A. The Myth of Parental Love1
The increasing volume of literature dealing with musts and must-nots in parental relationships always used to puzzle me. If a genuine love really exists in parent’s hearts for their children, if the “myth” of parental love has any truth, then why should a lover be “taught” how to love? Had Romeo ever been taught how to love Juliet? Did Juliet ever need to learn from a source other than her heart how to love Romeo?
Whenever a heart is hit by Cupid’s arrow the Homo Sapient is automatically changed to a Homo Sentient. Immediately a kind of “instinctive” behaviour is switched--on. One starts acting in a definite as though “predestined” pattern, which cannot really be influenced or controlled by “reason”. As Shakespeare says: one becomes a slave
“Being your slave, what should I do, but tend upon the hours and times of your desire?
I have no precious time at all to spend,
Nor services to do, till you require.
Nor dare I chide the world, without end hour
Whilst I, my sovereign watch the clock for you,
Nor think the bitterness of absence sour
When you have bid your servant once adieu,
Nor dare I question with my jealous thought
Where you may be, or your affairs suppose,
But, like a sad slave, stay and think of naught
Save, where you are how happy you make those
So true a fool is love, that in your will,
Though you do anything, he thinks no ill.
A comparative study of the famous love stories in different cultures, can be a good evidence of the presence of a universal pattern of behaviour molded and shaped by a phenomenon called love. No matter from what age, race or geographic region, the lover, experiences essentially the same feelings, assumes similar attitudes and behaves in the same manner. And no matter what the object of love is, whether animate or inanimate, carnal or spiritual, natural or supernatural, the lover still feels, thinks, talks and acts the same. In other words, a lover does not need a teacher to teach him/her how to love. If a teacher is required, then something must be wrong.
The myth of parental love1 -- and here since I am a woman can really only write about the maternal part of this myth -- has, however, some specific aspects that makes it distinct from other types of love.
In general, the parental--child relationship is not really a mutual – i.e. two sided--relationship, but a triangular one. It is a trinity, with the role of the third party being apparently hidden, indirect and invisible. But at the same time, it is somehow through the obscure influence of this third party that the framework and quality of the parental--child relationship is and can be determined. A genuine loving relationship occurs between parents and their child (children), only when there exists a genuine love between parents, themselves.
The reason for underlining the word genuine is to distinguish it from other types of affections that do exist between parents and children, but cannot be really called love, because they do not trigger or switch on that “instinctive” universal pattern of behaviour mentioned before. There can be little doubt about the existence of a “semi--love’ between parents and children, since whenever one cares for something, spends time for it, no matter willingly or under some kind of obligation, a kind of affection starts to grow between them. To say the least, one gets “used” to the object of one’s concern and care. But since that famous instinctive behaviour is not evidently switched on, one does not necessarily “know’ how to treat this object of one’s affection, care, concern, habit etc., what is “good” for it, what should be done for its well-being and prosperity, how to express one’s affection, care, concern for it, etc. And thus it is here that instructions, training, guidance, preachments can help. It is here that the necessity for all these numerous child--psychology books, as such find a meaning.
Going back to the role of that apparently invisible third corner of the triangle, there is already enough literature on the effects of the quality of the husband--wife relationship, and the psycho--mental state of mothers during pregnancy on the growth and development and later on the personality of the child. The story of this influence, however, starts well before the child’s conception.
First of all the psycho-mental state of a pregnant woman is probably largely determined by her state before pregnancy, and what may constitute the most important factor determining a woman’s pre--pregnancy state? There can be little doubt that the quality of feeling she experiences for the father of her child, will be the main factor determining her psycho-mental state before and during pregnancy.
Surely when a genuine love exists between the couple, pregnancy of the woman in a way, can be interpreted as the “materialization” of this love. To use the old cliche, the child will be the fruit, the meaning, the symbol of the total integration of two lives, two souls and bodies. It is the only way that they can make their love immortal, eternal. Such circumstances will put woman in the most favourable (optimal) psycho-mental for conception. She will exhilarate every moment of her pregnancy. She would dearly carry a part of her lover in her body. On the other hand the man, too, will blissfully watch the growth of a part of himself in the body of his beloved. The womb will appear as a heavenly tree on which the sacred fruit of love grows. Here is when the parental--myth is actualized. Here is when no teacher, no training, no guidance will thus be required. Here is when once again the “inborn knowledge” of loving pours out. Here is when no child psychology books creeps into the crib.
Here is when the child is fed with true love from her/his first breath into the world. Is watched, cared for, treated “properly”, i.e. in accordance with “musts and must-nots of the best child upbringing training”. Here is when one finds, not the faked and hypocritical, but the true and genuine festivity of becoming parents.
The presence of the child deepens the already existing love between the couple. It opens a new horizon, adds a new dimension to their relationship. The sharing extends ever more. A little angle now adorns the Cupid’s arrow.1
The presence of a genuine love between the couple will produce the favourable condition for the emergence of a truly loving relationship between parents and their future child. Otherwise only a semi--love will be formed. They will “love” their child mainly because the myth of paternal love overpowers them, because the socio--cultural rules and norms expect them to do so, finally because their sense of responsibility and commitment, obliges them to take care of their children. So unlike the former case, where the child is in a way the “materialization” of the couple’s love for each other, or it is a way to “immortalize” their love, here the main impetus for having a child -- other than the natural instinct of survival of the race which is equally true for the first case -- is to give a sense of security to the marriage. Children become the main reason for “sticking together”. So in reality the child is not the end in itself, but is the means for some other ends.
In general the case of parental love, and particularly the maternal love, is much more complicated than that between men and women. In the latter, the couple fall in love, then fall out of love, a situation not feasible in the former case. There are many factors that do not allow a mother to fall out of love with her child. First of all the myth of maternal love -- by that we really mean the socio--cultural norms and values expected to be observed by women-mothers -- is still very powerful, in comparison to other myths; and the more traditional the society, the more powerful is this myth. Women still have relatively less “psychological freedom”. Therefore although this quality of maternal love is under the direct influence of the nature of the marital relationship, but the power of the aforementioned myth and some other aspects of maternal love -- such as the very process of conceiving, birth-giving, breast feeding, upbringing and in general the inevitable intimate relation between mother and child -- help women to fall in love and stay in love with their child. On the other hand, the degree and the strength of the correlation between her self-identification and the mother-image -- mainly shaped by the degree and the extent of her conformity with the traditional role and also by the extent and the depth of her childhood and adolescent fantasies in this regard, the extent and the degree of her fears of old age loneliness -- would also play a role in the intensity of her desire to become a mother and in the intensity of her affection if not love, towards her future child. This is the main reason why mothers can be so sacrificial. What gives us the power to put up with the most dehumiliation conditions arise from this sense of love, responsibility and commitment, no matter what may be the source of it all.
B. The Definition of Motherhood
Who is mother? So many roles have been attributed to and entangled with motherhood that in order to answer this question, we should start with what she is not. First of all remember that we are living in the era of specialization and expertise, and all the roles that mothers played in the past, have now become a speciality, requiring knowledge and skill. Thus a mother is not a nurse, for example, since there are always far better and more skilled nurses, specialized in this profession. Similarly and for the same reasons, she is not a teacher, a guide, a coach, counselor, pedagogue, mentor, etc. She is not a friend, for the child can again have much better friends. To give an example, one of my patients, mother of a six years old boy with a low I.Q. unconsciously deteriorated her son’s conditions by trying to teach him the skills that children of his age normally possess. The result was a feeling of frustration and desperation in both. I suggested that she should take the boy to a specialist who immediately diagnosed the boy’s problem and started a special programme with the result that the boy started the school the same year that he was supposed to. If she had continued her unprofessional manipulation, the outcome would have definitely turned out to be tragic.
Mothers who have not yet realized this fact and insist to play any of these roles without the adequate skill, knowledge and experience, can seriously harm their children, physically and mentally.
So where is it exactly that a mother is irreplaceable by any other person? First and foremost in the very act of giving birth. Nobody else can replace her in this respect--of course, disregarding the present medical manipulations here, such as test--tube babies and surrogate mothers.
Secondly, mother’s love is still the nearest to the unconditional love, now regarded as the most important element for healthy growth of children. Although the child is constantly reminded that if you do or do not do this and that, mum will not love you, i.e. still numerous conditions are set up, nevertheless nowhere else does the child gets as much acceptance and appreciation for whatever he/she is, as with his/ her mother. Nobody can forgive them for their mistakes as much as their mothers, even though, even this is not absolutely true, and it is quite possible-- particularly today-- that a child may receive such an unconditional love from anybody, except his/her mother. But in general mother’s love is relatively less conditional, perhaps only because they have comparatively less alternatives. If they do not teach themselves to forget and forgive faster and be relatively more tolerant, less revengeful etc, very soon either they would go crazy, or the child would be thrown out of the house. Yes the mother grows, matures and get wiser as her child grows.( see chapter 3 )
Thus we should perhaps limit our definition of mother to a person who gives life and that is all she is here for--at least in a civilized, specialized world. This is the only true duty of mothers. Other than that, or the only other thing that we should expect ourselves to give, is the unconditional love. But unfortunately since we feel we have to play all the above roles -- nursing, teaching, guiding, tutoring, making friend etc., in addition to our role as the housewife with all its duties and chores and probably also an outside job -- we get so exhausted and thus irritable that at the end we are incapable of giving the only legitimate thing that we can and should give our children, i.e. unconditional love. Unfortunately the majority of us get trapped in this absurd attempt to play the all and everything role, and as a result we just exhaust and drain ourselves. In this case, the most we can achieve is to have a well-trained, well-behaved highly educated child who, despite all his/her brilliant qualities1, lacks the most essential aspect of being which is the feeling of happiness.
What is our greatest ideal for our children? Is it not happiness that we all without exception wish for our children? Do we not yet know that, social positions, money, high proficiencies, academic achievements and so on do not necessarily lead to happiness? What is the point of being a good doctor, businessman, scientist, in fact a good anything, and be unhappy and miserable in heart? So if happiness is really and honestly our only ideal for our children, we should ask ourselves how we should treat them to help them to attain this goal.
Usually the root of our problems in life, problems that prevent us from feeling happy and satisfied, amounts to the lack of self-confidence, self-esteem and self-respect, self-rejection on one hand and the effect of unresolved childhood traumas on the other hand; all a product of an unhealthy upbringing, not being brought up in an atmosphere of unconditional love and acceptance of our uniqueness.
The best guideline for child raising to me, is what I heard from a friend, quoting a yogi. When faced with the question, “what should we teach our children?” the yogi replied: “Nothing. Teach yourself whatever you wish and will to teach your child.” It took me months to really understand the unfathomable wisdom hidden in this simple sentence. To make it short, since we are the role-model of our children, whatever we do, will be naturally imitated by them and so no more extra training i.e. preaching is necessary. Only those words that come out of heart, can penetrate into another person’s heart.
Thus by teaching ourselves all the virtues and morals we like our children learn, we stop all the highly energy consuming struggling and wrestling we normally go through with them, which--as mentioned earlier--only leads to our drainage and hence our inability to give them any form of love -- not mentioning the unconditional type which is simultaneously the most energy consuming form.
As our mates are not here to fulfil our needs, our children, too, are not here to actualize our dreams. They have their own dreams to follow and their own life to live. Have we lived the life our parents dreamt for us?
So a loving parental relationship is one in which we unconditionally accept the uniqueness of our child (children), prepare the ground for them to discover their own dreams as early as possible and help them to follow their personal path as much as possible. The only way to achieve this goal is by learning to find our own dreams, and live our own lives
C. The Consequences of the Trinity Nature of Parental Love
As explained in chapter 2 the urge of creativity in women is fulfilled through childbearing. As the first educators, they form the minds of people. This is a very important, yet neglected fact, which alone shows that women can change the world if they decide to. We used it in another chapter to prove that women could not have been discontented with their position and could not have considered themselves “inferior.”
It is usually the mother who determines the future life of her children and in this way she in fact actualizes her own aspirations. This is particularly true in my country, Iran and only indirectly in Western countries. Here again the father plays a secondary role. There are two main reasons for that. The first more obvious one is the fact that generally children spend much more time with their mothers than they do with their fathers, who as the bread-earner spend most of their time outside. The second more implicit reason goes back to the trinity nature of the parent-child relationship which here makes the role of the mother even more effective. In order to illustrate our point, let us look at an example.
First let us see what happens if the child disagrees with the plans the mother has for her/his future. After trying all peaceful respectable tactics, from simple talking and persuasion to not being on speaking terms with the child for some times, if she still fails she would resort to make use of the father-child-relation side of the trinity. She would make the father to appear as the real authority and if necessary will even make a tyrant of him to inspire fear in the child. In order to prepare the stage, she would start to disturb the relation of the father-child by constantly telling the father about the child’s disobedience, for example and how mischievous he is. Simultaneously she would constantly remind the child that she would tell his/her father about his/her misbehavior. She will work in this way, until both the father and the child would turn against each other. Once this happens, she would make the child to believe that the plan she originally had for the child, in fact belong to the child’s father. The fear inspired will do the job and the child will most probably surrender.
On the other hand, if she finds her husband thinking differently, she would again make use of the father-child relation , but this time conversely, i.e. she would make the father to believe that this is what the child wants and if he disagrees, some disaster will happen. For this she would definitely use all the different tactics found in the ‘encyclopedia of human art of convincing’. In both cases she would act like the Goddess of persuasion.
The final result, in the majority of the cases, would be the actualization of her dreams or something near to them, through her children. That is the root of her power. This is when her creation achieves its final goal, but in this process she will be totally transformed too. Not only her urge of creativity is fulfilled, the crawling caterpillar of her essence metamorphoses to the most beautiful butterfly. Each woman according of her potential. In the altar of her house, she finds her God, her Truth, Nirvana or whatever else it may be called.
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