Sunday, May 14, 2017

Happy Mother's Day Medea

 If productivity was down in your workplace this week you can blame your mother. Across the city workers were lingering through their lunch hour in card stores reading and sighing. Buying a Mother’s Day card is not easy.

For some, the card that says, “Mom, Thanks for being perfect” is fine, but for the rest of us, with complicated mothers and complicated relationships, the search for the right message is tough.

But even as children–of all ages--struggle to summarize their
maternal relationship in a card, those on the receiving end have mixed feelings too. Most of us know we don’t come close to the platitudes in those greeting cards.

What is a good mother? Do we measure up? On this day that celebrates kindness, patience and sacrifice many of us squirm remembering our less than ideal maternal moments; We wonder if we’ve done something really bad along the way and worry whether our worst day as a mother damaged our kids.

Mothers who hurt their children is a painful topic. The reality of mothers’ hostile impulses against their children is old news in psychological circles and parenting books, but we rarely allow parents to admit those feelings.

Thank goodness, most of us don’t act on our thoughts, but some mothers have struggled with the limits and lost. When we hear about them, many of us know--in the privacy of our hearts--that it was just the grace of God, good friends, a reliable baby-sitter and money in the bank that kept us from taking their place.

 So maybe we should, especially on Mother’s Day, have some compassion for the mothers who lost it, those women who did the unthinkable; they hurt their own child. If some mothers weren’t so newsworthy for their sheer failure at mothering the rest of us would not know where to draw the line in self-judgment.

We can count ourselves lucky and a little grateful that most of us have slapped but did not scald, screamed but did not hit, or cursed but did not kill. When we react to a child-abuse horror story with the common, “Can you imagine?” the truth is that most of us can.

We owe a debt to those mothers because they give us the outside limit from which to measure our parenting. The “bad” mother relieves us of the shadowy fear we all carry. 

We can’t talk about bad mothers without mentioning Medea; the mythological woman who killed her kids to punish their philandering father. But Medea got to her breaking point after a world tour of abuse, abandonment and humiliation.

After being dumped in a strange country with no way home, she lost it and she killed. Medea’s story is a myth but, as with all myths, it points to something real in the human psyche. When we read about women who hurt their kids a healthy mother has to stop and ask herself, “How did that woman get there?”  Nobody starts out wanting to kill their children; nobody starts out thinking scalding is reasonable discipline. It’s baby steps all the way.

Every mother who lost it at least once, or who did something she swore she’d never do, can be grateful for everything that keeps her from crossing over to the territory of the terrible mother.

Alexander Solzhenitsyn, Russian novelist, wrote: “If only there were evil people somewhere committing evil deeds, and we could separate them from us and destroy them, but the line dividing good and evil cuts through the heart of every human being.” That includes yours and mine.

So for Mother’s Day let’s thank the good mothers and show a moment of compassion for the “Medeas” of the world, who in their tragic solution to life’s problems show us where we ought not to go.     

1 comment:

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