individuate, become individuals. And nobody, we are told, wants a mama’s boy.*

Recently, I read an article written by a mother who, though she had prepared herself for rejection, had not prepared herself for the degree of hatred and contempt her teen-age son would express towards her over a several year period. I do not recall whether or not this particular story had a happy outcome or whether the mother was still living the story of rejection.

The idea that children—boys especially–must reject their mothers in order to grow up is one of the ways matricide is played out in our culture. In rejecting our mothers, we also reject the idea that nurturing life is the highest value.

The phase of hating your mother is part of the training children receive in patriarchy. In this phase we learn that the woman who gave us life and who nurtured our growth through our vulnerable years is less important than the person we must become. The person we must become must be tough and uncompromising. That person cannot be guided by emotions. That person must learn that caring for the weak and the vulnerable is not the highest calling. He (and increasingly she) must go out and conquer the world. He (and increasingly she) must make something of himself (or herself). He (and increasingly she) must get ahead (of whom or of what is not stated). He (and increasingly she) must become like his (or her) father. His (or her) success will be judged by what kind of a job he (or she) has and how much money he (or she) makes.

That even mothers have learned to accept that their own children must go through a phase of hating them does not prove that such feelings are normal. Rather it proves that we are living in patriarchy. In patriarchy we are taught that what the father does is more important than what the mother does. We have to be carefully taught.

In egalitarian matriarchies, the mother-child bond is the most important bond. In egalitarian matriarchies it is understood that nurturing life is the highest value. Both boys and girls are taught to become like their mothers, to become nurturers of life. There is no need to hate your mother in order to grow up. Rather, the more you love your mother, the more you will grow up to be like her, and the better person you will become.

It is hard for us to understand what it might be like to grow up in an egalitarian matriarchy.

Right now you are probably thinking: “But you are idealizing mothers and motherhood. Many mothers are controlling. Some mothers are cruel. Others are depressed and disinterested in their children. Many of us bear the scars of bad mothering.”

“Yes,” I answer, “but you are describing mothers in patriarchy. You are describing mothering by mothers who have been taught that motherhood is or should be their only role. You are describing mothering by mothers who have been isolated in the home. You are describing mothering by mothers who have been deprived of help in the mothering role. You are describing mothering by mothers who have been taught that nurturing life is at best a secondary value.”

In egalitarian matriarchies, all of society is organized to support mothers and children. No mother is ever alone with her children. Grandmothers and aunties, brothers and sisters, uncles and great-uncles help with childcare. Nor is motherhood women’s only role. In women’s councils, women organize planting and harvesting and the rituals surrounding birth, maturation, and death. These societies are not female dominant, because the women recognize that men too must have important roles if society is to be harmonious.

Sound like a utopian fantasy? It is not.

It will not be easy, but once we learn that it is possible to live in societies of peace where every voice is heard and the nurturing of life and the protection of the vulnerable is understood to be the highest value, we can start thinking about how to change things we have been taught are inevitable.

To begin with, we can reject the idea that every child has to go through a phase of hating the mother.

*“For at least a century, western psychology has been telling men to reject closeness with their mothers in order to achieve manhood. The process was one of Freud’s classic theories and a cornerstone of psychoanalysis. Some say this rejection is a necessary step in the development of masculine identity. “

 

Also see:

What Is “Egalitarian Matriarchy” and Why Is It So Often Misunderstood?

How “Egalitarian Matriarchy” Works among the Minangkabau of West Sumatra

Women and Men in “Egalitarian Matriarchy”

The Matricide Basic to Patriarchy’s Birth

 

Carol P. Christ is an internationally known feminist and ecofeminist writer, activist, and educator who will soon be moving to Heraklion, Crete. Carol’s recent book written with Judith Plaskow, Goddess and God in the World: Conversations in Embodied Theology, is on Amazon. A Serpentine Path: Mysteries of the Goddess is on sale for $9.99 on Amazon. Carol has been leading Goddess Pilgrimage to Crete for over twenty years: join her in Crete. Carol’s photo by Michael Honneger.

Listen to Carol’s a-mazing interview with Mary Hynes on CBC’s Tapestry recorded in conjunction with her keynote address to the Parliament of World’s Religions.



Categories: Egalitarian Matriarchy, Feminism, Feminism and Religion, General, Motherhood

Tags: , , , , ,

19 replies

  1. I have 2 boys, 19 months apart. I do remember their teenage years. I don’t remember any hate towards me. I only remember then going through normal teenage growing pains.

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  2. Thank you, Carol, for writing this piece. So many people do not understand how embedded patriarchy (hierarchy and domination that breed violence) is in so many (all?) societies throughout the world. That hatred towards Mother manifests itself in a myriad of ways. A fundamental lack of respect towards Mother is what I observe in so many sons (mine included)–not just toward their biological mother, but women with whom they come in contact–teachers, nurses, politicians, etc.. When I tell my ultra-conservative brother-in-law that “It takes a village” when it comes to raising children, he buckles down on the tired rhetoric of selfish mothers who want other people to raise their own children. We need a radical shift in the way we understand ourselves in the world.

    Liked by 6 people

  3. With you, Carol, and I wish I could raise my children all over again in a culture that supported mothers and children, and their bond. Parents and children both need support through the transformation that adolescence brings. Hatred and rejection of the mother don’t have to be the way a child claims adulthood and individuality. But we are missing communal and ritual support, and adolescence has become excruciatingly prolonged in a culture where so many people, young and old, feel alienated and displaced. Thanks for this call to transformation for us all. .

    Liked by 4 people

  4. Yes, I wish I could have raised my son in a kinder culture, one that did indeed support the mother-child bond. What can we do to transform our matricidal culture? How do we change all the old stories? Go back a century and throttle Sigmund Freud in his cradle? Go back a couple millennia and reeducate the Greek tragedians?

    My son and I are friends now, but there were years………

    Liked by 5 people

  5. My 2 brothers and I (one who died of thallasemia at the age of 29) were raised to love our mother and we never wavered from that bond. I would say that was typical in my Greek American community in Youngstown, Ohio in the 1970’s. My cousins, my male and female Greek friends growing up, all had a similar experiences save for a few exceptions. We were also taught to take care of our elders, female or male. Despite my full-time job as an advocate for developmentally disabled adults who have been charged with a felony in the criminal justice system, my brother and I have cared for our parents as they aged and eventually crossed over. We’ve done the same for 2 of our Aunts, one who suffered with schizophrenia, the other with dementia. I have witnessed similar experiences from many other males that I know in the Greek communities throughout the many different places I have lived. I’ve also seen the same in just about every other culture I’ve engaged in.

    I’m not disputing your general premise, I am just pointing out that some of the values of a partnership civilization have survived within the patriarchy. We still have a long way to go, but knowing and seeing so many men in my life who have never turned on their mother because of the way they were raised gives me hope that what seems impossible is very much possible.

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    • I was actually thinking about families I know in Greece after I wrote this piece. I do think that in Greece for the most part people put the family first not money or job status. And when the family is first, mothers have an important place. So I agree with you, it is different in Greek families. I think the status of women and mothers in Greece is complicated. Greek families are also patriarchal so sometimes Greek mothers become manipulative and controlling in order to exercise power. I could go on, but I won’t. I will just repeat that when the family is central mothers are also central.

      Liked by 1 person

  6. Oh, here is another magnificent piece of writing – how I admire your skill to pin point exactly what’s wrong.

    “The idea that children—boys especially–must reject their mothers in order to grow up is one of the ways matricide is played out in our culture. In rejecting our mothers, we also reject the idea that nurturing life is the highest value.”

    Oh, how I wish I had understood this truth earlier in my life – It would have mitigated so much suffering – I blamed myself for everything that went wrong – took responsibility for bad mothering when I was doing my best…

    Could go on and on here.

    You are so right…“but you are describing mothers in patriarchy. You are describing mothering by mothers who have been taught that motherhood is or should be their only role. You are describing mothering by mothers who have been isolated in the home. You are describing mothering by mothers who have been deprived of help in the mothering role. You are describing mothering by mothers who have been taught that nurturing life is at best a secondary value.”

    We have all been brainwashed by patriarchy – I remember saying in deep despair “mothering is terminal” meaning that it was impossible to free myself from mothering pain. The good news is that we can – but for me it took a lifetime – and I can’t bear the idea that so many grieving mothers are out there…

    I wish every mother on the planet could read this essay… and to be sure I will be passing these words on.

    As always, thank you Carol.

    Liked by 2 people

  7. As a feminist mother under the duress of American patriarchy, my experience aligns with much of what you say, Carol. But in some ways what you wrote sounds to me like you’re blaming the victim, i.e. the mother.You write about “mothering by mothers who have been taught that motherhood is or should be their only role. You are describing mothering by mothers who have been isolated in the home. You are describing mothering by mothers who have been deprived of help in the mothering role. You are describing mothering by mothers who have been taught that nurturing life is at best a secondary value.” None of these attributes was true for me, and still my daughter rebelled against me. She never hated me, but during her teen years, she sure pushed back against any requirements that we set for her safety, which she interpreted as restrictions of her freedom. I really didn’t expect this and was shocked when it happened. I believed that as a feminist mom, my daughter would have no reason to reject me.

    My experience of mothering a teen makes me believe that American patriarchy deforms the mother/child bond not only by putting down maternal values, but also by creating an expectation of individualism, which affects the child as well as the mother. One part of an earlier paragraph deals with these expectations (“we learn that the woman who gave us birth… is less important than the person we must become”). Individualism affects the child growing up and will, therefore, affect a feminist mother as well as any other mother.

    Individualism also makes mothering more difficult. I remember a bridging conversation at a feminist conference between mothers who worked inside the home and mothers who worked outside the home. The recriminations and guilt on both sides attested to the cultural parameters within which these mothers operated. The “stay-at-home” moms felt shame and grief at not “individuating,” i.e. not having “made something of themselves,” while the mothers who worked outside the home felt guilty about how little time they had for their kids and were jealous of the “stay-at-homes” for that “luxury.” I felt incredibly lucky to have a spouse who took on half of the childcare responsibilities, so that I could teach my Women’s Studies courses. I didn’t have to give up being of use in the larger world in order to be of use at home with my child.

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    • Good point about individualism Nancy. This can explain the difference in the Greek family Nick mentioned above.

      No I was not intending to blame the mother. I was trying to explain that if your mother was not a good mother (unfortunately I have 4 good friends who had not just imperfect mothers but very harmful ones), the problem in probably the structures of patriarchal motherhood in Amercia. Sorry if it sounded like I was blaming the mother.

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    • And sorry Nancy that you had to go through this too. I don’t have children, but I very quickly became the evil stepmother at one point in my life. I also wonder if individualism as you describe it combined with patriarchy explains the pattern that white feminists criticize white feminist foremothers sp harshly.

      Liked by 1 person

  8. I agree with what you’ve written, Carol, although I never rebelled against my mother. Perhaps that’s because she and I banded together to protect ourselves from my verbally and emotionally abusive father. My maternal grandmother was a strong woman who was raised by a single mother, who was also a strong woman. My grandmother and great-grandmother were close. My mother was very close to her mother, but her twin sister was very close to her father and gave her mother a hard time.

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  9. “The book’s essays also suggest that the felt conflict between manhood and a close loving relationship with the mother is limited to mainstream white culture. It is not shared, said Blauner, with African-American or Asian men-at least, not according to these essays.”
    https://www.berkeley.edu/news/berkeleyan/1998/0128/menandmothers.html

    I came across this yesterday. This suggests to me that individualism does indeed play a role in mother hatred. Asian families are known for putting family first, and people in the Black community tend to band together (as LInda explains above in terms of her family) against the common enemy which is white racism and white people.

    Liked by 1 person

  10. I know some mothers who were utterly unprepared for their sons’ hatred when it arrived, they had by no means accepted it as normal or expected, it had never occurred to them that it would happen. I wonder how we can help mothers and sons – who are either unprepared or set up for this – to approach this relationship in a way that offers alternative methods of coping with the wounds handed to us all by patriarchy.

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