New to Bounty?
By Dr Margo Lowy
Being a mother is a tough gig. Sleepless nights, tantrums and the endless worry when your child is sick.
But the incredible feeling of love for your children makes up for it all, right?
Most of the time, yes, but what about those niggling feelings a mother occasionally has for her child which can only be described as fleeting feelings of hate?
It’s something we don’t often talk about, and when we do, it starts a heated discussion.
No-one wants to admit to these momentary feelings, but they are very real and they do exist.
I call this maternal ambivalence, a mother’s loving and momentary hating feelings towards her child.
What about those other niggling feelings a mother occasionally has for her child?
Here’s an example which most of us can relate to. A mum is at the local park with her newborn baby and two-year-old toddler. She tells her son to stay close by and not to climb to the top of the slide. But after less than a minute, she spots him at the top of the play equipment unsure of how to get down.
She is immediately gripped with terror. She carefully climbs to the top, experiencing a momentary flash of hatred as she begins to process his disobedience coupled with her own shock and fear about what could happen if he fell.
This feeling turns into relief as she reaches him safely and hugs him, her tears of joy a sign of her overpowering and strengthened feelings of love.
Dr Margo Lowy says it’s time we talk more openly about the gritty parts of mothering.
When I look at my social feed it is littered with photographs of happy families.
We always talk about the great things (Sam scored two goals and got player of the match!) but never admit to the distasteful aspects of mothering.
Wouldn’t it be refreshing to sometimes read: “Feel like shit! I’ve been awake all night because Charlotte wouldn’t stop screaming. Anyone want a daughter?” or “Came home and Hannah was drunk as a skunk with her best mate after sneaking in vodka. I had to hold myself together when she laughed and sneered at me.”
A friend tells the story of how she screamed at her daughter in front of her peers because the teenager was being a disobedient know-it-all.
She felt a flash of hatred towards her daughter, followed by feelings of guilt as she had embarrassed and hurt her. Her feelings then flowed into pity and renewed love.
Later, the pair had a heart to heart, promising to keep their communication open with more regular chats, despite their differences. They now have a much more honest relationship.
I think we should talk about these types of stories more. In hiding the truth, untruths fester, and any effort to sanitise the dirty parts of mothering are counterproductive.
Mothering is a human experience which needs to be honestly examined and lived. By engaging with these fleeting hateful feelings and trying to understand and talk about them, mothers can move towards a richer, more fulfilling relationship with their children.
Of course, a paradox sits at the heart of this matter: How can a loving mother harbour hateful feelings for her child and what does she do with these feelings? It’s something that we, as a society, need to talk about more.
Dr Margo Lowy, a psychotherapist and author, has three children. She recently released her first book, Maternal Experience: Encounters with Ambivalence and Love.