Saturday, August 29, 2009

Good enough mother or pathological feeder? Setting our children free to be themselves

Wow. I have just read something that really resonates with me and my experience of my own life and of being a mother. (I know it has been ages since my last post and that most of my readers have given up on me. I have been in the UK but now I am back and will try to keep it going weekly from now on :-))

In between nappies and feeds and everything else I have pretty much spent the last few years working really hard to discover a sense of inner peace and an end to the constant self-judgment I slowly realised was my every day state of existence, not to mention trying to discover who that self really is. I have finally let go, accepted that I am who I am, begun to rather like that person, warts and all, and – which is why I am blogging about this at Motherland – in doing so I find I have set my children free to be who they are, rather than who I wanted them to be. And James for that matter. Therapy seems better value when you look at it this way, four for the price of one. (I definitely agree with the yogic belief that the woman is the spiritual care taker in the family and if she is happy and healthy and whole the family will blossom in her light, but that is something for another day.)

A while back I blogged about Jemima driving me crazy with her negativity – which I thought totally inappropriate for her age, quality of life etc. The First Breath She also tended to whine a lot and I heard myself call her a ‘spoilt brat’ on more than one occasion and generally completely failed to accept whatever feelings she was experiencing, instead trying to make her experience a different sort of mood, one that I found more acceptable, and more lovable.

Basically I wanted Jemima to be perfect and lovely and well-behaved and always impressive, without being aware that all this pressure was actually what I had been heaping onto myself for years. It is almost as though now that I allow myself to be real, i.e. flawed, and having finally found a degree of self love and self esteem, my children are also allowed to be real. And I have noticed most of her negativity has since vanished anyway, perhaps simply for having been allowed to express it and have it recognised as a valuable emotion.

It wasn’t as though I was this horrid mother before or that now I am a saint. Of course I was always aware of what I needed to do to let my babies flourish emotionally, but it was hard, which is probably what brought me to embark upon my own journey of healing in the first place, so that I could be a truly happy mother of truly happy children. But however subtle it may be, since my own inner transformation, I see such a change in my response to my girls, and they definitely seem happier. I find myself indulging - or honouring is probably a better word - their feelings and needs with what I see they are looking for regardless of whether or not I think they should be feeling what they are feeling. Well, most of the time. I still flip occasionally and I heard myself telling Jemima yesterday to ‘just stop crying about this right now because it not something worth crying about!’ Not exactly the emotional response she was craving, which brings me to what I have just been reading about.

I am reading a great book called Yoga and the Quest for the True Self by Stephen Cope. In it he looks at why so many western adults experience a crisis of self, either a sense of false self or a total lack of self – you know, the kind of craving for something deeper or more satisfying in our lives, a void that can lead to addictions, teenage breakdowns, extra-marital affairs, mid- life crises … or that lands us on the therapist’s couch looking for meaning of life.

It comes as no surprise that this sense of false self is most commonly attributed to the breakdown of extended family and to the unreasonable pressures of modern day society to which so many of us succumb. Parents are too busy and have too many unfulfilled needs of their own to really respond to their children’s needs. What was interesting to me was Winnicot’s theory about ‘pathological feeding’ process between mother and child. Winnicot is famous for his theory about the ‘good enough’ mother who meets and responds to the infant’s needs so that they feel authentically fulfilled. ‘Pathological feeding’ on the contrary is where the baby’s impulses and needs are not met by the mother. In this case the baby, who takes its cues from the outside, learns to want what the mother gives, and becomes the idea of who the baby is.

Of course when you consider the above taken to extremes it is easy and devastating to see how young children can so easily be abused and become abusers. But even on a subtle level in apparently happy families this psychological scenario must be so common. Sleep-training, cots, weaning, childcare... most of the main stream modern parenting advice encourages us to become pathological feeders!

I have just put Bella into pre-school three mornings a week. She thankfully totally loves it and has not yet shed a tear or carried out any kind of protest. But there are several tiny children there who would quite clearly rather be at home with their mothers. If we really were to respond to and satisfy our child’s needs we would take out young children back home on noticing that they are not ready for school. Instead we teach them to want to be there because we have jobs to go to, no grannies and aunts and uncle around to help out. (Ok, this argument happens to be flawed here in expatria where we have nannies and housekeepers etc but they are not often emotionally equipped to respond to our child either, in fact trained and committed school teachers are often a far favourable option).

I know that if Bella turns to me next week and screams in protest about going to school I will have to face the fact that she may not be ready after all (She is only just two!) This might mean sacrificing my beloved new career as a yoga teacher (I am fully certified at last woo hoo!) – where I teach that yoga is being present in the moment with your kids, living every moment meaningfully and mindfully, with compassion and an open heart. Hmmm, then the truth will out. Am I a pathological feeder or just about good enough? I really hope I don’t have to make that choice because, like all of us, in this instance my first choice would definitely be in my interests and not Bella’s. Although school is obviously good for her, she has been running around all morning calling Jemima a ‘naughty poo poo pee pee’

Talking of pathologically feeding… These days Bella is a baffling and intoxicating concoction of squishy, peachy-bottomed breastfeeding baby, almost always naked, with sweaty curls plastered to her head; and independent self-dressing (and undressing immediately afterwards), potty-trained toddler with attitude, who opens her mouth and talks like a three year old. I am confused – the nappies are ready to be given away (sob) yet I think she would happily breastfeed forever if she could. I am ok with it for now, but have not one clue as to how I would ever begin to pathologically teach her not to want it anymore.

Watch this space…

And yes, I accept that these disjointed ramblings are largely for the benefit of my own personal records and maybe for my children to read if they become mothers, but it is still sort of interesting to reflect on isn’t it?


Kat said...

My girl is still BF at two & a quarter as well as her six month old brother - I have no idea where were would begin to end it!

Georgie said...

Helloooo! That is amazing, I don't know how you do it! I am beginning to struggle with Bella. I love feeding her mostly but i kind of look forward to the days when I can just cuddle her without her shouting I Want MAM MAM! Hmmmmm... I always wondered if I could tandem feed I am very impressed by you! x

Kat said...

Asking for 'booby' is the only time she never fails to say "Please Mama". There's nothing to tandem feeding, I'm finding it no harder than feeding one.

Georgie said...

Ha ha well trained! Well just as I was secretly wondering if Bella would ever lose her love for breast milk yesterday, she looked up at me and said, totally out of the blue, and totally reading my mind "I love mam mam!"

Hmmm, at least we are connected! But it was almost like a warning, "Don't even think about it" sort of thing!

maddy said...

Am really glad you're back George! Loved reading this - a perfectly timed little reminder to me x

Georgie said...

Hi Maddy! How are you? Lovely to hear from you! x