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Sunday 19 August 2018
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On motherhood


WHEN MY children were very small there was one book that I read to them over and over again. It was called Where is My Mother? It is the story of a baby bird that comes out of its shell and falls from its nest while its mother is away in search of worms.

The baby bird goes on a walkabout looking at the world and asking everything that it meets including a dog, a cat and a crane whether it is its mother.

Finally, the crane puts the baby bird back in its nest and the mother returns and there is instant love and recognition.

I was reminded of this story when a judge made the comment recently in a court hearing, as reported in the papers, that a mother who pleaded for her son, a purported drug addict, to be sent for rehabilitation was the kind of mother any son would want.

His response elicited a rebuke from the judge.

I was also reminded of another story, this time one my own mother used to tell us, of a son who called his mother to him as he was about to be hanged. As she stood there he leaned over and bit off her ear.

“That is for not punishing me when I stole as a child,” he said.

These stories are diametrically opposed. In the case of the story of the baby bird and its mother, it is a story of love and acknowledgement.

The other of the man facing the hangman’s noose is a story of blame. As women we do what we think is best for our children. The truth is that getting it right is very difficult.

There is nothing simple about motherhood. Sometimes in our desire to love our offspring we give them everything or try to. This gives the young an idea that the world is there for them to take. Increasingly parents see gifts and expensive presents as a way of showing love.

They buy top-of-the range expensive sneakers, cellphones, clothes. Children can’t be allowed to feel let down.

And there is great truth in this. We can’t let our children down. However, there is also another truth which is the point of my mother’s story and this is that we also have a responsibility to say no. Of course, this is also the function of fathers.

Motherhood is by no means an easy job.

The little parable of the bird and its mother gives us a feel-good experience and its focus is on the child. However, mothers also sometimes feel lost and unacknowledged, as I dare say the mother who spoke up for her son must feel after his response.

Motherhood is hard work and can lead to feelings of inadequacy. How does one fit in the homework time or reading at bedtime after leaving home yourself at seven in the morning and getting back at seven at night? Don’t even mention the traffic and the rage.

How does one compete with modern childhood expectations, in particular when even very young children appear so knowledgeable and sophisticated in their manner and their words?

It is quite difficult not to end up being victims of that desire to give children everything. There are credit cards to hand. It is also tempting to succumb to the modern need for sensation. There is after all a sensation around every curve.

I imagine though that the human psyche is developing differently, and we need not worry unduly.

Since the human race adapts to its environment our future generations will adapt to the fact that leadership is about prime time and photo ops and getting a spin on a story before someone else or manipulating data. Children will therefore acquire keen critical analytical skills at an early age. This will be based in part on early 21st century historical experiences.

The side of the brain that sees through the fluff and the glitter dust will grow and develop.

Our children of the future will have a new savvy that will see through the staged performances.

Their sense of justice will be honed in the wake of the exposure of a long litter of icons like the Cosbies and the Weinsteins and the Jimmy Saviles who conned the world into silence because of their status as stars and the power they wielded since we all want our five minutes of fame.

Mothers too will adapt.


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