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On Mothers

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Photo by Phil Hearing on Unsplash

Don’t worry. I won’t cover everything there is to say about mothers. I don’t think I can, seeing as it’s such an all-encompassing topic. Everything from Mother Earth and the archetypal Evil Stepmother all the way to the ban on abortions in a presumably first-world country in 2022, there’s a lot to say about mothers. And the interesting thing is that everyone has an opinion. Because we all have mothers, even Jesus, and we all have a relationship with our mothers. It may not be a great relationship. It may even be unilateral if our mothers are no longer in our lives for whatever reason.

The word mother comes from a joining of the root *mā- which is basically a universal sound that all babies make, with the suffix *-ter- which, based on the internet, is used either to denote family relations or a profession. I thought it was interesting how close it is to the word other, but apparently, that comes from the root meaning beyond with the same suffix. So, the word reflects the fact that a person becomes a mother when there’s a baby involved.

And I think that’s crucially important. There is no mother without a child, in the same sense that there’s no child without a mother. Right from the get-go, it involves two people. And while we spend a lot of our lives figuring out the separation from our mothers, figuring out who we are, what we like and dislike, what we want and don’t want—we cannot escape this dyad that is in our core.

But we live in a highly individualistic society. Our social training tells us to be ourselves, think for ourselves, and find out what we really want in our hearts without outside influence. That’s impossible, not because we don’t know who we are before we had a mother. It’s impossible because we never existed without a mother. And that makes the teasing out quite tricky.

For a long time, I tried to separate myself from my parents. I tried to find who I was without them. But I’m slowly coming to realise I’m asking the wrong question. The question isn’t who I am without anyone else. The question is in what ways the relationships I have with people in my life shape me.

And before I head off into the sunset, a word about fathers. Fathers are crucially important, too. Biologically, we can’t exist without fathers, either. But, also biologically, our mother is the first person we know. It doesn’t mean mothers are solely responsible for their children, although the fact that being a mother usually comes with a load of guilt tells you something about the standards we set. It doesn’t mean that mothers are better than fathers or that the relationship is somehow superior. But it is different.

And one more thought because I live in the world. Just because I have an opinion about my relationship with my mother doesn’t mean I can control all mothers everywhere. And it would do good, perhaps, for us to consider, as a society, mandatory therapy for politicians and leaders, so they don’t project their mother issues onto us.


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Nov 08, 2022

Being a mother (or father) is irreversible, which conditions us the rest of our lives since we began to be.


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