Sunday, May 13, 2012


In the U.S., today is Mother's Day, the day set aside each year for honoring mothers. It's natural, right? After all, each of us owes our lives to a woman who spent 9 months bearing us, labored to give us birth, fed and nurtured us...etc.

Many of us also have incredibly complex relationships with our mothers. After all, family life is stressful, and we often end up hurting the people closest to us, intentionally in a fit of anger, or unintentionally. So, we come to adulthood with a mixed bag of memories and associations that make up our relationships with our mothers. Mother's Day tends to be a day to focus on the good and might light of the bad, but I'd like to reflect instead upon the imperfect nature of mothering.

Winnicott, famed attachment theorist, introduced an extraordinary concept into psychological discourse on the role of parents in mental well-being. In an era when mothers were often blamed for their children's mental illness (e.g., the "schizophrenogenic mother," whose behavior supposedly caused schizophrenia), Winnicott suggested that the most well-adjusted children have mothers who are imperfect. They are "good enough," in that they love and nurture their children, but inevitably, there are failures in attunement, and times the mother's response hurts or frustrates the child. Winnicott thought that these frustrations, when they are within the child's ability to cope ("optimal frustrations") play a crucial role in helping the child gradually develop self-regulation skills.

Of course, mothers being human and imperfect, with their own histories and issues, not all frustration will be "optimal." However, I see that, too, as an opportunity, because often there are other people in our lives who step in and fill the gaps - that meet the needs our own mothers may not always be able to meet. These others enrich our lives and expand our horizons, helping us grow into adulthood with a broader perspective. They also help to form the blueprint for adult support networks - which tend to be a wider web, rather than isolated to the family unit.

I will be forever grateful to all the women who mothered me - my biological mother, and those who have been like mothers in ways small and large. I could never adequately thank them, but hopefully I will be able to pay it forward.

No comments:

Post a Comment