The grand champion of mothers


Winnicott, Babies and their MothersWhen I became a mother for the first time, my mother was there for her baby, not for mine. It had been a difficult birth. 'Heavens,' said Mum, 'You look just as you did after a hard day at school.'

Dimitrios was brought to me, and of course I thought he was beautiful, but I still wasn't blind to his cone-shaped head, his bruised and puffy eyes, and his generally battered look. Nor was I deaf to his full-throated bellow. 'Poor little pet,' said the nurse, 'he's got a shocker of a headache.'

Me, I felt as if a speedy arrow had found a bull's eye in my heart. 'Oh, Mum,' I said, 'I'm so worried about him.' My mum laughed her head off. 'You're stuck with that feeling now,' she replied. How right she was.

It's not fair, but everything, for good or ill, and life being what it is, the admixture of both, begins with the mother. And it's all in the luck of the draw. My best friend, for example, had a cold and rejecting mother who actually told him he was a mistake.

Once we discussed Winnicott's concept of the good-enough mother, and I mentioned a reference made by Canadian writer Robertson Davies, who makes one of his characters say that he is fed up with people moaning about their mothers. I quoted: 'We can't all have the Grand Champion of Mothers.' And then I laughed.

'But you did,' my friend replied.

The wistful yet matter-of-fact statement wrenched my heart. 'You're absolutely right. I did.' I thought of what I had had, and what he had missed: the luck of the draw.


I cannot believe that my mother has been dead 18 years, for I still see her in my mind's eye as a beautiful woman and spirit at every stage of her life, and I still hear her unfailingly witty good sense clearly in my mind's ear. Greeks who knew her considered her like Nana Mouskouri's voice: too perfect.

Parents are not necessarily naturals at their task. Mum's own childhood was not perfect, not by any means, but she had great skill in giving her three children most of what she had lacked, a skill that must have come in part from her wonderfully nurturing older sister. Muriel stood in for an over-taxed widowed mother, who was often so exhausted that she fainted in the kitchen of the boarding-house she had no choice but to run.

My grandmother worked in order to guarantee her family's survival. My mother worked in order to give us more opportunity: she was a gifted teacher of children in their first three years of school. She regularly taught classes of more than 40, but she still had time left over for us: she made sure of it, even though her whole life was a balancing act. But perhaps that's what motherhood is about: balancing.

The balance began to be threatened when I was a young mother, as that generation of women wanted children, but also wished to work for the sake of their own fulfillment. Now the threat is worse, as women strive to be perfect mothers even while they are holding down demanding jobs.

American writer Anna Quindlen maintains that the lives of modern mothers are a combination of the Stations of the Cross and a decathlon. Quindlen's mother, who wasn't a career woman, and did no ferrying of her children to ballet, music, and the rest, gave her offspring freedoms that today would have the police and a case worker on the doorstep. But, says her daughter, 'wherever she was felt like a safe place'.

One of Quindlen's own children has told her that what he most remembers is having a good time.

That's a balance children need: security and fun. We started our days with both, for Mum would wake my sister and me by snapping on the bedroom light. She never let us down, and we would laugh ruefully as she called out a wartime slogan: Wake up, Australia! Rise and shine. Your country needs you.

I told my kindred-spirit friend this. He said, 'I'm sure your mother rises and shines in your heart every day.' How right he was. How right he still is. 

Gillian BourasGillian Bouras is an Australian writer who has been based in Greece for 30 years. She has had nine books published. Her latest, Seeing and Believing, is appearing in instalments on her website. 

Topic tags: Gillian Bouras, mothers



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Existing comments

Gillian, thank you for such a beautiful celebration of your mother.
Alex Nelson | 23 May 2012

I really enjoyed that Gillian. Made me quite sentimental.
Anna Roins | 23 May 2012

I think, Gillian, your mother forged her mothering skills in the real world when life was hard but not too over demanding. These days life is not as hard but probably far too over demanding: financially; time wise and perfection wise. We see children as if they should be wrapped in physical and emotional cotton wool against the many dangers we perceive "out there". Mothers (and fathers) are responsible for everything that goes wrong in their children's lives. If anything goes wrong DOCS (Community Services) is always ready - too ready - to put children into the Welfare system. Far, far worse things happen to children in Welfare than they do at home.

We need to return to a simpler; financially poorer but emotionally richer Australia where the "social networks" we keep referring to had not fallen apart.
Robertson Davies always seemed to me to see the now vanished Canada of the 20th Century - similar to Australia then - with a clear but loving eye. We need a human society where things work on a human scale: not on the scale of a welfarist Cloud Cuckoo Land.

Thank you for your article. It made me think hard about our flawed current lifestyle.
Edward F | 23 May 2012

Gillian, firstly I thank you for your article and the sharing your mother with us. I am sure when a child is born that a mother is also born; never the less it is reasonable to believe that the level of potentiality for motherhood must also be latent within the woman, as not all mother's are the same. The potentiality within your mother obviously came to great fruition. Your mother's example seems to epitomise the heroic thoughts of Washington Irving, when he wrote "A mother is the truest friend we have, when trials heavy and sudden, fall upon us; when adversity takes the place of prosperity; when friends who rejoice with us in our sunshine desert us; when trouble thickens around us, still will she cling to us, and endeavour by her kind precepts and councils to dissipate the clouds of darkness, and cause peace to return to our hearts."
John Whitehead | 23 May 2012

I think all mothers need some time for total selfishness. (When they can arrange it.) They are less likely to fall into that terrible resentful anger mode that you witness in supermarkets, and inflict petty cruelties on their children, because of unarticulated yet deep-felt frustration.
Penelope | 23 May 2012

Gillian, thank you so much for this beautiful article God bless all mothers and those who fulfil a mothering role.
Anne Slingo | 25 May 2012

Gillian, Cardinal Mindszinsky had an abiding love for his mother and his message on Motherhood say's it all, do you know it? In part:
The most important person on earth is a mother.
She cannot claim the honour of having built Notre Dame Cathederal
She need not.
She has built something more magnificient than any cathederal-a dwelling for an immortal soul, the tiny perfection of her babies body......
What on Gods good earth is more glorious than this.
Read on.
In times gone by, junior seminarians at least, were taught/trained to replace that abiding love for their mother to Mary.
L. Newington | 28 May 2012


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