When I hear a still-young
woman with children say “I live for my children now”, (I’ve heard it
at least six times in the past few weeks, which is why I’m beginning
think there’s an epidemic of it), I hear a wild jangle of alarm bells in
“Get a life!” I want
“Shake yourself out of
this self-righteous stupor!”
Because a stupor it is.
None of these women looked
as if they spent five minutes of the day on themselves, intellectually,
emotionally or physically. They
sound like they are not interested in anything beyond their domestic
lives. If they work, it’s a means to fuel the low fever of domesticity.
To be brutal, many look
variously unhealthy, unhappy, unfulfilled, and worse, self-righteous, as
if convinced by history and religion that has always kept women in their
place, that the wretched shall inherit the earth, as if happiness and a
little self-love and indulgence here precludes being a good mother, would
mess up their chances of going to heaven.
Their faculties, which
refuse to engage with the world, and only sharpen when it comes to dealing
with the physical needs of their children, demonstrate they’ve almost
forgotten what it’s like to have needs of their own.
They are using their
children as a shield, sometimes as an excuse, not to engage with the world
and are placing the heavy burden, actually the responsibility of their own
destiny onto their children. There
is a subtle difference between being a good mother, and doing that. (I’m
being brutal, but the soft approach doesn’t work towards women who have
been conditioned by history not to shine in the world).
It is not their fault.
I recall a female
politician who was told by her opponents in the heights of an election
campaign to “go home and take care of your children.” It’s a
deeply-rooted, insidious self-censorship that comes from inside and
outside and is now lodged deeply in many women’s hearts at some level.
Unable to sort this out,
many women, including myself, simply think this feeling of guilt is part
of our conscience, when in fact it is hundreds of years of conditioning.
Thankfully, this is fast changing, as many young women without children
impatient with waiting for the other half, have decided to make themselves
whole as we all should, by refusing to divide essential human attributes
into female or male, but by being all the human-being they can by using
all their facilities.
Women, let us call
ourselves Ying, are compassion to men’s Yang - physical strength, the
creativity to their rationality, the patience to their need for adventure.
It’s a very gut-level way of separating men and women, a caveman
approach, and coloured by the haze of a vast generalisation and does not
deny man’s (not the generic) humanity.
It is also the subtle,
dangerous way men and women have used to undermine women and keep them
from being all they can be.
History and humanity
acknowledge women have, throughout time, perhaps because we have been
given the gift of childbirth, held the almost magical seeds of humanity in
It is not a dried-up,
wretched of the earth virtue, but a living one that allows a mother to see
what her child is up to with the back of her head, that has a third eye
that is universal because it is ever vigilant, to ensure that ultimately,
they produce a child that not only advances its own cause but develops
empathy so it can also speak up for the underdog and protect the weak.
That is the essential seed
of what it is to be human, because without it, we are all just
self-indulgent, hungry, greedy pieces of living meat. Women do that for
humanity, are essential to it because ours has never been a history of war
or cold-blooded decisions to shed blood for the sake of power.
I say all this because I
acknowledge the responsibility women have in bringing up children, towards
the pool of humanity. (Oxford Dictionary definition of humanity:
kindhearted, compassionate, tending to civilise). But dedication and
denial of one’s own self are two separate things altogether. As Nelson
Mandela said, “as we let our own light shine, we unconsciously give
other people permission to do the same.”
Women who pour hours of
their time into making finicky meals for their children or sterilising
that bottle to death, so that there’s no time left for them to look at
their own map of destiny, no time for them to stay healthy, or savour the
adrenalin that comes from taking risks or fulfilling their own potential,
have copped out, banged the door shut to their own lives.
By filling their void by
pouring all their own thwarted ambitions and expectations into their
growing children, they are unconsciously not giving their children
permission to let their light shine. Instead, they are burdening their
children with guilt that will not allow them to shine when they are older.
Their children will forever be looking back at their mothers with regret,
guilt and fear, feeling wrongly responsible for the lonely, unfulfilled
state of their mothers. Instead of shining, they will spend the rest of
their lives trying to make up, or escape.
So next time you hear
yourself (and all women are guilty of going back into their cocoon when
the world seems difficult) or another women say “I live for my
children”, reply, “No. If you continue to do that, you are really
dying for your children.”
Instead, nurture them,
love them, but also shine your own light. Theirs will be so much the
brighter for it.