Back from a long string of days wandering in the deserts of CFS, I read an article in last week\’s New Yorker about the French intellectual and feminist, Elisabeth Badinter.
Talking about the dilemmas faced by mothers, Badinter says,
\”If you\’re a mother, you are either too present or too absent; you can\’t win. You have to be a Mozart of maternity to reach the right absence-presence balance.\”
Ah yes, Mozart–that feather-light touch, that depth of sentiment, that endless inventiveness, that total mastery–that\’s what a mother should be.
My own mother\’s style was more along Wagnerian lines: persistently present and passionate, rich in color and drama. In reaction, my own mothering was minimalist, sort of in the style of Philip Glass. For example, my mother chose my wedding dress for me. As a consequence, by the time they were three, my daughters were deciding what to wear to pre-school. Often the outfits were less than becoming, but I fervently believed that as long as they were protected from the weather, it was my duty to stay out of their way. I also believed that a major justification for a woman to have a career was to protect her children from becoming the sole focus of her energies.
Of course what you\’re getting here is my version. I\’m sure that my daughters found me way too present in some ways and too absent in others. And I know that my mother\’s oppressive hovering, in her view, was only the expression of her ideas about love and duty.
In my family, mothering styles seem to skip a generation: my mother\’s mother allowed her to leave the village for high school and then university. After age fourteen, my mother never lived at home again.
Surely my family is not the only one where mothers lurch from pole to pole of the maternal dialectic. If so, somewhere out there must exist that perfect synthesis: a Mozart of maternity, with that lightness of touch, that depth of feeling….
If you know one, please let us hear about her.