When I first read Of Woman Born: Motherhood as Institution and Experience (1976) by an American poet and essayist Adrienne Rich (1929-2012) I, for the first time, found out there is a way to give a form to my experience that I thought was so overwhelming that however I talk about it would not do justice to what I was going through. Here is how Adrienne writes it:
Entry from my journal, November 1960 My children cause the most exquisite suffering of high I have any experience. It is the suffering of ambivalence: the murderous alternation between bitter resentment and raw-edged nerves, and blissful gratification and tenderness.
Until recently there has not been much “room”( I am coming back to this term) for mothers to speak negatively of their feelings toward their child or about just being a mother because in the Western society the image of a mother is someone whose love towards her child is bottomless and gentle. In Korean culture a mother’s sacrifice is sentimentally praised. In both cultures a mother who does not like her job is a bad woman.
Going back to the last paragraph, when I said that there was not much “room” to talk about mother’s true feelings, what I meant was a space of discourse or individual expression in a public domain. When five moms get together and have a venting session on how miserable they feel about their own lives due to their husbands and children, it is assumed that the content of what was said should not get out of the room—one’s kitchen, café, sports center, or a playground. But when they make a public announcement that they will talk about such matters together in those same spaces or create a blog or a webpage where they are writing about their dissatisfactions for any stranger to read, they are making a room for dissent, in another sense of the word.
In the recent decade, it seems this room for mother’s perspective is getting larger and larger. In visual and literature, the two domains I know the best, I find out about at least one or more new productions—art exhibitions, journal articles, novels, memoirs, social initiatives and conferences around various topics related to motherhood—weekly. It is as if something boiling underneath has erupted. Barbara Almond, psychotherapist and psychoanalyst explores mothers’ grim emotions towards their children and work as a care-taker and how these emotions are manifested in the relationship with their children (The Monster Within: The Hidden Side of Motherhood). Leïla Slimani, a Fraco-Moroccan writer and journalist writes mother’s greatest fear—nanny’s murdering of children in Chanson Douce, which was awarded Prix Goncourt in 2016.
I ask myself why am I trying to write about my conflicted emotions about being a mother and artist at this time and space. I am interested in frustrated and disappointed mothers (because I am one of them) and what they do with the power they have over their children. The one word that has been haunting me is power. Everything might be about power. Perhaps.
I am aware that being an artist is a privileged position from which I can reflect on the questions that many mothers are grappling with but do not have immediate time to write about them or even think about them. We are living in a society where time and money have almost the same meaning. Mothers are always negotiating paid job, unpaid family work, time with children, self-care, and other engagements with the societies they belong. I feel myself there is not enough of me to go around. Still because I have a partner who is working on a paid job that gives enough money for our family’s living expenses and because I have received art education, I am able to think about how power is related to my frustration with my children through my writing and art work.