Thursday, March 30, 2006

Dreaming Our Children

The most heart-rending description I’ve ever heard of a mother-child relationship came from a grown woman struggling to articulate why she always felt so estranged from her mother.
She had felt disconnected from her mother for as long as she could remember. Her mother had had to work hard, and seemed to be always tired.
“But it wasn’t just that. It was . . . it was that my mother never dreamed me,” she said.
“My mother never dreamed me.”
What a powerful phrase.
I felt upon hearing this story that this woman is not alone, that there are many grown children out there who were never “dreamed.”
They appeared in their parents’ lives, and their parents “loved” them. But they never valued their children as separate, unique, creative entities, capable of immeasurable feats of discovery and growth. They were, instead, bodies to be fed, bodies to be clothed, tummies to be fed, bottoms to be swatted, noses to be wiped. They were a duty to be performed, a responsibility that came with the title “parent.”
If you told these parents that their children felt a sense of loss, an inchoate longing, they would be puzzled, and even angry. Why, they never neglected their children! And, by the world’s standards, they had not.
So how does one “dream” one’s children?
It has to do with seeing childhood as the womb in which we prepare for adulthood. Just as we grew in the womb in preparation for the world outside our mothers’ bodies, so does the potential for the next stage gradually develop within us during our childhood.
We need psychic nurturing during this time just as we needed the physical nurturing of the earlier womb. Without it we risk dying stillborn, or coming through still undeveloped.
Even in a “good” birth from childhood to adulthood, the new being is fragile. We still need guidance and some protection while we gain strength and confidence. We still need psychic nurturing.
Psychic nurturing has to do with basic respect for the individuality and dignity of this separate human being. It has to do with the willingness to be a guide at first, and then a companion, in an exploration of intellectual, emotional and spiritual terrain. It has to do with the willingness to listen, with respect, to young ideas and fantasies.
It has to do with being able to provide continuity while honoring the ambiguities of this newly emerging human being. It has to do with being able to “play” in many different ways.
It means being willing to let answers come in many forms – to let a body find an answer in dance, or a hand find the knowing in a piece of clay, or the voice discover wisdom in a song. It is being willing to accept that your child may find love in different ways and in different people than you do.
It means being willing to let the child explore new patterns, to learn in different ways, to head for the hills when you are sure the safety is in the desert.
It means being willing to wait while the child lets the song come or the clay take shape, or the dance happen. It means stillness while the answers search for your child.
And when the answers come for your child in a language you cannot understand, or even hear, it means understanding that that is all right. The answers aren’t speaking to you; they are speaking to your child.
Perhaps the most important thing about psychic nurturing is knowing that “creation” does not mean “novelty.” Otherwise, our child may create something wonderful in herself or himself and we will be blind to it, simply because it isn’t “new.”
If we are indeed created in the image of God, then we, and our children, must possess within ourselves tremendous powers of creation.
Psychic nurturing means letting the creation go on, wherever it takes the child. And then celebrating it.
That is how we “dream” our children.


Gayland Pool said...

how beautiful -- love Gayland

Chris Sherrod said...

First to post! Beautiful work, Katie. Can't wait for more. Will you archive your old "everyvoice" posts here?

JRG said...

And then there are the mothers who dream too much, and can't see the dreams of the child because their own dream for the child is so fixed in the mother's mind. If the child is strong enough to follow her/his own dream, they will never get Mom's full approval. If love continues to pull them together they will constantly find themselves in a puzzling web of conflict and caring.

Anonymous said...

What a beautifully written piece identifying so clearly the relationship and its potential between mother and child! I can identify with this more than I can say or express. Thank you for posting it.......

Anonymous said...

This is so much good food for thought and careful pondering. As I go through the day, the weeks, the months with my own children. There are tummies to be filled, noses to be wiped,diapers to be changed and dreams to be born and nurtured. What if your hopes and dreams for your children are more than you feel you can give them? What if they deserve your best and you are too tired to provide it? Your words are beautiful, thank you for sharing your beautiful gift of food for thought.

Anonymous said...

Thank you for naming it. "My mother never dreamed me." How many of us have gone through life without this name, and because we could not name it, we never were able to come to terms with it. Thank you.