|Madonna and Child|
Our Virgin Mary images lead us to a damaging myth of the Good Mother. This is the "ideal" mother. The woman who is forever self-sacrificing, who has endless patience, who loves her children with a pure and joyous love at all times, who devotes herself to motherhood with no thought of herself or her previously childless existence. The Good Mother may seem like an ideal to aspire to, but I think the opposite is true. The Good Mother is cruel. She tells us that we aren't good enough. She tells us that we are failures. She tells us that we must ignore the darkness that comes with the territory of motherhood and try to live always in the burning rays of the light.
In her book If Only I Were a Better Mother Melissa Gayle West writes about the goddess Kali, and the message that she might have for mothers succumbing to the seductions of the Good Mother:
What must die? Kali asks. What must die?
This Good Mother we carry within ourselves. This Good Mother who has such a stranglehold on our aliveness, our creativity, our love, our heart.
This Good Mother within, who must always be in control of us and our children. This part of ourselves who must always be sweet and kind, even if she is howling inside. Who must always be the perfect mother: calm, loving, ever-giving. Who must always have a perfect child: sweet, docile, well-behaved. Who would rather have her children be Good than Alive.
This Good Mother within must die, this Good Mother who forfeits what is, in the present, for what should be. Who must numb herself in order not to feel the sorrow, anger, despair that comes as a part of motherhood. And who, because she is numb, does not feel the joy, silliness, holiness that are part of being a mother as well. This Good Mother who sacrifices the living heart of the present on the cold stone of what Must Be.
The Good Mother, who is terrified of death, of darkness, any death, any darkness. This Good Mother who shuns the unspoken truth. This Good Mother, who seeks the Light, who repudiates at any cost teh parts that are different.
(West page 65)
Kali is not afraid of death. She is not afraid of ecstasy, of wildness, of howling. Kali brings life into the world knowing that death is a part of life. And so when we become mothers it is only natural that some of the experience is truly dark and frightening. We must face the deaths of our old selves, the death of our freedoms, the death of our egos. We must be reborn into the Motherself and that is a painful process that might involve rage, anger, resentment--all the things that the Good Mother tells us we should not feel. The Good Mother says that to express our darkness is to say that we don't love our children properly, that we are not grateful for the lives we have created.
Mothers living inside the apparition of the Good Mother need Kali to liberate us, to give us back our power, to give us back our voices, to give us back our pain and cradle us like the beautiful mother she is while we howl our grief, scream our rage, and embrace the darkness so that we can emerge whole. There is a place for light, but if we refuse to ever live in the darkness then the light becomes a destructive force, burning our leaves, killing us back, forcing us back into the earth where the cold, damp clay reminds us of the value of deep dark places.