May 12, 2007

Mommies Dearest

Something Like Life
May 11-12. 2007

MOMMIE DEAREST was a very controversial book published in 1978, where Christina Crawford, the adopted daughter of that marvelous old Hollywood diva Joan Crawford, accused the latter of child abuse and having sexual relations with other women. Christina also claimed that Miz Crawford (she of the arched eyebrows and finely chiseled cheekbones) only adopted her and three other children for publicity’s was all for show and nothing more. Miz Crawford had no real love for her children, Christina claimed, as she was more engrossed with her film career.

Published a year after Miz Crawford’s death, the book made a riveting read, especially to those like me perpetually enamored with the juicy gossip and scandalous stories involving Hollywood’s royalty back when the town made really good movies. Although several of Miz Crawford’s friends have disputed the revelations in the book, her name has since become synonymous with child abuse.

Just what kind of woman would harm her children?

When you think about mothers, you often equate them with nurturing, teaching, food and its wonderful smells wafting from the kitchen, kindness, protection, and warm, unconditional, unquestioning love.

Women are also thought of being natural at motherhood. We see a baby and we want to pick him up and kiss him all over, sniff his yummy milky baby smell, and make blowing noises on his tummy just to hear him chortle. Motherhood is supposedly our singular role in this world. We get pregnant, we give birth, we nurture our kids to hopefully become near-perfect happy and successful citizens of this world.

Those who are childless obsess about becoming pregnant, because they feel it is their “calling” to be mothers. They feel incomplete, even betrayed, if they don’t have children, and will do anything to have a child—be it by force, through legal means, or even via the “miracle” of science.

It may be surprising, however, to learn that there are some women who don’t hear that calling at all. They refuse to have children and don’t think they are cut out to be mothers.

This is not just any postpartum depression felt by new mothers, à la Brooke Shields, who don’t care about crashing their car even if their baby is sleeping in the back seat. (Thank God for Paxil! Woohoo!) I’m talking about turning one’s back on her “role” to aid in multiplying and improving the human race. And of a guiltless attitude of not having any motherly feelings at all.

When a former classmate of mine got married to her sweetheart years back, she and her husband deliberately decided then and there not to have any children. I thought this was a bit sad as I’d known how her husband liked to dote on kids. He struck me as someone who could be a great dad.

But I wasn’t surprised at how this marriage turned out and at the decisions the couple made. I thought their choice to be childless was reflective of the physical and verbal abuse my classmate had suffered in the hands of her father. She absolutely hated him for the violence, and her mother for just looking the other way.

Maybe she was afraid of becoming violent as well toward her children, if she actually had them? Most studies do show that those who inflict pain on their children have been abused by their parents as well. Or perhaps she thought mothers were weak? After all, her own role model was too afraid to protect her child.

Some women don’t need any reason to repudiate their “mother” calling.

One woman actually told me she had felt nothing toward her children. Though she is now absolutely in love with her grandkids, she said that when she gave birth to each of her three children, she didn’t feel any tender Little House on the Prairie feelings welling up inside of her. Postpartum blues? I doubt it. She confessed that these “nonfeelings” toward her children continued through much of their youth and until their adulthood. Yep, even until now.

Sure, when one of her kids got sick, this woman said that she would take care of the child. But she assured me she did not do this out of love, but out of...what? Duty? Just because she had to, she told me. After all, no one wants to be accused of neglecting their children, right? Especially not someone of her economic stature and her place in society. It’s a good thing she had nannies who helped her take care of her kids.

Interestingly enough, her children seem to absolutely love her. They can hardly make a move in their careers or their personal lives without consulting their mother first. This is a woman who hardly has any funny stories or gripping anecdotes to narrate about her children when they were growing up. She used to tell me that she always understood why some animals ate their young. She was dead-serious that it actually scared me.

Then, there’s this woman who lives in our neighborhood who can’t seem to stop screaming at her kids whenever she gets home from work. And wouldn’t you know it? I found out that she’s a nurse...someone who is supposed to be adept at taking care of people. Yet almost every day she would berate her children for some infraction, imagined or otherwise. Now I hear she’s going off to work abroad and is planning to leave her kids with the maid. (The husband apparently is a seaman who is also out of the country most of the time; but whenever he comes home, he doesn’t spare the kids his mouth either.) What’s that number for Bantay Bata again?

Of course these days, we hear even crazier tabloid stories about pregnant women trying to flush their newborn babies down the toilet, or putting the baby in a box and throwing it in the trash can, or mothers who just beat up their children for no apparent reason.

It’s strange, I know, to hear of these mothers who don’t behave like mothers at all. It isn’t natural. This isn’t the way how the world should work. Why, you ask? I don’t have any answers.
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ON a lighter note, I want to greet my dearest mama (no Mommie Dearest, she) a Happy Mother’s Day on Sunday! You drive me nuts, mom, but I love you just the same!

(My column, Something Like Life, is published every Friday in the Life section of the BusinessMirror.)

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