“My children cause me the most exquisite suffering of which I have any experience. It is the suffering of ambivalence: the murderous alternation between bitter resentment and raw-edged nerves, and blissful gratification and tenderness.”
It is a sentence which blows open the myth of the Madonna Motherhood and exposes the emotional strife that afflicts mothers everywhere on a day to day basis. It is the opening sentence in Adrienne’s book called ‘Of Woman Born’ and immediately powerfully encapsulates the experience of the dual sense of mothering. Adrian wrote the book in 1976 and put into words and set in context the patriarchy of motherhood.
She energised mums everywhere who felt it was a betrayal of their status as mothers to feel cross and downtrodden who, even now, are made to feel that it is their fault for feeling that way. Adrienne broke the unspoken of secret of motherhood by terming it as a patriarchal institution.
“…I try to distinguish between two meanings of motherhood, one superimposed on the other; the potential relationship of any woman to her powers of reproduction and to children; and the institution, which aims at ensuring that that potential-and all women-shall remain under male control.”
No matter how many times I read this book I always find something that still stings me because of the potent relevance to contemporary times. sadly. In the chapter titled: ‘The Domestication of Motherhood’, Adrienne talks about how the mother-child relationship is the essential human relationship and, yet, violence is done to this fundamental human unit because the mother remains an object of ‘mistrust, suspicion, misogyny…”
The mothers caught up in wars, the Arab Spring and in everyday gender violence will identify with this. However, women in safer countries will still recognise the patriarchal domination of motherhood as laid bare in the book. Has nothing changed? A little but not enough.
This blog post is a tribute to the woman who practically invented feminist mothering. Adrienne Rich died on 27 March 2012 from rheumatoid arthritis.