Thursday, May 14, 2009

The most devastating love of all--or love and nits (take your pick, ha ha)

Kate Cole-Adams, whose intoxicating novel Walking to the Moon I have recently finished (and highly recommend), wrote a wonderful piece for The Age on Mothers Day.

I was saying to a group of women the other day that I feel that my children have simultaneously made and destroyed my life. I think I may have shocked a few of them, as I sometimes do with my confessions. But when I say these things it is not a response to the minor irritations or lifestyle inconveniences that come with having kids — which are superficial, if at times very real — but all due to the devastating love I feel for them. Which is, of course, also what's so wonderful about motherhood.

(Though I did love Kate’s daughter’s comment when she found out her mum was penning a story on motherhood: “Say that the worst thing is nits.” It is difficult to explain to non-parents how whole weekends can be lost to the military operation that is nit elimination. But if I say “We’re having a family night in tonight — pizza and a movie”, it’s probably a euphemism for “The kids have got nits (again).” Grrrr. I can become quite obsessed — which my partner loves teasing me about, as he thinks the natural evolution of the nit-picking monkey is probably the modern sub-editor.)

Anyway, more seriously... in reading Kate’s article, I had a realisation — something that I suppose was obvious but that I had not really articulated to myself (as all the best revelations often work). It was that maternal ambivalence is not a state of being torn between love and hate for our children (meaning not them so much as what they've done to our lives) — but is a state entirely borne out of love.

It is precisely this love for my children, being so excruciating, that I can feel has ruined me. This acute tenderness and sense of responsibility is something us mothers are never free of, and almost impossible to imagine until you’re in it (unless you have the brain of Lionel Shriver, in which case you decide definitely not to procreate).

It is this maternal state — the sense of having your chest broken open, leaving you utterly exposed — that Kate describes so brilliantly in her article.

Yesterday I had to meet with my son’s principal to discuss the fact that he’s showing signs of becoming an anxiety-prone perfectionist. Ah, jeez, now where would he have got that from?! It can be so demoralising to realise that you haven’t avoided passing on your own worst traits. I had to use all my strength not to burst into tears in her office.

But, as I also told the same group of women I mentioned above, if I have any philosophy of parenting (I have never been much of a strategic thinker) then it’s to make sure my kids know how much I love them, always and ever, and to keep talking. I figure if we keep loving and keeping talking, we will all be ok (fingers crossed).

P.S. Thank you to Hannah Colman for posting this really fun interview we did a while back on great feminist blog The Dawn Chorus. Rare to get a chance to explore these ideas in so much depth.


Red Hen (dette) said...

Oh boy I remember the nit picking!!! It is true about the nature of mother's love. It also becomes more complicated as they approach adult hood, those emotions still exist but you have to let them go and that is excruciating yet confusing at the same time because you feel conflict between that love and the relief at having time for yourself again and the mild fear of having time to yourself again(no excuses for not doing what you want to do, or say that you want to do.)

Unknown said...

I don't have kids, but the possibility of having them has been in my mind for a while and in conversations with my partner. It's truly terrifying, thinking about how they change your life, and the responsibility...
I read We need to talk about Kevin a while ago. It almost put me off the whole children thing!

Susan Whelan said...

I am currently dealing with some anxiety issues with my 8 year old daughter. I am torn between wanting to simply cuddle her close and protect her from the world and taking the painful step away (well, maybe just a half-step) that gives her the room she needs to learn to deal with the ups and downs of life in her own way.

So many contradictions and opposing forces at play in motherhood. It seems such an impossible task at times, yet at others so natural and rewarding. No matter how difficult though, warm cuddles and "I love you Mum" makes everything else fade into insignificance.

One night last year I was helping my daughter dry her waist-length hair after her shower when we discovered "beasties". Just as well - how else would I have managed to fill in 3 hours on my birthday? *sigh*

Ariel said...

I spent yesterday morning sitting at my laptop, hair wreathed in gladwrap, chemicals seeping into my scalp as I treated myself for nits ... courtesy, of course, of my son. I still remember how disgusting and dirty I felt the first time it happened. Now it's just another eye-roll.

Great post, great link (the Cole-Adams piece) and great interview over at Dawn Chorus.

You fall passionately in love with your children (or at least I did) in the same way you do with a lover, I think. It's amazing.

Shannon Garson said...

I was just thinking (at four in the morning) my life will never be free of sadness now that I have children. Most of the time I'm happy but loving your children has a flipside of fear and anxiety. What about swine flu? The environment? Will they be facing a world with not enough food? How can it be possible they will grow up and live an a world as affluent and peaceful as this one? What would happen if they die, or I die? This sounds so paranoid and weird- especially to those without kids but it is the constant see-saw between consuming love and this fear that defines motherhood for me. (Plus the nagging feeling that if they just would go away for a second I'd have some intelligent thoughts and get some work done!) I think nits are a suitable metaphor. They are always lurking in the back of your conciousness, phantom nits are always invading your scalp. The real ones are worse but there is a perverse satisfaction in discovering they ARE really there and exterminating the darned things!

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