Centuries ago we learned that lack of vitamin C causes scurvy and now getting enough of this vitamin is known to be a necessity for good health. For good mental health, a nurturing mother figure (“vitamin M”, if you will) is just as important.
The Emotionally Absent Mother
By J.L. Cori, 2010. ISBN 9781615190287. Experiment. 244 pages.
If you wanted to parody therapists, you could do worse than to quote us as saying “Everything wrong with you is your mother’s fault!” Behind the absurdity is a truth that who we become as adults is profoundly shaped by the nurturing we get or fail to get from our mothers. In her book The Emotionally Absent Mother, Jasmine Lee Cori not only demonstrates the importance of “Vitamin M” but also defines what good-enough mothering is with both depth and clarity.
The Emotionally Absent Mother has three principle audiences. First, it is for adults who may suspect a link between current emotional difficulties and their relationships with their mothers. Second, it serves as a resource for conscious mothers who want to raise their children in a healthy psychological environment and learn essential mothering skills that are neither instinctive nor universally known. Third, as a therapist, I found the book valuable as a concise overview of mothering and its effects on adult emotional health. Even though my approach is not primarily psychodynamic, I am reminded to give more attention to the role of parenting in my clients’ lives.
Right up front, Cori lays out what she believes to be the blueprint for “good enough” mothering. Central to her view are ten statements or viewpoints describing how good mothers regard their children. They include statements like “I’m glad you’re here,” and “you can rest in me.” Beneath these deceptively simple statements are the emotional foundations necessary for a child to build a secure foundation for their emotions and self-image. A child who didn’t receive the “I’m glad you’re here” message may have great difficulty building positive self-esteem, and a child lacking the “you can rest in me” message may never feel fully at home anywhere, even long after they have left their parents’ home.
Don’t let the title fool you: The Emotionally Absent Mother is not about mother-bashing. Cori acknowledges many reasons that cause women to be thrust into the role of parents long before they are ready or willing to take up the responsibilities of motherhood. She makes it clear that psychological health does not require ideal or perfect parenting, only “good enough” parenting. Indeed, as children grow, being less responsive to their needs allows the space for children to exercise their own strengths and abilities.
A study of psychodynamic therapy (especially in its more traditional forms) can leave one with a sense of despair: that what we failed to get from our parents marks us forever and we must soldier on as best we can, armed with the knowledge of what happened in our family of origin and how it wounded us. Thankfully, Cori paints a happier picture. While acknowledging the wounds of inadequate parenting, she provides exercises and strategies that go beyond understanding and propose to heal decades-old wounds, at least partially. The Emotionally Absent Mother is first and foremost a self-help book, and as such it guides the reader to reexamine their childhood and offers self-help remedies for specific deficiencies. The book also opens doors to family-of-origin work with a qualified therapist. Cori provides a hefty catalog of self-help exercises for healing childhood wounds. Cori explores a wide spectrum of activities including journaling, guided meditation and visualization, and even spiritual approaches to mothering.
Weighing in at 244 soft-bound pages, readers might be surprised by the density of the material presented in this thin volume. The Emotionally Absent Mother is no beach read. It demands far more of the reader than many more popular self-help titles. However the content is well organized, and I was able to read chapters out of order without confusion. For adults, parents, and therapists who want a detailed overview of the mother-child relationship and tools for healing the wounds of childhood, The Emotionally Absent Mother is a worthy resource.
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