There’s a certain type of energy I want to talk about.
I’ve carried it for long times, long long times, in deep deep ways.
I’ve held it close, I’ve used it like a blanket to keep myself and those I love safe.
Until it wasn’t keeping us safe but smothering us, all of us.
It’s an energy that’s appropriate and nurturing, until it isn’t.
This is true with all types of energy, roles, qualities: they’re appropriate and good, until they aren’t. Until they become excessive. Until they become rigid, drilled-in, and unchanging.
The mother energy is so good and powerful, so nurturing and beautiful, that it’s hard to talk about and recognize the dark and dangerous side of it.
That’s what I want to do right now, today.
I am talking in terms of children, but I mean any sort of offspring. Your creative projects, your art or music, your work, your business, your garden, your community, your business: any creation, any offspring of any kind.
And this mothering energy is not limited to women; it is in all of us.
There’s a shadow side to this mother energy and it is deep and it is strong and it is destructive.
This is a tough thing to look at, in yourself. Tough to see it.
We have this ability and energy and drive in us to nurture, to teach, to protect. We use this energy to bring our babies (our creations of all kinds) into our world, and to keep them safe until they are ready to go form their own worlds.
They are ready sooner than we think they are. We’re the ones who aren’t ready. They still look so small. They know so little.
We forget how little we knew, when we started. How little we still know. How knowledge is not that important, anyway. You can’t prepare for life. You can only launch into it, and learn by doing.
But we hate the pain for our offspring more than we hate the pain for ourselves. So we sacrifice our own need for growth and change. We keep mothering in the same way—nurturing, directing, protecting—long past the time it is needed. We try to hold it all in place. Energy needs to flow, move, grow, transform. When we don’t let it, we poison ourselves. We become martyrs in the name of being mothers.
And then we become something else entirely.
What is it we want to protect our children from? What are the dangers we want them to avoid? What pain do we want to prevent?
What is it we want for our offspring, our children, our creations?
I want my children to be free, to give love, and to receive love. There are lots of other details I could describe but they’re all details. Freedom and love are where it’s at: freedom to be who/what they are. Love given and love received. Everything else is icing on the cake. Everything else builds on these two things.
All too often, I am the one who stands between them—my literal children and all the other ‘offspring’ I have brought into the world—and the freedom and love I want them to experience.
When nurturing energy doesn’t grow with the child into freedom, it becomes something else: control.
When directive energy doesn’t release itself into respect, it becomes something else: judgment.
When protective energy doesn’t give space for autonomy, it becomes something else: aggression.
I turn into the things I fear. I become the danger I want my children to avoid: control, judgment, aggression.
It’s interesting and terrifying how that protective mother energy will willingly, quickly, lash out and crucify someone else’s son or daughter. A grown-up version, perhaps. Easier to see as a threat, as an enemy or aggressor, as a malformed unjust other. More difficult to see in that adult the seed of the child, the boy or girl who was nurtured (or not) by a mother, not so very long ago.
There is an aspect to mothering energy which wants to protect, coddle, and shelter the little boy, but fears and hates the man he will become.
That causes lots of inner turmoil, and when the internal conflict needs an external target — well, it always finds one. There’s always a grown-up little boy we can target and attack. Most often it’s our own partners.
We don’t understand that the way we treat the father is the way we treat the son. The pain we inflict on the father is transferred to the son. The care and kindness or the judgment and hatred we give to the grown man is what we give to the little boy, because every little boy is looking at every grown man asking What am I supposed to become? What can I expect from life? What is expected of me?
We have for a long time been demonstrating against misogny and the patriarchy and sexism. All this is right and good and necessary.
But I have not heard a question asked that we must ask ourselves if we are to actually transform our culture into something equal and free for everyone.
It is the grown men perpetuating theses things we hate, this oppression and sexism that devalues and seeks to control us, as women. We see it all the time in the grown men. The power-hungry men, the greedy men, the aggressive men, the racist men, the sexist men, the disrespectful men, the men the men the men the men.
This is not untrue, but it raises an important question we keep ignoring.
Here is the question:
Who raised these men? Who nurtured and directed, taught and protected them, who showed them the way, who guided them and released them into the world?
The mothers did. The women did. We did. Until we heal in ourselves what has contributed to our own oppression, we will keep repeating it. We will keep cycling through it, over and over, until we look and see the oppressor in ourselves.
There is an aspect to mothering energy which wants to guide, celebrate, and free the little girl, but judges and hates the woman she will become.
We know that judgment and hatred is there, in us, because we wield it in our grown-up relationships with other women: in the negative stories, the gossip, the labels, the mocking, the rejection, the self-righteous anger, the assumptions, the manipulation and social punishment we exert as attempts to control. The way we treat other women is the standard we set for our daughters. We’re telling them clearly: You can expect to be treated this way, talked about this way, judged this way, manipulated this way, controlled this way, rejected this way, when you’re a woman.
But that’s not the worst part of this soured, twisted-up energy.
The worst part is that we turn it on ourselves. There’s always a grown-up little girl to attack: look in the mirror. There she is. Listen to the voices in your head.
We don’t understand that the way we talk to ourselves is the way we talk to our daughters. Maybe we don’t say the words aloud, but it doesn’t matter. The energy is there. They feel it. The judgment we inflict on the mother is the judgment we inflict on the daughter. The care and kindness or the judgment and hatred we give to the grown woman is what we give to the little girl, because every little girl is looking at every grown woman asking What am I supposed to become? What can I expect from life? What is expected of me?
One day not so very long ago, I was struggling with a decision.
It felt like a major decision, a life decision, a turning-point decision. It was.
I knew what I wanted, but I couldn’t bring myself to say Yes, to give it freely to myself. I was filled with doubt, with all sorts of memories of how I’d failed in the past, feelings of judgment and disappointment in myself.
Reason told me to say Yes. All the good things I’ve taught myself about love and acceptance and moving forward told me to say Yes. But everything deeper and more primal and visceral told me to say No, to draw in, to be small. To play it safe. To keep directing and protecting myself—as if I were a helpless child—rather than trusting myself to go forward with power and authority and self-respect.
Then I thought of my daughters. I thought: What would I want them to know, to think, to feel, in this kind of moment? When making this kind of decision?
And I had my answer. I chose to step forward, and I am still choosing to step forward every day. My daughters taught me what I needed to know. When I doubt myself, I think about them. I think about the truth I want them to remember. I think about the freedom and love I want them to have, to rejoice in, for all of their days. Then I tell myself what I want them to hear, because I am learning: I cannot love my daughters anymore than I love myself.
One day not so very long after, I was struggling with another decision.
It felt even more important and even more confusing. There were too many factors, too many voices, too many expectations.
It was a decision layered with meaning, with emotion, with all the history and longing and hurt of a long-term relationship, with all the weight of family and social expectations, with all the insecurity and uncertainty of trusting another. An-other. An Other. A not-me, not-woman, not-one-of-us. So: not-safe.
The cry of a thousand women’s voices rang in my head and they did not sound happy. The scorn, judgment, assumptions, interpretations of a thousand women’s hurt and heartbreak and anger pushed me to a conclusion I knew in my heart to be wrong. Everything was hazy, confused, swirling, weighted: and the freedom and love I wanted to give, longed to offer, was lost in the noise.
Then I thought of my sons. I thought: What would I want them to hear, to receive, to be offered, in this kind of moment? When asking this kind of question?
And I had my answer. I chose trust over suspicion. I chose assuming the best over assuming the worst. I decided to give and require respect, instead of obligation or sacrifice. I chose to grant the freedom I claim for myself, to give what I wish to receive.
I am still choosing those things, every day, and I have learned that it is okay if no one else understands. I understand. My sons understand. They understand that they are people who are good, who can be trusted, who know how to love. And so am I. They have an absolute right to live life on their own terms; they have value because of who they are, not because of what they earn, provide, or prove. And so do I. I come back to this again and again, because I am learning: I cannot love my sons anymore than I love myself.
Love is tough to define, and everyone has a different definition.
All I know is that martyrdom is not the same as love. Martyrdom is based on obligation and self-protection, on concepts like duty and sacrifice. Love does not know these words.
Love does not play in that arena.
Love flows in freedom. It is never static. It is not a contract or a vow, a monument or a platform. Love does shelter us and nurture us and give us a safe place to hide when we are weak, to heal when we are hurt. But love is also the voice that opens the door and points outside and says, “It’s time.”
Love does not call out what is good in us, but what is best in us. There’s a big difference. What is best in us is also what is most powerful, original, and wild. Love calls forth the untamed and dangerous parts of us, the shadow and the light, and says: Look inside. See yourself. Know yourself. Trust yourself.
Love does not ask us to be safe, but to be free.