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15th Mar 2024 | by: admin

‘Mothering’ – so complex

Mothers’ Day 2024 and the spectre of the disappearing Mother

By Femi Olugbile

Sunday the 10th of March 2024 was celebrated as ‘Mothering Sunday’ by many Nigerians, especially those of the Christian religion. Different countries in the world celebrate ‘Mothers’ or ‘Mothering’ day, following rather different calendars and traditions. In Nigeria and in the United Kingdom, Mother’s Day is celebrated in the month of March, while in the USA and many other countries, it is observed in May.
People often speak of the male-female adult relationship as being the most fundamental, and the most problematic, relationship known to mankind. They draw on the Adam and Eve story, which is present in different versions in various religio-cultural myths. However, the mother-and-child relationship is at least as consequential as the man-woman relationship, if not more. This underlies the common saying –
‘The hand that rocks the cradle rules the world.’
Early Psychologists recognised the central importance of this ‘mothering’ relationship in the growth, development and functioning of the human mind. They attributed a lot of the dysfunctions of adult life to problems in the growing child’s relationship with his mother. Learning Psychiatry in the late twentieth century required the trainee to imbibe such concepts as ‘Maternal Deprivation’ and ‘Separation Anxiety’ as experiences children may have which may make them vulnerable to Depression in adult life. Sometimes the implied causal connections were tenuous, and they seemed to lay the blame for virtually any problem a person may have in adult life at the doorstep of his mother. The term ‘Schizophrenogenic mother’ even tried to attribute the development of a certain type of severe mental illness to having a certain type of mother.
A particular incident in your specialist training experience sticks out in your mind to this day. The Royal Edinburgh Hospital was home to some of the most highly regarded experts in the field of mental health, and was in a perpetual ferment of intellectual activity. The Tower was a place in the hospital complex where, once a week, a Resident doctor was required to make a presentation on behalf of his team, before an assembled audience of Consultants, Psychologists, Social Workers and fellow trainees. It was apt to be a daunting experience, with the grey-haired superstar professors sitting on the front row.
The young presenter on this day was flowing smoothly as he rounded up his presentation, and he clearly believed he was doing well.
‘In conclusion, this was a normal man…’
That was when Henry Walton pounced. Walton was one of most famous psychoanalysts in the world, a man with a benign smile and gentle manner which belied the withering ferocity with which he could cut down other people in conversation.
‘How can you say anyone is ‘normal’ when he has a mother?’
The presenter was stunned into silence. So were the audience, including the other eggheads in the front row seats. In the dynamics of those days, when little was known about the neurobiology of mental illnesses, and ‘psychodynamic’ explanations were all the order of the day, it took a very brave soul indeed to tangle with Henry Walton.
Mothers are very important in Nigerian culture, especially inside the heads of their male offspring. There is no figure that evokes in many Nigerians, including this author, the depth of emotion that is evoked by a mention of their mother, living or dead. It underpins the general observation that adult children of aged parents tend to pay far more attention to their mothers than their fathers, unless they make a deliberate effort to ‘equalise’.
There is a trend towards aggressive self-assertiveness and a determined effort to right perceived injustices committed against the female gender in the past coming out of the Western world, and gathering increasing momentum in the past one hundred years. This is championed by what can be broadly called the ‘Feminist’ movement. The drive has acquired political clout, putting increasing numbers of women in the top echelons of business, industry, and politics, though there is still much to be done. It is also weaponised to inflict injury on the perceived enemies of female emancipation. Nowadays being labelled ‘misogynist’ is akin to a criminal offence. Everyone in the public space is obliged to show overt respect to the female sex and use the right language.
In this battle, the Western female may have acquired an androgenic, ‘butch’ aspect that seems to consider femininity itself as a nuisance, rather than a prized attribute.
Motherhood is central to family, and to society ‘as we know it’. It would seem only reasonable to assume that mothers will continue to be loved and celebrated forever.
There is, however, a looming danger, in the ongoing redefinition of ‘gender’ and ‘family’ taking place in the Western world. It is a process that African countries are resisting with draconian ‘anti-gay’ laws, as if to stave off a gathering storm.
A mother you know has just come from visiting her only son, a highly accomplished engineer who has settled in Canada. For a decade she had avoided him, since he ‘came out’ as ‘gay’ and got ‘married’ to another ‘gay’ man. Sensing she was getting to the end of her days, she decided to make peace with her future generations.
In Canada, she met her grandson, born from her son’s sperm and a donor egg, carried by a paid surrogate. He was three years old and very smart. Parented by two fathers, he had never experienced a ‘mother’.
Their relationship did not take off well, try as she might.
‘I don’t like grandma’ the boy said repeatedly, rebuffing her. For her part, she kept seeing him as an efficient, unfeeling machine, instead of her flesh and blood.
Faced with a ‘motherless’ future for her lineage that her late husband could not have imagined in his wildest nightmare, she returned to Lagos, distraught.
For most Nigerians, such is not a future they wish to inhabit.
Here is wishing all mothers a belated Happy Mother’s Day.

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