Wednesday, July 29

the sorrows of the mothers

"The truth is that it is not the sins of the fathers that descend unto the third generation, but the sorrows of the mothers."
Marilyn French

Why do women accept sorrow? No... really. Not every woman, of course, but in general, women accept it in a way that men do not.

Is it part of our essence? That along with the depths of compassion, intuition, and nurturing, we share that space with great pain, sorrow, and sacrifice?

Or is it social conditioning? Is it all part of the big patriarchal inheritance of oppression and repression?

Is it a combination?


What I do know is that many women accept it. I have spoken to several women recently. I have listened to their story and to their recounting the stories of their mothers, sisters, their women friends.

"She was the strongest woman I know, and yet she puts up with it."
"I remember she used to shine with her passion for X, and she gave up on the dream."
"She just figured it was better for the family."
"I'm not happy, but what can you do?"
"I've thought about making a change but that first step just seems impossible."
"Ah well, that's life, it doesn't work out as we hoped."
"Nothing's perfect, you just have to get on with it."

These are actual statements made to me. Besides my own storm, I am also feeling dismayed and angry for other women.

What book did we read, what models did we have, what lies did we believe?
Who convinced us that accepting crumbs when we hungered for the whole loaf was okay? That wanting more was indecent, unladylike, selfish, ungrateful?

Because I'm angry at the fact that it's not weak, timid, docile, or spineless women that I'm speaking to. It's strong women. Opinionated, vocal, confident. With dreams, goals, intentions. Spiritual women, educated women. Readers of Germaine Greer, owners of businesses, creatives.

painting: Debra Wolfe

But wait. What's actually at the root of my dismay is that they are also all mothers. They are the models for the men and women of the next generation.

They are providing the relationships, the lifestyles, and the personal journeys, that will be the first point of truth for each child.

I cannot stand the phrase a mother's sacrifice. I do not believe that what I do for my child is sacrificial. It stems from Love not from martyrdom!

We focus on teaching our daughters how to give, how to nurture. How to.... towards others.

And I keep saying they. But I am one of these women. I have fought and fought to not be one of these women. Yet all it takes is one weakness exposed. We become ill with the sickness of feminine acceptance. And we are sorrowful, or apathetic, but always we are less.

And the excuses we make to ourselves? Oh, there are so many, as many as there are women.

Even in the violence of my storm, I'm still allowing some exposure. I still think about compassion towards others. Compassion towards myself, to choose what is right for me, despite it causing pain to others, is not supported by our societies.

Where do we find that support within ourselves? Oh heck, it's there in plain sight.

The question is, what does it take to allow ourselves to use it?

For me, it has taken becoming a mother. I refuse to pass on Self-neglect in any size, shape, or form.


  1. Wow. You've certainly given me loads to think about. I've acted the martyr lately. Putting my own needs/desires on hold to make sure others in my family are not wanting. And I'm not afraid to let the others know it's what I'm doing either. What's the fun in being a martyr/the sacrificial lamb if you can't tell the world about it? "I'm suffering so you can have X". Urghhhh. I will let your post sink in a little more and come back. It's a heavy one for me. On a side note, I found this blog that you may or may not be aware of. This woman is going through a hugely tough time right now as her youngest is struggling for his life. Aside from THAT (I cried when I read her last few posts), there are a lot of similarities between you and her in terms of practical things: babywearing, co-sleeping, organic/healthy eating and cooking and general "artsiness". It's rather commercial and very popular, but I think you might enjoy it.

  2. Mon, what a powerful post. There are so many things I would love to discuss about it. It deserves many follow-up posts by us, your fellow bloggers, and hopefully will spawn those.
    I think the cause is a combination of many things. I do think the main one is sociological - the hundreds/thousands of years of patriarchy and the subsequent conditioning that it is our 'duty', women's 'lot in life', to sacrifice for the next generation. And then the conditioning, subtler in the 'modern West' than in other times and cultures, but still there, that we are in fact less capable or less deserving - a message all too many of us internalize to a level we don't even realize.
    As you know, I think there are also energetic issues at work, particularly related to motherhood and the changes it brings. I think there are actually 'technical' things we can do to help us recover our personal power, and that that knowledge has not been available to women for various reasons (discrimination amongst them.)
    I can relate to what you say about having a daughter helping to mobilize you to not pass this on. But having a son, I have also been thinking about how the worldly imbalance of 'yin' and 'yang' restricts men also. The emotional range and social options that boys are conditioned into is repressive also. I really noticed this lately because my son worships his older sister right now, and wants to do everything she does, including wear dresses and play dolls (although she also plays trains and cars!) We were at a playground where a bunch of boys were playing 'superhero' - and very violently - and my son watched it very closely, with evident dismay, recognizing that they were boys (gender awareness is a relatively recent discovery). It pained me to know that that is what is still expected of young boys by many (my husband's family included), and how repressive and abrasive that would be to his sensitive little spirit. How to raise him in a different way, that honors his 'maleness' but doesn't force him to repress so much of himself?
    So I think the real issue is an imbalance that harms everyone, and that addressing that imbalance is one of the most important things we can do.

  3. But are you allowing for a difference between self-neglect and acceptance? And is acceptance really a bad thing? Acceptance means making peace with the moment. It's not suppose to mean becoming apathetic. The serenity prayer comes to mind: "Grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change, the courage to change the things I can and the wisdom to know the difference."

    Every person is on their own journey. They are in a place that they obviously need to be or else they wouldn't still be in that place. Maybe some woman/men need to learn to fight harder, while others need to practice radical acceptance.

    The only thing we can judge is whether their actions should be our actions. Discernment over judgement: How would I react? Would this be for me?

    Or controversially, what does this person need from me in this moment?

    I guess I just don't see it as cut-and-dry. But then that's just my perspective seen thru the lens of my own experiences.


  4. Amen to this post! I suffer from this. My self-sacrifice...staying home to raise the kids and giving up my dreams. I don't even know what my dreams are anymore. How sad is that? And, I consider myself a strong person. But something happened and I can't put my finger on it. But my confidence is gone. Completely gone.

    But not all is lost.

    I am trying to put myself out there more. I am taking steps to reclaim my dreams. It's a slow process, but I will get there eventually.

  5. I am a strong woman, and I look at myself accepting what I really do not want in my life and it makes me sick. But I can not see a way out. I think that may have a lot to do with it... not being able to see pass where you are. I accept what I have but I long for more. But how do I acieve it?

    I agree with mommymystic above... this post will require some follow up as I am short on words right now. I need to think.

    Thanks for opening the conversation here.

  6. Tara - in my not happiness post I attempt to differntiate between acceptance and resignation.

    I am a big fan of acceptance, but that's not what I refer to here. As you say, acceptance comes with peace.

    I may have to doa follow-up post for all the great thoughts expressed and points made.

  7. I was blessed to grow up in close proximity to just such a martyr. She is my grandmother's sister, so my great-aunt. Hearing her complaints, and witnessing all the congratulatory steam she blew up her own hiney, was enough to make me realize that I would never want that life for myself.

    There are days that I need to unplug. I need to get out and seek a little silence, enjoy a little solitude. So, I do.

    I'm on no timeline, so I don't think anything is too late, or that an opportunity is lost. I'm always exploring my unfolding life. Some days I'm in a funk and need to be reminded, but most days it's in balance.

    Peace to you.
    Thanks for voicing this issue.


    PS-I grabbed a badge, but I did ask first... Hoping that's cool...

  8. What a powerful post! I've never really thought of it before, but your post rings very true. Something I'm definitely going to spend time thinking about...

  9. This is another in your series of keester-kickin', brain-slapping posts...thank you!!

    I've struggled for a while with the idea that what my daughter (and son, thanks, mommymystic) *sees* and *hears* me do, will have a tremendous impact on how she moves in the world as she grows up. I think that recognizing the potential for huge effect is a start...and that, at least, I've done. But actually CHANGING is a different thing altogether. I suppose it's not really knowing how..not knowing what support you would have...not even knowing exactly what it is you want....

    But this is truly a deeply ingrained mentality that we have going on here...generations upon generations of to break out of it? How to re-energize those who have been completely drained? How to support each other? How to figure out exactly what it is we want and then how to go about asserting that as our Divine right? Which is what it is...we each have a right to do with our lives, that which feeds our soul and to set any less of an example to our children only perpetuates the condition...BUT - the ol' Motherhood thing circles around and bites us on our guilt-ridden backsides...

    So much to think about...thank you....

    My first step is to learn how to claim time for myself...which, I've discovered, is painfully difficult....I blame an overdeveloped sense of responsibility...;)


  10. I know what you are saying. I see/hear this from women (from different generations) all the time. I am with you: I don't self-sacrifice and I hear what you are saying about the difference between acceptance and resignation. (And I hear what you are saying Tara)

    I had to make peace with accepting motherhood and the responsibility that comes with it, but I don't have to give up my passions/personhood and feel like that's my duty as a mother.

    I read a quote once that said a mother who is someone who, when noticing there is a lack of food, will make sure her children's plates are full and say she's not hungry. (Or something to that extent.)

    That quote made me so mad and it's not that I don't understand it--of course I would do anything in my power to make sure my children are well fed, but at the result of nutritional deficiency?! I feel like our society has connected "good mothering" to giving yourself up for your children and I'm not sure that's a great role model for our children. I'd rather my children see that when a guest comes to the table and there is not enough food, we all contribute to make sure everyone has enough.

  11. Powerful words Mon. I do believe that women are more sensitive (this could be partially social, but I also believe men and women are innately different from each other, so I think it is part of our nature as well). Being sensitive means it is easier to have compassion, to sense the moods and needs of others, and to give of ourselves. But it also means we are more easily hurt. I noticed that I could change my level of sensitivity, from ultra-sensitive to being...well, not-so-sensitive. Being "not-sensitive" protects me from hurt feelings, but it also means I'm more likely to hurt others as well. Very difficult to get around this double-edged sword. As far as accepting misery, though--well, that's another thing. I don't tolerate misery very well, and I don't understand why others do. That's not to say I don't let it happen sometimes--I just don't see it has something unavoidable, or that I have to accept.

  12. Interesting and so very needed. Ironic that it plays into the very things that have crossed my mind lately. Mostly thoughts that dance along the lines of "why am I waiting for someone to save me, to make me feel secure?" Why not do this for myself? Is all the struggle lately headed toward resolve as you so eloquently posted about or is it acceptance? I'm not sure, I may never be sure. Thank you so much for the thought provoking post. It will assuredly serve as food for thought.

  13. What does it take to allow ourselves to use it?
    Yes, for me too, motherhood started the journey... but now from 'doing' art 6 hours a day, it's 'doing' art', it's doing art! Being given the space to 'do art has been AMAZING. Like I have never felt this kind of ongoing peace or contentment ever, no self-neglect involved at all and it just amazes me how life never ceases to surprise in what we can experience. I had an email from an artist who says in response to my email that I will share with you (damn, I can't cut and paste, will have to type it out!):

    I hope you manage the difficult unschooling job. I know what you mean... so much of what we are taught is not of use in building a meaningful life. Often I feel that making art is the only activity with any meaning, the rest is all just survival or time-killing or expectation-fulfilling, no reality. Although I confess to a certian joy in climbing a tree with an axe!

    I so get what she means about art from doing it! Not to disregard all the wondrous joys of motherhood and sweet, sweet children, but this is one place I am getting soo much good energy for myself from. Of course there will be times when this is not always the case...that will be soething to deal with as it comes... But in a nutshell, self-neglect shows no hint of existance from doing this!

    I hope this rant is actually related to what you are saying here and you get what I mean :)

  14. It takes an act of complete courage for a woman to explore other ways of being in the world beside motherhood. It takes an act of courage for a woman to give birth to a book, a painting, a business, an idea, a dance. Giving birth to oneself is an act of complete courage.
    -Nancy Wakeman

    I put this in a post in June.
    Along with a prayer I wrote to all women, to get past all this you talk about.
    Not that it means to be any less in our roles as mothers etc, but to do what we need to get to that sacred place of nourishment for ourselves. To do this wholeheartedly and not feel any guilt or shame in doing so.

    (I actually am having such a good time right now that I feel guilty, as if it's wrong to be having such a good time!) I'm sure it's bollocky conditioning and cultural.

    I also think what is required (or what has been recently) of you has been huge. Like really testing how far you can go (and gee, we can really go pretty damn far can't we?). That is surely to bring up the sorrow of us mothers, and all that you have written about.

  15. oh goodness yes, i cannot stand to hear futility and resignation. an oh well, that's life i guess (when accepting an unhappy situation). i firmly believe that no matter what, there is always something that can be done to feel good about a situation. i read a quote recently that i loved.

    If you don't like something change it; if you can't change it, change the way you think about it. ~Mary Engelbreit

  16. I read The Women's Room by Marilyn French as a young woman... in high school. I will always remember it. I wonder what I would think of it now (twenty years later)?!

    I have been thinking a lot about generations... and of change across generations... of how I am reaching toward a new way of being (I was catapulted by the birth of my children into the change I had only been circling around until then), of how I have no template for being the change I see. So I struggle, I uncover, I hear myself say things and sometimes immediately gasp -- do I really believe that? Thus, something is offered up to me to examine. Or maybe I say it a dozen times or for years before I see what I am saying... or much later, I see what I said then and see clearly how I no longer believe it or live it.

    What I hear in this post: why is "good" motherhood equated with self-sacrifice? Why do some women seem to accept self-sacrifice?

    I have never been one to actively play the martyr (neither have I gone in for guilt much), but I have been astonished to find, at the age of 39, how little real, practical skill I have in taking care of myself. I am so grateful that I am learning at all, that I can see myself between my mother (and her mother beyond that) and my children.

  17. Women, especially mothers, need to own up to their own choices. Acting the martyr implies sacrifice and powerlessness. The fact is, when we make a choice to put another's needs before our own, it is a decision we make. For some, caring for others is an act of love. Only those who resent making such a 'sacrifice' for others end up acting the martyr. We all need to recognize that the way we live is a result of our own choices, and not a path forced upon us by patriarchy, religion, family, whatever. It is incredibly empowering to focus upon our ability to choose and to give, rather than focusing on supposed sacrifices and sorrows. We all experience suffering and sorrow, but we can choose to use our pain to blossom into something even more beautiful.
    BTW - I put the 'holistic mama' badge on my blog. Was it bad form to do that without obtaining permission first? I am new to the blogosphere, and I don't know all the etiquette yet.


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