Going ‘against’ the grain

Let’s face it; being an UnMartyred Mom is an act of resistance. Turning toward ourselves means resisting expectations of our culture and our loved ones. But we are women, socialized to be exquisitely sensitive to expectations. Resistance feels like aggression to us, and we want to make peace, not war.

Take my women’s book group, for example.  Last month, we actually talked about a common experience of midlife–an insistent internal pressure to awaken creativity, to come alive. One woman actually said that sometimes we have to put our needs before, that’s right, before our child’s needs. This is an act of resistance.

Last night, we talked about Packaging Girlhood, an examination of the cultural imagery that our daughters absorb and manifest. I hear these same women, who last month were claiming to need space for themselves, agreeing about watching tv with their daughters in order to have discussions about the messages within them. I hear some say, “I don’t think it’s the culture; it’s innate for some girls to want to dress up.” I observe that certain differences in the group are never addressed–whether we work outside or inside the home, and for how many hours. And I observe that all the chatting before and after the book discussion is about our children, not about our work or life goals.I want to scream. I don’t. I want to walk away and nurse my judgements. I don’t. I am asking myself to stay, to disagree outloud, even if I seem strident, and to listen to other points of view as if they were mine. I feel like an oaf, a bull in a china shop. Something might break.

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3 thoughts on “Going ‘against’ the grain

  1. UMOUM says:

    I keep thinking about how things keep cycling around. Certainly I and the women slightly younger (the sixties generation which I kind of joined) were trying desperately to be something more than mothers, believing that it is our fulfilled self that will in the long run matter, and which will in the long run make for better relations with our children, and will help us to continue to develop, and be, in the post-parenting years. (That how I have lived. Did it work? You’re struggling with some of the results even now.) Then came the later feminists who “discovered” the joys of full motherhood; and their mates, who, along with the women, were discovering the joys of an engaged fatherhood. Some of my friends were among the people who became parents at that time, and I found myself envying them, wishing that I had understood, back then in my early parenting years, the privileged state that I had perhaps sleep-walked through, wishing that I had tasted that joy in the way I saw them doing. You and Steve, too, were among the models of the new joy of parenting. At least that’s how I remember it. And then, the overload became evident. And the frustration with maintaining one’s identity beyond parenthood. Which seems to be part of what you’re dealing with in some of your writing.

    And the women, post book discussion, return to discussing their children. But then that is one thing they have in common, especially after discussing such a book as Packaging Girlhood seems to be. Their careers and self-development issues may be more diverse, and conversations dealing with some of those subjects are perhaps less likely to develop with the same spontaneity. Talking about the weather is another universal topic that serves a similar cohesive function, but (leaving aside global warming) it is less rich in possibilities.

    Signs of the same struggle can be found in early literature, certainly as early as the 19th-century, and if one looks carefully, it is there throughout human history.

    I have no conclusions to draw at this point. I’m just pondering where the paths lie that lead to satisfactory sharing and to peace with oneself. Or do they exist in the real world? And if not, can we learn to accept ourselves just as we are, internal, eternal conflicts included?

  2. yeah, but the thing is, Mum, that I don’t think I am dealing with the results of your self-fulfillment. I think my struggles have more to do with how hard it was for you to stand up for your right to fulfillment. I often say now that your mistake was not in ‘eating me up’ but in apologizing for it. You say you were fulfilliing yourself but what I heard was that you were wrong. You told me so every time you apologized.

    But I did also take in your desire. Your desire, living inside of me, is what propelled me to make this film and to finally find self-fufillment, whatever that is. Paradoxically, of course, I have discovered that there is no self to fulfill. But I had to demand the right to ask the question before I could encounter the answer.

    In the end, our goals are the same across generations–to experience that peace with oneself that you speak of: peace that includes all of those conflicts.

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