A Mother's Legacy
As we continue with our celebrations of motherhood this May in honour of Mother’s Day, this week we ask what it is that our mothers bequeath to us, pass on either in their lifetimes or beyond. ‘Legacy ‘, a poem by Mona community member Jan Pittard, examines this concept when she contemplates handing down more than just objects to her daughter.
Since the days of Freud, mothers have been revered (read: blamed) for the development and traits (and neuroses) of their children, much more so than fathers. Whilst it may be true that much of modern psychology and sociology have evidence enough to challenge the psychoanalytic truth about mothers being the sole determinant of an individual’s personality and potential, we all still ponder how much of ourselves are our parents, and, for most female-identifying individuals, that thought usually strays to our mothers.
For much of our lives, our mother is our greatest support, our earliest cheerleader and a woman in whom we find strength and wisdom. They pass down knowledge and teachings to us in the form of instructions, modeling and, sometimes, in the difficult lessons they let us learn ourselves. Sometimes they entrust us with valuable family heirlooms, businesses, family secrets or their secret recipes when they retire as matriarch. Many of our mothers lived through eras in which women struggled for recognition in political, economic and social spheres, and so they pass down to us privilege, that they fought for and they urge us to safeguard, lest we get complacent. God knows First Nations mothers are still fighting for the same recognition that came to our mothers decades, even a century, ago.
Jan Pittard explores the concept of what legacy might mean in her poem of the same name. It tells of Jan’s passing on of an intimate item to her daughter to wear in a burlesque stage show. Jan comments that the poem is not just about the item she passes on and her own nostalgia, hoping that her daughter will enjoy the piece the way she has herself; it is also a celebration and recognition of her daughter’s unfolding womanhood, a time when a woman, arguably, needs to balance her mother’s guidance an newfound independence skillfully.
by Jan Pittard, 2019
I bequeath to you,
The lingerie of my 30s
Black corset, suspenders and stockings
Intimate, generic totems
Of my delayed passion and indiscretion
When I wore them
You were barely weaned
My body felt the power of nurture, lust and risk
I delighted in that siren suit
Wear them now on the burlesque stage
More lightly and more knowingly
Than ever I did
Unleash their frisson
With post-modern nonchalance
I rejoice in your blossoming womanhood
Assigning mine wryly to history
For many of us, though, the relationship with our mother is a tricky part of our lives, difficult to negotiate and hard to accept, especially when we notice similar traits or behaviours in ourselves (so much so, in fact, that there is a book entitled Difficult Mothers, Adult Daughters). There have been myriad films, novels and songs produced about this often complex relationship that can be filled with silences, passive aggression and struggles for control; in large part these are socially constructed and perpetuated by patriarchal structures, but that doesn't mean it hurts any less to have your most important relationship be such a source of anguish.
Separating from our mothers can be one of the most difficult things we confront during our transition to adulthood as female-identifying individuals.
Will they approve of what we choose now that we are free to make choices? Will they resent us for having the life they could only dream of but was not an option for them? Will they welcome us back to the fold without an ‘I told you so’ when we make our first (and second and third) big mistake?
For those of us who live with mothers who have limited capacity to mother (for many, this means limited emotional capacity), we find mother-substitutes, stand ins; women who offer us empathy and validation, non-judgement and independence, guidance without guilt. In our celebration of mothers in May, then, it is important not only to celebrate the women who have given birth, but also the majority of women, for so many of them have stood in these roles without knowing it, without asking for it, but have shared parts of themselves with girls, women and female-identifying individuals and have offered the elements of mothering that their own mothers couldn’t.
Mothers, in all forms, are our society’s most important human beings, but this has also been used against them.
Their power and knowledge have been interpreted as duty, and roles thrust upon them without their participation as full and complex human beings whose needs cannot possibly be met by only serving the needs of another. In order for mothers to have agency enabling them to shape the legacy they leave, we must allow women choices and agency, not Just in making individual decisions like whether to have children or not, but also in determining ideological issues, such as the structures of workplaces and work hours, the role of culture in a child’s life, the roles allocated to parents, the pressure on families to raise children isolated from the traditional village concept, the welfare structures that must be able to adequately support single mothers, mothers affected by domestic and family violence and mothers whose lives are dictated by poverty.
Poet: Jan Pittard
Jan was born in the UK to an English mother and Australian father. They came
‘home’ in 1968. She and her friends reacted to the pressures of living in the conformist Sutherland Shire during the Puberty Blues era by writing a humorous and satirical newsletter they photocopied at the local library. Jan also wrote poetry and short stories throughout her childhood and adolescence. A public service career dominated by corporate-style writing inhibited her creative output somewhat.
In 2008 a friend of Jan's suggested starting her own blog http://alicewritlarge.blogspot.com/ She has posted intermittently about books, politics, the arts and history since then. Jan's tree change to Wagga Wagga in 2014 saw her writing flourish and she has published articles on family and local history, poems and pieces on art exhibitions. MONA’s workshop was a spur on to writing her most recent humorous and serious verse.
Want to read more inspiring writing about issues affecting rural women?