Gabe Hudson talks to the soulful genius Merve Emre about her new piece, "What Is Mom Rage, Actually?" in this week's The New Yorker
I’m currently reading Internal Family Systems by Richard C. Schwartz & Martha Sweezy. It’s a game-changer.
A brilliant conversation. Thank you, Gabe! Emre is a wonderful critic and it was intriguing to get her views on something other than literature.
The part about parents yelling at their kids because we can get away with it rings true. It also reminds me of the comically chilling episode in 'Molloy' where the eponymous anti-hero beats up a charcoal burner in the forest just because he can.
I was also struck by the discussion around shame. I am sure all parents have felt it. I tend to agree with Emre that we should not pretend it away but use it as an engine for a forging a stronger bond with the child. But easier said than done. It's tough to admit this kind of shame to oneself.
I don’t think being precise in language about one’s children or being able to have a sophisticated relationship to language about children is all that essential to being a good parent? I might be misunderstanding what she means, there. I did like her piece quite a lot...This kind of parenting literature is baffling to me. The tropes that started on the mommyblogs and a bunch of books that were written when women who were expecting to be ‘more than movmmies’ found out what being a mother involved seemed partly to start from the same mistaken quest to have one’s parenting sanctioned by an authority. In most cases, I suppose the authority is community authority but they also seek experts to confirm their ideas. They are also reacting to the social narrative around being a good mother, which causes a lot of people incredible confusion--perhaps because it puts a third party or maybe a set of them--these experts of some kind--into your relationship with your child.
I am a mother and yes, I get angry sometimes about things my children do but I don’t think I have ever once had genuine rage towards them. I don’t think my mother ever got rage and she is capable of getting rather angry and was often fairly irritable when we were children. My father raged constantly. There truly is a difference (I think?) Children simply don’t seem like the right sort of humans to feel rage towards. When my father raged at us, it was clear to me that he was mistaken about the kind of humans we were.
The very idea that you could or should parent without shame or guilt seems inadvisable. For me, it would be impossible. Aren’t these emotions are fundamental to anything we do that can affect other people? And relationships especially! Also....how would you not have them? But maybe at a certain level people become afraid of them because they are feelings that can destroy a person. Unfortunately, trying to evade them can create a dishonesty within oneself and about oneself that is almost as bad or possibly worse.
Though I feel a lot of shame in the world, I don’t feel frequent shame with my family. I feel guilt often though! I use the guilt with my children to constantly evaluate what I am doing. And it is very useful for that! Very motivating and informative! I probably err a little on the side of being too guilty but as far as I can tell, the guilt is like a monitor you have to make sure you are paying very close attention to the whole being of your children even when other things are pulling you away from them. It’s a whole mode of seeing. Their father (who is very attentive) sees a lot because he has so much love but there are things he doesn’t see because he does not have my guilt. You could probably see enough merely with love (which I also have) but there are things I see with my guilt and anxiety and all the rest that he does not see merely with his love. Sometimes the guilt also messes with my vision but on the whole, I think it is very useful.
What an electrifying conversation!!! I have given much thought lately to the precarity of parenting--especially the writing of one's experiences with one's children when things are out of control and they have acted bravely in the moment. I think it's interesting that in one instance, you say as a writer, "OK, writing about my kids or the funny things they say or do is off limits," because you want to preserve their privacy. Then, you tell a story about a window breaking and your kid doing the right thing. And it is this amazing connective moment between the two of you, which is great, but what I have found later, as my kids grew into teens and then adults, IS that they have felt my talking about *their bravery* during of one my grand mal seizures in a book or on a podcast was somehow *not* my story to tell. As a parent, your praise of your child can become almost weaponized against you. And there you both sit, siloed in shame. It would be easy to be shocked and hurt by this, but this is exactly the moment where you maybe need to lean in and say to your kid, "Wow, what is your recollection of that moment? What was going on in your head? Now, looking back? Oof, it's so tricky being a reliable narrator of one's parenting. You can have all the best intentions and still get it wrong somehow. :)
And one more thing...
Imagine what it would feel like being tied to two trains where side of your body is tied to a train going in one direction and your other half tied to a different train going in the opposite direction.
This is what labor feels like. I do not exaggerate.
The skeleton is literally being pulled apart- doctors call this “dilation”- so you never understand the depth of that pain.
As this happening- ever single cell of your body is popping and changing- coming alive in a brand new way- as a child is born- so is a mother and every dream we had of the kind of mother we dreamed of being, the kind of mother that society sells us- is gone. We don’t GET to CHOOSE what kind of Mother we want to be/ we get to be an accumulation of unresolved trauma that has been buried and silenced for MANY many generations. 👈🏼 THIS is WHY the rage.
We vow to never be like our own mothers then surprise ourselves when we become them by no choice of our own. Trauma to the Mother- earth and human- is a deliberate design within the system- this is HOW patriarchy remains in control. It’s called inter-generational trauma and this is WHY the RAGE. It is a mother’s RAGE that will create a new earth for our children. Because there is NOTHING more cruel, evil and abusive then turning a mother’s child against their own mother towards a patriarchy because that patriarchy ensured her insanity. On purpose.
“ I do think we need to recognize that children are people.”
Absolutely- I think we need to recognize also that mothers are people too and mother and child go together - we can no longer support endeavors or conversations around child abuse that doesn’t include the mother as well- because the mother is 100% abused as well in our society. The picture of the mother we are sold is no where near the reality of the situation.
All mothers LOVE their children- what we don’t love is living in a hierarchical society that straps us to our children and gives us zero self-agency over our lives. Meaning no agency over our bodies , time, energy, wants and basic needs like a shower, hot meal and sleep. Motherhood is just another institution and there is no freedom in it and often no way to replenish energy. The market sells us a million “self-care” products but without the help of community, self-care is futile. Many mothers cannot afford those extras. 83% of single parents are mothers- often in poverty.
Think about your life.
Think about how you get to choose when you wake up, when to shower, when to eat, what type of work you want to do, when you want to clean- think about how you get to leave the house without having to dress another human being, how you are not responsible for the bodily functions of another human being- you don’t know the freedom you have... I dare you to be a mother in a patriarchal system. I dare you. This means provide, protect, preserve and nurture in every way possible before you get to yourself- do it for 6 months straight- no breaks- no sleep, cleaning up the throw up and giant messes that kids make- try it- see if you survive it, see if you don’t want to kill yourself or someone else in your utter oppression and exhaustion- no escape- no breaks 24/7- no payment- you think you would remain calm cool and collected?
There is no possible way. This is why abuse happens- it isn’t because moms are mean and do not love their kids- it’s because NO ONE loves the mother