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27 August, 2008

MOTHER: THE HOME WE COME FROM

Natural growth requires "milk" and "honey"

I have talked a lot about parental love in recent weeks and I want to dig a little deeper into the subject over the course of the next few posts because, after all, it affects every one of us.

I think that there is general agreement that unconditional love of the parent corresponds to one of the deepest longings, not only of the child, but of every human being. It is little wonder that we all cling to the longing for the first love we experience in life -- that of motherly love.

Mother is the home we come from, and this is not to diminish the role that fathers play in our lives. Fathers truly enter the picture after natural mother nurturing has taken place. They represent the other pole of human existence; the world of thought, of man-made things, of law and order, of discipline, of travel and adventure. Fathers show the child the road into the world and I will talk more about this in my next Wrights Lane post.

Today is about mothers, however, and the best place to start is at the beginning.

Motherly love, as Enrich Fromm points out in The Art of Loving is unconditional affirmation of the child's life and needs. This affirmation has two aspects; one is the care and responsibility absolutely necessary for the preservation of the child's life and its growth. The other aspect goes further in that it is the attitude which instills in the child a love for living and enables feeling -- it is good to be alive, it is good to be a little boy or girl, it is good to be on this earth.

It is interesting to note that these two aspects of motherly love are expressed very succinctly in the Biblical story of creation. God creates the world and man which corresponds to the simple care and affirmation of existence. On each day after creating nature and man, God says: "It is good." The same idea may be taken to be expressed in another Biblical symbolism.

The promised land (land is always a mother symbol) is described as "flowing with milk and honey." Milk is the symbol of the first aspect of love, that of care and affirmation. Honey symbolizes the sweetness of life, the love for it and the happiness of being alive. Most mothers are capable of giving "milk" but fewer are capable of giving "honey" too. By means of explanation, in order to give "honey", a mother must not only be a good mother, but happy in other areas of her life as well. A mother's love for life, her positiveness and cheerfulness, her love of others, is as infectious as is her anxiety. Both attitudes have a deep effect on the child's entire personality.

Certainly, one can distinguish among children -- and adults -- those who were given only "milk" and those who were blessed with both "milk and honey."

Unlike brotherly love and erotic love between equals, the relationship of mother and child is by its very nature one of inequality, where one needs all the help and the other gives it. It is for this altruistic, unselfish character that motherly love has been considered the highest form of love, and the most sacred of all emotional bonds. The mother transcends herself in the infant, her love for it gives her life meaning and significance. It seems, however, that the real achievement of motherly love lies not in her love of the infant, but in her continuing love of the growing child.

And grow, the child must. It must emerge from the mother's womb, from her breast; it must eventually become a complete separate human being. The very essence of motherly love is to care for the child's growth and that means to want the child's separation from herself, as difficult as it may be. Unlike other forms of love where people who were separate become one, in motherly love two people who were one become separate. It is only at this stage that motherly love becomes such a daunting task, that it requires unselfishness, the ability to give everything and to want nothing but the happiness of the loved one.

Only the really loving woman, the woman who is happier in giving than in taking, who is firmly rooted in her own existance, can be a loving mother when the child is in the process of separation. Motherly love for the growing child, love which wants nothing for oneself, is perhaps the most difficult form of love to be achieved.

Motherly love is half instinctive and half very hard work. It involves a lot of giving and very little receiving. Of course you mothers already knew that, didn't you.

The payoff comes in giving the world a solid, productive citizen who is capable of perpetuating the unconditional love that they themselves experienced when growing up, thanks to good old mom. Mothers of the world, I salute you!

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