When Halloween rolls around each year we get our kids all dressed up in their spookiest garb and watch them delight in all things creepy and crawly. And boy do they love it! Blood and guts are un-age-restricted and suddenly it’s ok to stab someone in the back (with a plastic retractable blade that is!)Thinking about it, there are so many scary things that our kids run towards: Like going on rollercoasters, entering eerie fun houses and jumping off the high dive. And while us adults don’t necessarily get dressed up as “Wednesday Adams” and spook the neighbours anymore, we do still manage to get our freak on by doing another kind of scary… becoming parents. Anyone who has become a mom for the first time knows that just covering your bases and keeping your child alive is bound to give you one hell of a fright. So how come we never talk about that? How come only the kids get to be afraid, and are we also allowed to know that deep down there are certain things that really scare us too? This Halloween let’s look past the “Oh this is such a magical time” headspace and actually consider some of our own scaries – all those ghostly thoughts and ideas we have about mothering. Cue the eerie music…
What lies beneath
Halloween has its origins in Celtic mysticism were the 31st of October marked the beginning of a long and dark Winter, bringing to the surface deep worries about invasion, demise and disease. So thousands of years ago on every Halloween eve, the Celtics would dress up in animal skins and ward off the unruly ghosts with large bonfires and ritual dance. While the holiday has since evolved into a light-hearted opportunity to dress up as “Vamperina” and overload on sugar, the origins of the holiday are actually rooted in very deep worries about feeling safe in the world.
In this way, parenthood is its own kind of Halloween. Hell, I worry enough about the amount of protein my girls are getting on a daily basis; never mind the greater fears about what cliques they may fall in with at school or how my kid will handle losing her athletics race. But what if these fears weren’t really so concrete? What if these were only superficial worries that concretized more abstract fears about self –worth, alienation and feeling helpless in a very scary world?
Fifty years ago, the psychoanalyst Selma Fraiberg wrote beautifully about all these lurking feelings in an article called “Ghosts in the Nursery.” Using examples of families she has observed in her practice she explains how unresolved issues from our childhoods – what she calls ghosts- wake up again when we become parents. And whenever we feel unsupported, criticised, neglected, controlled or not seen, these ghosts come back to haunt us. They lurk in all our decisions, they show up at our dinner tables and they catch us off guard in our arguments.
So how do we make sure these ghosts don’t get the better of us? In the same way that your dad might have searched your room for the Boogy Man pre-bedtime, you have to search too. Inside yourself. So when afraid, instead of hiding under the bed, it’s better to look into your own upbringing for the answers. Your past has influenced who you are today and that includes what you worry about and how you will try and manage it. The key is not to hide from the ghosts (but like on Halloween) we need to invite them in and get to know them a little better. In this way, they can become less “Dracula” and more “Casper”. If we don’t work through our gremlins of yester-year it is certain that we will re-enact past nightmares with our own kids and we will continue to have the same fights and frights as we did before. This is (in many ways) a lot worse than the freakiest episode of Freddy Kruger.
Trick or Treat?
So this Halloween I would like to invite mothers and fathers to meet something scary inside themselves…I promise this is not a trick! Because coming to understand something unresolved within yourself can ultimately be the biggest treat for you and your family. One that you’re bound to go back for a way before next October.