When my first baby was born I remember the time my mother said to me, in a slightly anxious and strained voice: ‘You don’t want to make him the centre of your life.’ I just thought ‘But how could he NOT be!!’ and got on with making him the centre of my life. I only understood what she meant a lot later. Ignore the wisdom of mothers at your peril!
I’m not sure how old I was when I began to listen to my mother and try to understand what she was saying rather than dismissing her out of hand. Now that I’m getting older I’m very aware of just how much older women are not listened to generally (funny that) but I think I’ve known this for a while, I just didn’t apply it to my own mother.
I still don’t agree with everything she says of course, but I’m more able to understand her from the perspective of the era she grew up in. I’m not so quick to jump to those easy terms of dismissal, like ‘outdated’ and ‘old-fashioned,’ ‘behind the times’ or ‘stuck in the past.’ Those are great phrases to hide behind, they pop up so easily like a brick wall to cut off any further thought. But when you dismiss the views of an older generation just because ‘the past’ you risk throwing the baby out with the bathwater (to use another well-worn but relevant phrase…)
I know that although I might still remember with horror some of the methods used back then, like ‘Up to bed without any tea!’ (because honestly, it wasn’t fair! It wasn’t my fault!) I think now that the knowledge and values behind them were pretty sound: adults were adults and children could get on with being children; discipline and respect were assumed; children were seen to be resilient. It amazes me how much time mothers actually had to do other things apart from hands-on-being-with-the-children, even if those other things can be summed up in the word ‘drudgery.’ Mothers had to get on with it so they had to assume that children were capable of just getting on with it too.
I now think they knew stuff back then, mothers; things that were real common-sense. I don’t want to paint them in too much of a patronising retrospective rosy glow, but they really didn’t have time for the indulgence of too much introspection and theorising. And maybe that meant they used instinct, intuition and useful things like that a bit more than we do now.
I now have great respect for the wisdom of mothers, and older women in general, but when I first became a mother I thought it was my job to reinvent the wheel. I think I would have saved myself a lot of time and worry if I had been able to take the nuggets of wisdom offered and just reshaped them into my own updated version. That’s what creative people do. ‘There’s nothing new under the sun’ as my mother might say…
Looking back though, what strikes me now is not so much the things my mother said which I ignored, but the realisation of how much, watching me, she must have been continually biting her tongue.