When Your Mother Did Not See You

A mother who is only “Mother”
makes her children eat
what she gives them to eat.
When there’s a full breast,
somebody has to drink.

—Marion Woodman

 

At first glance you may think, “Well, isn’t this what mothers do?”

Isn’t it “normal” for mothers to command everyone to “Eat, eat, eat”? Or to load up a bag of leftovers every time you’re heading out the door to go home?

This stereotype of Mother makes it difficult to discern the difference between being nurtured, and being controlled or manipulated.

The Mother Woodman speaks of in this reflection is bound to a singular identity as Mother. She is self-absorbed and narcissistic.

Without any conscious intent (because she is not conscious), she is the ultimate decider of what and when her children will consume. Her children — with all their wants, needs, and preferences — are invisible and unrelatable to her.

Chances are this Mother has never questioned whether it is proper or right for her to mother in this way.

The way this Mother nurtures teaches her children that they are objects rather than beings. What she wants always overrides what they want or need.

The way this Mother nurtures teaches her children to take care of Mother because what she thinks and needs is the most important thing. Her identity is fully and exclusively expressed through her children.

The way this Mother nurtures teaches her children to ignore their own bodies because it is pointless to focus on sensation when Mother will be the ultimate decider of what the child receives and when she receives it.

The way this Mother nurtures has no feeling, no empathy, no perspective-taking, and no compassion. This tyranny of motherhood may shroud itself in a cloak of martyrdom and carefully displayed sacrifice.

This Mother will be experienced by her children as demanding, frightening, and intrusive.

Her ways of mothering will cause the child to want to run from her.

But she very likely won’t, because she knows it is not allowed. And in this way, the child learns to ignore the instincts that urge her to distance herself and create boundaries when someone feels smothering, overpowering, or abusive.

This is so dangerous.

A woman who had a mother who could not see, hear, or sense her will struggle to locate her Self in time and space because she wasn’t taught where others end and where she begins.

She will search for the line, the boundary where she can feel, sense, and experience, “This is Me, and this is not me.”

A woman who had a self-absorbed mother will compulsively and unconsciously caretake because she was trained even before she had words that taking care of Mother is her duty.

And because the compulsive caretaking is unconscious, it may take her a very long time to awaken to the realization that this energy-draining, other-focused habit was installed in her.

Being trained to take care of Mother as duty both elevated and enslaved her. And this feels confusing to her.

On the one hand Mother seemed to empower her by using her as the very source of Mother’s happiness and well-being.

On the other hand, she was overwhelmed by the assignment, and her instincts, desires, and needs had to remain carefully hidden, even to herself.

As the daughter moves out into the world she will be vulnerable to falling prey to those who would take the place of Mother and act as her new Source, so that she then becomes caretaker to them.

This feels so familiar to her because that is how Love has always worked.

If she has a yearning for something more and she does the inner work, she will uncover the truth about what happened to her. How she was used, unseen, and the ways in which she has been co-opted into other people’s unconscious and dark agendas.

When she sees the truth of her captivity, her longing for freedom may be so strong that she will stand for her own liberation even when there is no guarantee of landing on firm ground.

Uncertainty becomes her preferred alternative over remaining an object to others. This she can no longer tolerate. And she now has the power and autonomy to choose.

Once freed, she dedicates herself to healing, repair, and reconnection. She sees, hears, feels, and senses the One inside who has been waiting for her.

 

Invitations for reflection, exploration, and action:

  • Did your mother demand that you feel what she wanted you to feel, think what she wanted you to think, or behave the way she wanted you to behave? How do her demands impact you today?
  • Do you find a connection with the way you were mothered and the dynamics of your relationships as an adult woman?
  • How can you see, hear, feel, and sense your inner One right now?

 


© Vicki Tidwell Palmer (2021)

Coming Home to Myself: Reflections for Nurturing a Woman’s Body and Soul (©1998)
By Marion Woodman and Jill Mellick
(Reprinted with permission)

*This post is from the Coming Home to You Series. Visit this page for the backstory of the CHTY Series.

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The deepest experience of the creator is feminine, for it is experience of receiving and bearing.”

Rainer Maria Rilke