Sunday, May 8, 2011

Contemplating Motherhood

On Mother’s Day

I never was a great believe in the Mother’s Day. I always thought that celebrating Mother for one day, when 364 days a year the mothers of the world were treated badly really wasn’t a celebration. I preferred the International Women’s Day on March the 8th because it highlights the importance of our work for building equal relationships between the sexes in our society. My view of Mother’s Day has been impeded by my knowledge of the inbuilt violence against women in our society, but it has grown on me. I am clearly thawing. It is the grandmotherhood that is doing the job of making me see the more positive side of the Mother’s Day celebration.

Do not take me in the wrong way. I have enjoyed many Mother’s Days. In fact my first Mother’s Day as a young mother was when I came home with a new baby boy. I have also instigated a tradition of buying pyjamas to everybody to celebrate Mother’s Day. It has been fun. I have enjoyed sending cards to my own mother, grandmother and greatgrandmother. I was aware that they clearly felt that this day was an important achievement and I have always respected their views. But that time when my daughter gave a Mother’s Day Speech at the Finnish Society’s Mother’s Day celebration a few years back started the thawing process for me for real. And then of course she gave me my first grandchild and my son gave me my second one. That got me researching about this phenomenon called Motherhood.

Biological considerations on motherhood

By interpreting what the brain research during the last 20 years says, I can quite confidentially trace my grandmother’s urge for compensate emotional strain by retail therapy to her mother. My greatgrandmother had lost two babies before giving birth to grandmother. This experience of deep loss had left her emotionally incapable of connecting with the new baby, cuddling her or smiling with her. That caused grandmother a lasting trauma.

According to the brain research, it is the right side of our brain that has the primary capacity to understand and regulate emotions (McGilchrist, 2010). The left side interprets more mixed feelings. A baby stores the face of the primary carer to the right side of the brain. The more we, mother or carer, adore them, interact with them and cuddle them,the more their capability for empathy is developed (Szalavitz and Perry, 2010). According to the most confirmed research done with rats, the way we nurture our young will choose the DNA pathways that determine how we and the generations after us nurture our young.

But all is not lost to biology as according to research we choose the best of the best by mirroring the carer that has nurtured us most as babies. So, interpreting this research leads me to conclude that my grandmother chose to mirror my greatgrandfather, who at the time, instead of greatgrandmother had the capacity left to adore her, cuddle her and think that she was the best. Due to this emotional interpretation she then in her turn adored my mother who then adored me. This was enhanced by my father adoring me as well as he thought that I along with my sister was the best of the best. Following this lead, I of course loved my babies ‘to bits’ and my kids with the help of their spouses love theirs the same.

This according to grandparental investment theory leads to the best possible way for our survival as a family (Coall and Hertwig, 2010). So, why wouldn’t our brain, after a long generational left brain preferred functional interpretation of the pieces of information coming from the whole reality of the right brain knowledge come to the logical conclusion that a day called Mother’s Day would be the best representation of the culmination of this development. That is that on one particular day all primary carers called Mothers in different languages should be celebrated as tokens for this empathy development in our society. This decision of course mirrors the similar logical process by which Alexandra Kollontai and others determined that March the 8th would be the International Women’s Day in rejection of the Mother’s Day celebrations that did not feel politically correct for them. This is of course why we now have a Father’s Day, a Children’s Day and as many token days as we care to celebrate for any reason what-so-ever. They are not the reality but bring the thought into focus for a time, just like our left brain likes it.

Mother’s Day as a cultural statement of intention

To me Mother’s Day as such has not been real. It has lacked consistency in mirroring what really is the daily life of a mother. I can see it as a statement of intention in relation to what would be ideal. However, we are nowhere near there. But as with the idea of Santa Claus as a representation of goodwill in society, the idea of Mother’s Day as representing how we would like to treat all the mothers of the world, every day, is a valid ideal.

When looking at the history of Motherhood, it can only be said that there is a huge lack of sources and materials from where to look for the record of the concrete experience of motherhood in our culture. Across the cultures, through the history, women have been described as ‘made for motherhood’. They are essentially mothers by virtue. According to available sources all women were born to motherhood (Vanderberg-Daves, 2002). Much of these sources are religious statements on Virgin Mothers of various religions as a picture perfect ideal of womanhood. For a long time this distorted picture has determined motherhood as ideal womanhood.

The other reality for women comes from the statistics of domestic violence across the cultures. For me, as a researcher who has researched violence against women for decades and as a result has at times been totally disillusioned by the utter horror of it all, Mother’s Day celebrations seem a little bit too small as an effort to bring the inequality of the situation into focus. However, I am now warming to the idea. As a historian of ideas, I do recognise that it takes centuries to bring an idea to reality and 99-years of Mother’s Days and about the same amount of the Women’s Days is really a short time.

This year I will happily accept the flowers for the Mother’s Day. In fact I’ll buy the Tulips all on my own. I will also go and get myself a Whipper Snipper to ensure that these flowers will keep growing in my garden for the sake of motherhood and grandmotherhood as a cultural statement of genuine change in the world for more empathy in humanity.


COALL, D. & HERTWIG, R. 2010. Toward an integrative framework of grandparental investment. Behavioral and Brain Sciences, 33, 40.
MCGILCHRIST, I. 2010. The Master and His Emissary; The Divided Brain and the Making of the Modern World, New Haven and London, Yale University Press.
SZALAVITZ, M. & PERRY, B. D. 2010. Born For Love; Why Empathy is Essential - and Endangered, William Morrow, Harper Collins Publishers.
VANDERBERG-DAVES, J. 2002. Teaching Motherhood in History. Women's Studies Quarterly, 30, Fall, 3/4, 234-255.