Your love for your children and your love for humanity and the planet are one and the same love. Trust that. Know that. Live that from within, and no matter what happens, you will be vital, resilient and joyful. This is what I want for you. This was what I wanted for myself. I came close because of my inner fire, but I was undermined by the messages from the outside. This is why I write this. To protect you, my readers, from those discursive, distracting, and meaningless projections.– Stephanie Mines, PhD
Being a politically active, radically oriented mother is iconoclastic. What is the impact on children, family systems, and mom’s development when she engages in protests and other direct actions, including writing and publishing about social and climate justice? How is such a mom viewed by the world and how does this shape her inner life and the lives of her children? How does it impact other relationships? These are some of the themes I explore here, in this essay, and in future posts.
I want to report on my own experience as a form of qualitative research that I hope will stimulate evolutionary inquiry. Mostly I want to generate understanding and awareness that a mother can be loving, caring and present while simultaneously being passionate about systemic shifts, political activism, and forging a better, more fulfilling and just world for all children and the children of the future. If one is called this way, as I am, I would like to dissolve both the internal strictures of guilt and conflict, and the external ones of judgment when and where they intrude.
I also want to assert that such dual passions as motherhood and activism do not inevitably suggest that children or parenting will suffer. That implication seems almost seamlessly woven into the description of this situation from the outside, and I believe that is a projection based on narrow, outdated views of what motherhood can and cannot be.
My activism has always been primarily around racial justice and women’s empowerment issues. It still is; with the added one of climate crisis educational outreach. Not only was I an activist when I was pregnant and as a mother, but I am also an activist as a grandmother and a crone.
My personal observation is that the only harm that comes from having dual orientations as a mother is in how the woman relates to herself. By this I mean, how she regards her mothering and her value as she acts from heart, intention, love, compassion and commitment and nevertheless absorbs external projections onto her choices. This is how I struggled. I loved my mothering and I loved my activism and my creativity; they should never have been at odds with one another. But I was too receptive to what was projected onto me, and this created my internal conflict.
The Stunning Model of Eco-Feminism That Is Meridel LeSueur
As I write this I think of my mentor: the epic writer and social activist Meridel LeSueur. I had the privilege of knowing Meridel and two of her daughters who became brilliant artists in their own rights. Meridel is the model of what I am aiming to convey here. She lived in celebration of her motherhood and her activism. I wish I had known her earlier in my life. I met her in San Francisco when my first daughter was pubescent. Her presence earlier in my life would have empowered me, I am certain, to feel much less conflicted and fragmented by how activism, creativity, and motherhood interacted in the wild and wonderful dance of my being. I hope to generate for you the inspiration that Meridel provided for me. It was unforgettable. It still gives me great hope. I feed on it.
As I now approach my 80th year, these reflections come together as both legacy and retrospection are evoked. I pray that this writing will serve young women and mothers so that they will not experience the conflicts that I felt, and that sometimes still penetrate my compassionate outreach. My hope is that you will be less permeable to outside projections and more solidly rooted and aligned within yourself. That is my aim in this wrting. This is why I feel called to reveal my vulnerabilities and to be completely transparent about my struggles
The Seventies: The Women’s Consciousness Raising Movement
When I delivered my first child at home, it was both a personal and a political act. I felt safer at home, but I wanted to fully claim these initiatory rites of passage for myself and my child. I also wanted to do this for other women and for the world. I was making a statement as well as delivering a child. That is why I wrote about it.
What I wrote about home delivery was published by Random House in a book called Two Births. This book was intimate, sexual, exposed, and functioned as a mighty force of healing from the sexual abuse in my history. Everything about my birthing experiences became an antidote to trauma, and I attribute the foundation for that to the women’s consciousness raising group that I participated in before I had my first child.
My relationship to the masculine has always been troubled because of my family history of domestic violence and sexual violation. It is therefore not surprising that the relationship that led to the conception of my first daughter was literally born out of my experience in a women’s consciousness-raising group. This involvement followed on the heels of my extreme political actions in the civil rights movement. I literally had to disappear for a while after that, and that is when I joined a women’s collective and met the man who would become the father of my first daughter.
Despite how much I wanted to value myself and how the women’s group I was in was designed to foster that, I struggled constantly in that group to feel worthy. The group I joined was populated by the wives of well-known left wing political leaders. Everything we did was scrutinized through the lens of women’s consciousness-raising, and I consistently found myself lacking. I was not feminist enough, conscious enough or helpful enough.
It was when I was moving into the ground floor apartment of one of these women that I met the father of my first child. It is agonizing to recall how much I was filled with self-rejection then. I thought I was ugly, fat, stupid, and that no one would ever want me for myself. I keep tryng to win worth, and never quite made it. So when this man, who was a friend of my landlord, behaved as if he found me attractive, I lost my burgeoning spirit of independence. It was not a matter of whether I was attracted to him or not. It was solely because he was drawn to me that I was drawn to him.
The mark of sexual abuse and domestic violence is like a tattoo or branding that cannot be erased. While balms and salves soften and lessen the marks, they never go away. This made my choices to enter this relationship, and ultimately to conceive, deliver at home, write about the process, and become a public figure through my home birth choice, acts that were attempts at healing. I was always attempting to heal. Everything was about that.
After my daughter was born and the book about her homebirth published, I became known as an advocate for natural childbirth, childbirth at home, nursing one’s children for as long as possible, and co-sleeping. I loved and celebrated my choices. My family of origin reviled me, and my partner was gradually fading into the distance as my motherhood and newfound recognition supplanted our relationship. Thus I was launched on a complex, winding path of motherhood, relationship, activism, writing, healing, and personal transparency. It is a path I am still on.
Sense of Self: The Key Ingredient in the Maturation That Leads to Crone Wisdom
This entire convoluted journey would have been eased for me from the beginning if I had a solid, rooted sense of self and confidence in my own intelligence and creativity. That is what I want to impart to my readers here and in forthcoming essays. Prioritizing selfhood as soon as possible clears the way for joy, evolution, and authentic leadership. Erase the conflict between your passions through selfhood: this is what I, on the cusp of my 80’s, still aim for.
With a rooted sense of self, you will appreciate your multiple expressions rather than feel fragmented and torn by them. How others regard you, even your own family members, will become irrelevant.
Appreciation for your individuality, your courage, and, despite external conditions, joy at being able to make your own choices, is what I want to offer my younger sisters right now. Let your creativity flow, knowing that the more you celebrate your own inner diversity, the more your children will flourish with you, in their own ways, and on their own paths. Motherhood is, ultimately, about letting go. That, I would say, is its core teaching. As we let go into ourselves and honor our chldren in the process, we make way for our destinies to unfold.
I always celebrated my children and made time for them. My activism and creativity included them. They were never sacrificed for it. I made sure of that, and you will also. Your love for your children and your love for humanity and the planet are one and the same love. Trust that. Know that. Live that from within, and no matter what happens, you will be vital, resilient and joyful. This is what I want for you. This is what Meridel modeled for me. I come closer and closer to this with every year of my life. I write all this, to protect you, to generate a shield of awareness for you, my precious readers, from discursive, distracting, and meaningless projections that undermine selfhood and personal truth.
Stay centered. Stay strong. Find the resources to regenerate. I have designed, developed, and cultivated such resources. They have kept me afloat. I will happily share them with you in forthcoming posts. But the central message is this: Claim your selfhood. Honor your alignment with your truth. Respect yourself. Above all else: Self-respect.