Us moms are always expected to act like grown-ups. We’re supposed to be the ‘bigger person’, act responsibly and lead by example. Not always easy when there’s a bunch of offspring pulling on your pant leg and begging for your phone. Truthfully, there are times when accountability can feel pretty unfair. Wonder why that is? It might be more than just adult exhaustion or the burden of routine. Here Psychoanalysis offers a very important idea to mothers: That we are not just twenty/thirty/forty-something-year-old moms. We are so much more than our current age. We are in fact, a sum total of all our younger selves put together.
Imagine a Russian Babushka Doll: Those little wooden figurines that fit systematically within each other from tall to tiny. The present-day mom is the outermost layer. But what this set of dolls starts to notice is that a mom is also made up of all her stages and ages that came before. Meaning that, like the littler dolls that fit inside the biggest doll, even though mom is fully-grown now, she still has smaller teenage-parts, toddler-parts and even baby-parts living deep inside her mind. Feels pretty crowded. And the kicker is that these little people don’t necessarily want to play nicely with the other children. Your children.
So what happens when a mom’s real-life toddler meets her own inner-toddler? Psychoanalysts believe that these past-peeps, interact with the real world all the time, without us even realising it. And they have an incredibly profound affect on how we relate to each other. For example, when you have an unexpected reaction to your kid’s behavior: Like the mom who yells at her six-year-old for asking for more ice cream. Is that about instilling some self-discipline or is she somehow connecting with her six-year-old Babushka, who never quite felt like she got enough of what she wanted.
Or how about that mom who gets ratty because her colicky baby needs to be held all the livelong day! It could just be about her tired arms and her aching back. Or it could also be about a woman who now does all the carrying, while there is still a childhood need to be held and taken care of herself. With every one of our child’s milestones, we are somewhere reminded of a time when we were once there. Sometimes it feels ok. And other times it doesn’t. It now mingles with current mom-experience and puts more than just one person’s needs on the table.
On some level, we all know this. Think about your fifth birthday. You had five candles on your cake – not just one for that particular year. That’s because on this day you were not just five: You were a one-year-old and a two-year-old and a three-year-old and a four-year-old and then a five-year-old! The number of candles on our birthday cakes acknowledges an accumulation of all our experiences. It is a reminder of all the younger folk who still live inside us, each with their own age-appropriate wishes for that particular birthday cake.
The good news is that if their wishes get too loud, with some help, you can meet these people. You can get to know what they all secretly hope for. Only once you really hear what they need to say, will they go back to sleep peacefully. And finally leave you to the have some much-needed adult alone time. Hopefully, with all that cake.