Wednesday, January 05, 2005

What mothers do

Naomi Stadlen's What Mothers Do — Especially When It Looks Like Nothing is reviewed in The Guardian.

"The how-to books, Stadlen suggests, reduce mothering to a series of tasks rather than a developing relationship." So here's another book to help describe the mommy experience rather than prescribe the rules of the practical tasks in physically tending to baby.

I wish there'd been more of these books when I first embarked on motherhood. I'm sure a few existed at that time, but nobody knew about them; I certainly didn't have a clue, not only about how to take care of baby — I couldn't begin to consider what kind of information, resources, support, outlets I might need to help me become the person this new relationship was transforming me into.

Frankly, I'm amazed that I managed to figure it out all by myself (how to be a mother), with the love and support of many of course. Needless to say, I'm still learning, but it's easier now — I'm braced for it.

Stadlen is absolutely right to argue that mothers often feel lonely, invisible and unimportant, as evidenced by the number who say, "I get nothing done all day," when in fact they have been interacting all-consumingly with a newborn. Practical tasks we can describe, but not the act of a woman who has just started something — lunch, tidying up, a shower ––when her baby wakes up and calls for her. Becoming instantly interruptible, she must put aside the threads of her personal existence and attend to it.

Instantly interruptible.

Regarding writer-mothers, women who are too self-centred to mother properly:
she comes in with a much tenderer explanation — that they find the degree of closeness with their babies unbearable because they don't feel sufficiently separate from them. They suffer from what Mel Brooks in The Producers calls "the urge to merge", and Stadlen is superb on how such mothers can feel accused by their babies' crying because they don't have a steady sense of themselves.

I should take better care to list these books as I find them. It may be too late for me, but I should have them on hand for when I find other women in need of them.


Anonymous said...

I think one needs a degree of self-centredness, a space (even if it's only inside your head) where the munchkin doesn't get to go. Because everything else -- your body, your attention, your time, your heart -- is on call, always. Like being a doctor, but without the pay or the pager.

I'm starting up keeping track of how much time I spend writing. Because when you're repeatedly interrupted after only 15 minutes at it, you really do feel like you haven't done anything at all. It's nice to look at your diary at the end of the day and say "hey, it adds up to an hour and a half!"


Amy said...

I wish I had something like that to validate my feelings when my kids were younger. They are still young, but I have some time to myself every day now.

Thanks for the recommendation!

Isabella K said...

Whether you're a writer-mother, SAHM, WAHM — it's all true. You NEED that space. That's the thing that gives you the "steady sense of self."

I still (sometimes) feel accused when she cries. I guess the sense of self wavers.

I've been "working" all day (and blogging — but that's my space), but I'll be able to bill for only 5 or 6 hours today. Even though Helena's at daycare, I'm still constantly interrupted — partly because I'm poorly organized and naturally tend to procrastinate, but also because I'm still tending to her environment, laundry, meals, etc. Some days she's even a good excuse.