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. “
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.