Mother Wound: Am I a Traitor?

A topic I’d rather avoid came to the forefront recently via the myriad connections of the world wide web. Be Brave Campaign (to which I’ve previously contributed) highlighted a Huffington Post article by Rick Belden, a sometime contributor to insideMAN (a blog I’ve also contributed to). It’s almost like a conspiracy theory (if your imagination is vibrant enough).

Men and the Mother Wound” discusses a matter that Rick Belden frames this way: “I know my Father Wound well. It hurts but does not scare me. My Mother Wound terrifies me. It feels like a pit from which there is no return.”

Because I write with my real name I’m reticent to say anything too personal. Suffice it to say that Belden’s words are important. Before going on I think it’s important to say that no one can emerge from childhood without both a father wound and a mother wound because no one is perfect. Perfect parents don’t exist. And I’m not a parent, so I’m not about to pass judgment on people whose life experiences as parents are something I cannot truly understand.

That said, I want to add that I feel lucky that I don’t have a significant father wound. My dad has an enormous father wound, and he made the choice not to replicate that with me. He succeeded. I don’t know whether my sisters would say the same thing or not. But I do know my relationship with my dad is unique.

Before going on, I want to say something about how wounds happen in the first place. Simplistically, I’d say that we wound others from our own woundedness, and from the narrow perspective and lack of awareness our wounds engender.

What I mean is that very few people wound others maliciously (but those who do are psychopaths). I try to bear this in mind when someone does something hurtful. Rather than ascribe malicious intent the first course of action should be to try to understand this person better. Easier said than done, no?

Why is it so hard for men to talk about mother wound? Belden states that, “Most sons have been trained and are expected to be protective of their mother and her feelings at all costs.” He elaborates that as a child he was taught “that women (especially mothers) are inherently virtuous, self-sacrificing, and morally infallible, making a tough slog through the dark feminine underworld.”

But that stands in contrast to the lyrics of Pink Floyd’s “Mother.” This song is from The Wall, the uber-metaphor for men. “Mother” ends with the line, “Mother, did it have to be so high?” I suggest you listen to the song to get a full sense of what Roger Waters is communicating.

Belden is also concerned about the larger implications of mother wound:

It often seems that we are inundated with an apparently infinite stream of stories about misogyny, abuse, and violence inflicted on women by men, accompanied by similarly unending commentary as to the causes. But the one factor I almost never see included in these discussions is this: Many of these men are being driven, at least in part, by the powerful, unconscious emotional energy of an unresolved Mother Wound. Until we’re ready as a culture to explore and address the causes and implications of that, I don’t think we’re going to get too far in addressing the more dramatically problematic and damaging behaviors some men exhibit with women.

I could quote Belden’s entire piece, but I’ll take a shortcut and just recommend that you read his piece. But before I sign off for today, I want to second Belden’s statement that:

Any man who is consciously, actively working on his Mother Wound deserves support, understanding, and patience. By confronting one of our culture’s most powerful and deeply entrenched taboos, he is charting a necessary and critically important new route through largely unexplored territory for other men and doing some of the bravest, most critical work in the arena of modern masculinity.

 

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Is There A Right to Become a Parent?

What do you do when one person’s rights conflict with someone else’s rights? You might see my alleged right as a sense of entitlement.

Your right to free speech conflicts with my right not to be offended. Your religious rights conflict with my right to marry the person I love. Your right to become a parent conflicts with my right to not become a parent without my consent.

I’ve written about boundaries on several occasions. The basic idea is that there is no right to impose yourself on others, even when the situation is heartbreaking. An op-ed piece in the New York Times asserts that a husband who agreed to have children has, upon divorce, an obligation to pay for his ex-wife’s fertility services. Calling it “alimony for your eggs,” the op-ed notes that “Her ex may have many years left to start a new family of his own, but by the time she meets a new partner, it may be too late.”

That a woman has a right to change her mind is accepted (though it took much effort to change society’s mind). Does a man also have a right to change his mind? Does a woman deserve compensation for delaying pregnancy? Or is it her choice for which she is responsible?

These are complex questions that vary for each couple and individual. Sometime a woman puts off pregnancy because she doesn’t want to have kids or doesn’t feel ready yet, because she can’t find a suitable partner, because her partner says he isn’t ready, because of her career ambitions, and so on.

Dr. Mimi C. Lee has no other chance to have children, except by using frozen embryos created with her ex-husband. He agreed to become a father when they were married, but upon divorce he withdrew his consent. But Lee is a cancer survivor in her mid-40s. That he could end her dream of motherhood seems hugely unfair.

But let’s reverse the gender roles. Sofia Vergara (from TV’s Modern Family) found herself in a legal dispute with her ex Nick Loeb, who wants to use embryos they created. Vergara wouldn’t have to be pregnant against her will – Loeb would use a surrogate. Still, a woman possibly becoming a parent against her will, even if she isn’t required to become pregnant, puts the debate in a different light.

But it shouldn’t. The issue comes down to consent. If a woman is already pregnant then it’s her body, and it’s her choice. If she wants to have the baby, but he doesn’t, then it’s an impasse and someone’s will must prevail. No one has the right to force something on her physically that she doesn’t consent to. So the man is out of luck, even if that means paying 18 years of child support.

Embryos, however, are in test tubes. Not implanting them in the woman’s body isn’t about what is being done to her. It’s about what’s not being done to her. And half the genetic material is his. The condition of pregnancy does not yet exist, and she has no right to force him into parenthood against his consent – even if he previously consented but now withdraws his consent.

The tragedy is that this might end any opportunity for some women to become a mothers. But no one, woman or man, is entitled to create a pregnancy (even with a surrogate) when the other potential parent has denied or withdrawn consent.