In her wonderful book, Between Mothers and Sons, psychologist Evelyn S. Bassoff, Ph.D., discusses the many and varied relationships that exist between women and their sons, from the functional and healthy to the truly debilitating.
While full of interesting and thoughtful insights into the inner workings of mothers and sons, I wanted to write the author a thank you note after reading the last chapter of the book, titled The Tranformation of Mother Love. The chapter is focused on the idea of mothers letting go of their sons, and the fact that western cultures have no ritual that signifies the separation of mother and child. Indeed, the woman who seemingly holds onto her children, full of support and unending comfort, is somewhat revered in our culture. As Bassoff writes, "In our culture, mothers who remain always available to their children, always the "essential" ones, are deified as the 'good mother,' while the mothers who discourage their children's dependence may be labeled 'cold' or 'unmotherly.' "
Truth be told, over the years as my children grew, I found myself feeling more like the "unmotherly" kind of mom, not the "essential" one. Make no mistake: I love them more than life. I can't imagine life without them and can't begin to express the joy and pure love they have ignited in me. But even given all that, I have always reserved a bit of myself along the way; I never spent much time wondering why, or even thinking about it objectively.
She goes on to talk about the fact that "letting go" is not a one-step procedure; it's a process that takes many years and many mini-steps to complete. Unfortunately, it's a process many women are not willing to endure.
Which brings us back to the topic at hand, the recent departure of my oldest child - my oldest son - for college. I find myself comtemplating the space that has left in my - in our family - in our home - and wonder if it will ever feel like it did. I wonder if it can. Or even, given Bassoff's analysis, if it should.
Turns out, this idea of separateness as a mother is a good one. In her research, Bassoff learned that the men who remain closest to and connected with their mothers as adults are men who were always aware - even on an unconscious level - that their mothers had lives apart from them.
I'm going to spend some time with this - think about how my own selfhood did or didn't have any impact on my own relationships with all three of my boys. I know I've spent countless hours torturing myself over what I always believed were incontrovertible mistakes in terms of raising my sons and having a career and interests beyond them. Maybe it wasn't quite the tragedy I've recreated in my memory.
More to come, on this, and how Shel Silverstein's book, The Giving Tree, may revealing more about one kind of motherhood than we ever thought possible.