The imperfect mother


Sad mother and daughterIt is a terrifying and mystifying thing to be a mother. Even though motherhood itself is a state that is completely normal and natural, the passion of the maternal instinct takes many a woman by surprise.

The actual process of becoming a mother is much the same: despite all the information and education available these days, the business of giving birth is still a journey into the unknown, and no one can really accompany you to your destination. Unless it's your own mother: in Greece, grandmothers are often allowed into the labour ward in order to help their daughters.

My eldest son was born in Australia, and my mother was certainly not present at the event. But she came to stay for a week after my return from hospital, and did all those grandmotherly things: made sure there was a meal on the table, and that the washing was done, showed me how to manage the basic baby-care routines, and was always her very kind and loving self.

But I still remember the feeling of utter desolation that was mine as she prepared to leave, my helplessness at the moment of her (almost) driving off. She noticed: good mothers are adept at the business of picking up signals, of tuning into significant vibes. She got out of the car and said, 'Do not worry. You are perfectly capable of looking after this baby.'

Of course I didn't really believe her, but the vital, pivotal matter was the confidence my mum expressed in her firm, schoolteacherly way. Because she told me I could do it, I couldn't let her down, any more than I could let my son down. I was also dimly aware, and she had helped me achieve that degree of awareness, that I now had a soul in my keeping, as my soul had been in her keeping all those long years before.

And still was then, when I was a new mother. And still is, in a sense, even though she has been dead for nearly 20 years, and even though I am now a grandmother myself. I still consult my mother about various matters, and usually receive an answer, a process that teaches me, yet again, that motherhood never really ends.

In most societies it is still women who transmit the culture and preserve significant memory, and I have seen this enacted during my life time.

I was a fortunate child in that I had three living grandparents. While I doted on my grandfather and owe a great deal to him, I can see that it was my grandmothers who gave me a strong link to the pioneering past, to the British ancestors, to the language and lore of Britain and Australia: they had the time, interest and motivation, and so thanks to them, people I never knew but are nevertheless part of me have a presence in my imagination.

My children's Greek Yiayia did much the same for their Greek side. She, too, had always been there when her three daughters needed her.

Most parents, I think, just make things up as they go along, hoping for the best and doing their best as they see it at the time. Mothers seem to be held particularly responsible for the way their children turn out, but mothers are still only fallible human beings, and few people have first-class, blue-ribbon, champion mothers (although I'm quite sure I had one).

The best mothers do not expect gratitude, and know that their reward lies in seeing their children grow. And in watching and observing how they go about it.

I've lately wondered whether a woman can understand motherhood only when her baby has a baby. This has happened to me recently: my youngest son is now the proud father of his first-born son. And I, in my turn, am proud of the way in which my son is helping his wife and taking pleasure in watching his son grow: he knows, it is evident, that he has a soul in his keeping.

And I? I'm transmitting the culture: Orestes is now ten weeks old, and smiles happily throughout my croaky rendition of 'Waltzing Matilda'. 

Gillian Bouras headshotGillian Bouras is an Australian writer who has been based in Greece for 30 years. She has had nine books published. Her most recent is No Time For Dances. Her latest, Seeing and Believing, is appearing in instalments on her website

Mother and daughter image from Shutterstock

Topic tags: Gillian Bouras, Mother's Day, Greece



submit a comment

Existing comments

My mother is now 90 years old, a great-grandmother of ten, thanks to my brother (six grandchildren) and myself (four grandchildren). I would need much more space than available here to express what Mum means to us. My first grandchildren, twins, were born six weeks prematurely, both needing intensive care, one with very significant health issues. My daughter and son-in-law's deep love for their precious girls has taught the whole family a valuable lesson - that extraordinary love happens to ordinary families.

Pam | 07 May 2013  

As always Gillian gets to the heart of things. I see myself as a young mother in this article as I see my two daughters who are young mothers, striving to be perfect, but who will invariably miss the occasional beat. Women, Waltzing on.

Anne Kostaras | 08 May 2013  

Being a father and not a mother I therefore cannot relate from intimate personal experiential feelings on this matter, but only through my observations of my 5 grandchildren and their mothering. The potentiality of mothering may not seem to exist in the young carefree girl until she actually becomes a mother. Then it seems to gradually flower as a seed germinates with water - this amazing potential seems to lie dormant in most woman, and releases even to the woman's own surprise on actually becoming a mother.

John Whitehead | 08 May 2013  

Well expressed sentiments of the journey of being a mother and grandmother which is an endless odyssey. sometimes happily travelled and sometimes with great sadness. The joys are boundless and the difficulties always there requiring endless change and modification as things change. One of the rewarding parts of the journey is the end bit when one sees the fruit of the labour in the generations that follow Happy mothers day to all the men and women who have travelled that way

GAJ | 08 May 2013  

You did a great job, couldn't have asked for a better Mum. Happy mother's day.

Dimitri B | 13 May 2013  

Similar Articles

Cheap shots at religious fish out of water

  • Tim Kroenert
  • 16 May 2013

While Anthony the Maronite is dismissive of his Buddhist hosts' beliefs, Freeman the Buddhist finds meaning in the symbols and rituals of Catholicism. The overly simplistic intention seems to be to set open and inclusive Eastern religion alongside narrow-minded, arrogant Western Christianity.


Pablo Neruda's prophecy in poetry

  • Philip Harvey
  • 15 May 2013

On the eve of the violent overthrow of the elected government of Chile 40 years ago, Pablo Neruda wrote a cycle of cantos that came to be called The Book of Questions. Twelve days after the coups the poet was dead. It is hard to miss the military and political connotations of some of Neruda's 'questions'.



Subscribe for more stories like this.

Free sign-up