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photo credit: SimplyAbbey via photopin cc

photo credit: SimplyAbbey via photopin cc

My inner life was a wreck, even though I didn’t know well enough to call it that. As young as seven-years-old chaos reigned inside of me. My brain constantly churned, and the lack of downtime exhausted me. My stomach shook, rattled, and rolled. Anxiety catalyzed my food’s digestion. THE question, omnipresent and unsettling, haunted my heart and soul.

Surely my mother loves me? Right?

I knew that she did.

Well, I thought I knew.

If I was honest with myself (which I was terrified to be), I would admit that doubt ravaged me.

Sometimes Mom was fun and funny. Other times she was angry and perfectionistic. Still other times she had work to do and I was persona non grataa bother who broke her concentration. “Can’t you find something to play by yourself?” Often…usually…I was afraid of her, afraid that my behavior, and even my essence would set her off and take her love away yet again.

I never asked her outright whether she loved me. Maybe I knew that the question was disrespectful and ridiculous. “Every mother loves her child,” the saying goes. Maybe I feared the answer.

The Mama Taboo kept me silent.

It’s possible, even probable, that Mom didn’t know the God-honest truth, that she was unloving and that we were not as emotionally attached as a mother and child should be. It’s possible, even probable, that this truth may have been too painful for her to bear.

This is the mother side of the Mama Taboo.

In her book Mean Mothers: Overcoming the Legacy of Hurt, Peg Streep defines the multiple aspects of the Myth of Mother Love. The word “myth” fits perfectly because it is culturally formed, passed down through generations, powerful in defining “truth,” and simply not true.

The Myth of Mother Love assumes that

  • unconditional love for her child is instinctual in all mothers.
  • all women want, if not need, to become mothers (aka, the biological clock).
  • every woman is naturally compassionate, empathetic, and nurturing.
  • every mother sacrifices herself for her child, always putting herself and her needs on the back burner to tend first to her child.
  • women’s raison d’être is fulfilled in motherhood.
  • mothers are never unloving, inattentive, unattached, distant, cruel, or abusive;
  • and mothers are always attuned to and there for their children.

We’ve briefly explored here and here how the Mama Taboo restricts undermothered children. Despite the loneliness, lack of attachment, and low self-value that they feel, these children will not speak truthfully about their less-than-loving relationship with their mother. To do so risks Mother removing what intermittent love the child receives; and nothing is worth that risk to a young child. Many adult children of unloving mothers feel the same way.

photo credit: lewishamdreamer via photopin cc

photo credit: lewishamdreamer via photopin cc

Deep pain also gags mothers and keeps them from speaking honestly, and even being honest with themselves, Streep says. So powerful is the Myth of Mother Love that women who find themselves unable to love and nurture their children, or possibly only one of her children, are shamed.

Where is there room within our culture for the mother who resents her children for limiting her, or preventing her from living her dreams? What do we do with mothers who, because of their own unloving mothers and/or dysfunctional upbringing, not only do not know how to parent, but are jealous of and cruel to her children because they need her and her care? How do we treat wounded mothers who tacitly require their children to care for them? When society sees a woman who is a philanthropist, ubiquitous volunteer, and mother of talented and academically gifted children, why do we dismiss the testimony of her children who say that she is unloving, negligent, and harsh? (See Anne Lamott‘s Isa in Blue Shoe for a great example of this.)

These mothers are everywhere (yes, even within the church). But, likely we wouldn’t know one even if she was standing right in front of us. This is because, as I’ve stated before, “The term ‘unloving mother’ is a [cultural] oxymoron, a mythical combination that we’d like to believe doesn’t exist.” At best, society shames mothers for not fitting into the Myth of Mother Love. Typically, though, they are anathema.

With such societal pressure, what woman in her right mind would admit to flunking motherhood?

Most don’t. Many won’t. Some can’t.

And so, the Mama Taboo strikes again. Mom is unloving, but she will not speak this truth. Her children know and experience this, but they will not speak the truth. The sacredness of the mother-child relationship is both music and space for their disjointed, and on-again, off-again dance. The family exists and functions within a lie, the Myth of Mother Love to be exact. But they keep on dancing because they know not what else to do.

With everyone scared to face reality, the Mama Taboo keeps everyone in the family in check, and ensures that yet another generation is branded with the mother wound.

Questions for y’all…

  • What experience do you have of an unloving mother, either yours or another mother you know?
  • How do you experience the Myth of Mother Love?

“Blogging my book idea” is series of posts. Only God knows how long it will last, and how the posts that emerge will relate to one another. I invite you to engage with me, and walk the path to publishing with me. My guess is that the book, whose ultimate purpose is to serve God’s plan by touching readers, will be that much stronger because of your input. Click on the dates below to read previous posts in the series.

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