01.02.2004

Big Love

The first glow of parenthood is only the start ofone of life's greatest journeys into a love like noother. Pip Brennan, president of Mother Nurture, examinesher own experience as a mother and the paradoxes ithas raised for her.

"I watch my friend Adrienne who soars as a mother.She is more open, allowing and full of love than before.She turned to me in the delivery room after giving birthand said, 'Susan, this is Big Love'". Sark - SucculentWild Women

There is nothing quite like becoming a parent to helpyou put romantic love into its correct perspective.The deepness, the richness, the fierceness of that loveseems to overwhelm you from the moment of your child'sappearance and makes sexual love pale into irrelevance.Parenting has been my life's great achievement to date,has pushed me into a more real, more authentic relationshipwith life and all my loved ones. It is three years sincemy amazing and unspeakably precious daughter was born.My love journey as a mother has shown me some of theparadoxes this cataclysmic parenting experience offers.I share them in the spirit of one traveller to another,offering my own unique view, my scratchy mud map whichmay or may not be of use.

When we encounter a paradox, we know we have gottenbeneath the surface of the subject and are beginningto approach one of the many mysteries that lie at theheart of being human" Harville Hendrix - Giving theLove that Heals

It is impossible to prepare for parenthood. It isessential to try Parenthood is often described as oneof the last main rites of passage that we Westernersencounter, but many of us are painfully unprepared forit. For many people the main way to find out about parentingis to dip into the overwhelming number of books on thesubject. Out of the mountain of information I read beforemy daughter's birth, I brought away a mental image ofa line. At one end was the parent's needs. Here I envisionedcots, bottles, prams and strict schedules. At the otherend was the child's needs. Here I envisioned slings,family beds and demand breastfeeding for anything upto and beyond five years.

This is a gross oversimplification of the complexityof parenting and each family will find their own uniqueblend of approach and equipment. Part of the journeyis to find our place on that continuum between the child's'animalistic' needs and our more 'civilized' ones. Ieventually discovered there was no book that could tellme where to walk on that line. But here are some questionsI could have asked myself to make my own path more intelligibleand consciously chosen:

I feel that leaving a child to cry is unacceptable.How then will I manage the reality of having to settlemy child to sleep for several years? How will I dealwith my envy of a friend whose child falls asleep aloneand so has more freedom and quality of life than me?What support structure will I have in place for crisistimes, given that many of my family members feel I havemade choices which make my life unnecessarily difficult?What strategies will I have in place to deal with theanger that may erupt when I am overwhelmed with theresponsibility of parenting?

Parenthood calls for the paradox of our animal/humannature to be resolved Babies don't arrive with any kindof notion of how to behave in a socially acceptablemanner. They are relentless and ever changing. Theyare positively animalistic, programmed for 24 hour nurtureand care, with only their piercing wail to protect them.We, on the other hand, are culturally conditioned toexpect an interesting occupation and a social life.Many of us may have had nothing to do with childrenbefore the arrival of our own, having enjoyed the orderly,enjoyable existence of doing pretty much what we pleasedin a childless world. All this is put under threat withthe arrival of a child, at least for the first few years.It is up to us as adults to at least ponder these conflictingneeds of parent and child, to ask ourselves some questionswhich will help us uncover our own approach to parenting.

Parenthood taps into deep love, and deep anger. Itis so unlike the romantic idealised notion of motherlove This potential conflict of needs between parentand child takes us to some very dark places. What happenswhen basic survival needs, such as sleep, are not met?What will come out when you are pushed to the extremethrough tiredness, stress and that piercing wail? Whatkind of monster will emerge when your social plans arethwarted again? When career opportunities pass you by?The relentless nature of parenting scrapes you rightback to the core, and your self fights back, for survival.That anger can be an important sign of imbalance, whenyou need to re-examine how your family is working andwhat needs to change to create more harmony.

Paradox of needs - to meet your child's needs youmust first meet your own Why does this tension betweenparents' and children's needs exist in the first place?I believe it is because of the environment we currentlyraise our children in, which is lacking in both communityand family support. So much pressure is put on the nuclearor single parent family that some kind of nurture forthe parent becomes absolutely essential. Without itthe parent cannot have the strength to be consciousand grounded in the face of the intensity of caringfor small children. Without nurture for the nurturer,everyone suffers. But this is hard to put into practiceas a parent. How can you afford extra 'treats' at atime of low income? And who will look after the children?

We need Big Love from the community to help us - yetwe may never feel so alone as when we are parentingyoung children

My bones ached and I was drained from meeting thedemands of my baby. I didn't have the money for counsellingor a massage. What I needed was a place to go, wheremy baby was welcomed and happy, where I could getsome nurturing and a caring mum could play with andlook after my baby. I investigated thoroughly - surelysomewhere like this existed? It did not.
Freya Dent - Founder Mother Nurture

Mother Nurture is an innovative not-for-profit communityservice featuring a massage clinic plus crèche. Herethe unlikely blend of bodywork and child care come togetherto resolve some of these parenting dilemmas. Parentsof children under six, both fathers and mothers, canput themselves first, as they enjoy some much needednurturing while children are looked after by volunteer'aunties' (and 'uncles'). The project has been runningtwo years, and there is no chance of ever meeting theneed. If you run a natural therapies clinic, you mightconsider putting on a crèche one morning a week. Youwould be surprised at the response! Two years sinceits inception in Doubleview/Scarborough, the projectis expanding to Fremantle environs - Coolbellup to beexact. Another clinic is planned for the Hills sometimein 2002, depending on how many bodyworkers can be found.As it is voluntary, the bodyworkers only receive a nominalsum to cover petrol costs. But, because of the hugenumber of clients on the books, referrals for privatetreatments are encouraged.

In addition, there are quarterly get-togethers forthe bodyworkers to network and encourage each otheron the long road to self-sufficiency. If you want tobecome involved, either as a bodyworker or a parenthelping the service expand to reach out to more parents,call Mother Nurture. In fact, there are many supportservices for parents. Be it pregnancy, breastfeeding,sleeping, socialising or self development, the listof services for parents is mind-bogglingly long!

The irony of it all is that all these desperatelyneeded support services can be very hard to find. Theyfall into two main camps, the funded Health Department/Community Family & Children's Services variety and moregrass roots community initiatives like Mother Nurture.For the punter looking for help in a crisis, it canseem very irrelevant who is the service provider. Youjust need to know where to go. What seems to be lackingis a central information point where parents can findthe support they need. All this may change with theforthcoming website "Australian Mother and Baby Centre"which aims to draw together all these resources intoone place. I look forward to having such a great workingtool to help parents on their journeys.

However clumsily, the community does have an urgeto return some of that Big Love to the parents out therewho are dedicated to raising their children in the verybest way they can. That is, every single parent I haveever met.

You can contact Mother Nurtureon 9331 6772

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