This book is based on the conversations of mothers with psychotherapist Naomi Stadlen in her weekly discussion group run for over 20 years at Janet Balaskas’ Active Birth Centre in London. Reading this book as a mother it made me smile and grimmace. The most private truths of joy and sadness, guilt and pleasure are voiced by others mirroring my own highs and lows. I found this book to be very supportive because it showed me that no matter what you are going through as a mother, your situation is not unique and you are not alone. Every emotion has been felt by others, every action tried and even issues you do not know how to put into words have an acknowledged place in this lexicon of motherly love.
Through the voices of mothers, Stadlen shows that becoming a mother is a journey and some move faster and find it easier than others. For me one of the most interesting themes that ran through the book was the issue of ‘just’ being a mother. It is hard to say this without sounding like a cliché but how else to put this; mothers are the most important influence over society because they are raising the next generation. From the physical well being of the person (if the mother is healthy during conception and pregnancy the baby starts life with a good chance of also being healthy) to the emotional and practical example of how to behave (the parent’s example is what goes in and that alone is what will come out) mothers are the creators of the future. No pressure then. Good to know when faced with a screaming toddler at tea time.
With this in mind, Stadlen begins by looking at how mothers make ‘heartroom’; how mothers grow themselves to accept, include and work with their children from the total dependency of babies to the much more independent phases of toddler and small child. But not everyone does this. Some mothers struggle to adapt to the changes a new baby requires and since this book is about the relationship between mother and child even the words of those that are struggling are comforting because it reminds us we are all in this together.
There are thoughts on the practicalities of parenting. One that made me laugh with recognition was the woman that wanted to go out on her own but when her husband finally made this a possibility she realised she only wanted the option to go. This quandry of motherhood is as difficult for mothers as husbands to understand, believe me. Many of the chapters do focus on the ‘problems’ of motherhood, though maybe this word is too strong. ‘Issues’ that mothers want to discuss, to seek answers for or just receive support through recognition are brought up. From understanding toddler behaviour to relationships to loving your child without letting them consume you, this book covers a huge range of topics as I can imagine in a mothers discussion group.
Stadlen ends with a look at the different styles of parenting referring to them as ‘Spartan’ or ‘Athenian’. Though acknowledging the existence of both and that elements of both have a role to play, it is clear which camp she is in and I would suggest that the research, indeed these days science, is on the side of the Athenian philosophy. But, there I go looking like I haven’t read the last chapter; Mothers Together. This chapter barely uses the words of mothers but is Stadlen’s opportunity to express her desire that we acknowledge the importance of mothers and the role of mothering. If women supported one another there would be a better chance that other groups in society including those without children and business would also look around and realise that ‘just’ being a mother is the most important ‘job’ in the world.
This is an excellent book. Well written, clearly laid out and covering a wide range of issues and emotions important to mothers. However, it is because it made me stop and think that it was not a quick read. I needed time to reflect but that was what made it a beneficial read. I do not feel that I have learnt anything new but I do feel that I am not alone when sinking in feelings of maternal passion and guilt. I also wish we all had access to a Stadlen group.