Many girls in the Middle East are taught to believe that bringing children into this world is their divine duty and, sometimes, it is their only purpose in life as women. They also might be considered lucky if their first-born is a boy, which is how they earn their status in their husband’s family by securing the continuity of their family name.
Early on we are given messages that we are imperfect and incomplete without kids, but seldom are we told how to prepare ourselves to be mothers who are able to raise emotionally healthy human beings who will grow up to be (at least) emotionally secure adults.
Usually when a woman gives birth, her mother attends to her for couple of weeks to help her and teach her how to take care of her baby, especially if it is her firstborn. The training includes changing diapers, nursing and the job that scares many mothers, bathing their child for the first time.
But what about her child’s emotional needs? Although Dr. Harville Hendrix says that fulfilling all of a child’s emotional needs is a hard job that might never be achieved, I believe one must do her best.
I want to discuss the basic emotional needs parents need to give to their children.
Many years ago, at a family gathering, a relative was talking about how attentive her kids were to her. They give her a massage when she comes home from work.
I was astonished! Her kids were only three and five years old! However, with a careless attitude, she said: “I am more comfortable this way.” Seeing the kids’ interaction with their mother, I could see how desperate they were for her approval.
On the other hand, if we take into account the age-old feud between mothers-in-law and daughters-in-law, mothers-in-law often seem discontent with the presence of this new person in their son’s life. She considers the daughter-in-law’s presence a challenge to her authority and sees that her son has now replaced her with his spouse and life partner.
In her book, “The Drama of the Gifted Child: The Search for the True Self” Psychologist
Alice Miller notes that parents who grow up in an atmosphere of respect and tolerance for their feelings will be able to provide their children with the protection and well-being they need to develop trust. Miller adds: “Parents who did not experience this climate [of trust and protection] as children are themselves deprived; throughout their lives they will continue to look for what their own parents could not give them at the appropriate time – the presence of a person who is completely aware of them and takes them seriously. A person with this unsatisfied and unconscious need will nevertheless be compelled to attempt to gratification through substitute means.”To start with, I was surprised to learn that, even newborns, have this ability to perceive their parent’s feelings. According to Miller, as long as the mother ignores her repressed needs which she did not get from her own parents she will tend to find this lost feeling from her own children, Miller explains: “The most efficacious objects for substitute gratification are a parent’s own children. The newborn baby or small child is completely dependent on his parents, and since their caring is essential for his existence, he does all he can to avoid losing them. From the very first day onward”.
In her book, Miller tells us about the following case: “There was a mother, who at the core, was emotionally insecure and who depended for her equilibrium on her child’s behaving in a particular way. This mother was able to hide her insecurity from her child and from everyone else behind a hard, authoritarian, even totalitarian façade.”
Does this ring a bell? Well, some mothers, although they have all the love in the world for their children, still reflect their own anguish and anxieties on them in an attempt to heal themselves. Causing emotional harm to their kids, which will remain even when they are adults if not healed.
These children will act as mothers to their own mothers, or at the very least, may bear the responsibility for their siblings. They may eventually develop a special sensitivity to unconscious signals trying to satisfy the needs of others.
The urge to accommodate the needs of the parent causes the person to develop a personality that reveals only what is expected. They are unable to develop their true self.
Another case Miller talks about is Bob, who was unable to express his feelings for his mother as a child. Miller explains: “If Bob had been able as a child to express his disappointment with his mother – to experience his rage and anger- he could have stayed fully alive. But that would have led to the loss of his mother’s love, and that, for a child, can mean the same as death. So he ‘killed’ his anger, and with it a part of himself, in order to preserve the love of his mother”.
In our pursuit to fulfill our needs of motherhood, I would love to see a reduction in our selfishness, even just a little bit. If only we could ask this tough question: “Am I fit to be a mother? If not, how can I fix it?”
Are we ready to give this soul the best and not force it to endure emotional distress and, most importantly, educate ourselves on how to nurture and give our children the best of ourselves? Awareness is key to solving our problems so we should all seek it.