To mother a child or to parent a child—you might not think there is a great difference between the two statements. But according to psychotherapist Naomi Stadlen (via The Guardian), the author of the new book, How Mothers Love and How Relationships Are Born, mothering and parenting each reflect differing approaches to childrearing.
Guardian writer Annalisa Barbieri recently spoke to Stadlen (read the full piece here) and asked the mother and grandmother to discuss her view on what’s missing from modern discussions of childrearing.
What Stadlen says offers food for thought.
For the psychotherapist, who runs mothering classes and counsels women in addition to her writing, mothering is essentially a synonym for love and intimacy.
Said Stadlen: “Intimacy is crucial for a person to realize his or her potential to the maximum. It enables a person to reach genuine original, loving and creative energy. But intimacy can feel very risky if one has been hurt by early experience of it as a child. Mothers do not seem to recognize their importance in being able to introduce or inhibit this whole dimension for their child.”
This doesn’t mean mothers have to be perfect creatures—they just need to recognize their power. Part of that power is compensating for slip-ups (loss of temper, impatience, anger) with good old-fashioned love.
“I think that with mothering you can always put things right, make things better, right until the last minute. Children are much more generous than parents seem to think,” Stadlen is quoted as saying.
In contrast to mothering, which follows an emotional, less prescriptive pattern, parenting embodies a different ideal. It’s associated less with affection and intimacy and more with structure and discipline. In a way, parenting is kind of like a management style applied to the personal realm.
Mothering is distinct to the individual and also relies on anecdotes from other mothers to evolve; parenting, however, is fuelled by academics and popular childcare experts that view relationships in more concrete terms. Stadlen suggests women take mothering back, choosing to trust their instincts over advice from self-styled experts, or at the very least bring their own critical thinking to bear on it.
Advised Stadlen: “For too long, mothers have let other people dominate the way motherhood is framed and seen and now, for the first time, there is a much bigger generation of mothers who are educated to question all these things that have been said about them. But they don’t. You have these people say to you, ‘I’d rather be nice to my baby than not, but the books tell me I’m not a firm enough mother.'”