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PeaceTimes Edition 93. Mothering Multitudes — Starting from Home Base

17 May 2009 No Comment

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- by Mary Liston Liepold

My daughter came from Korea at the age of 20 months with two conflicting agendas, bonding and separation. For most of the next year she alternated between wanting to be cuddled and carried like an infant―generally when I had my hands full with a load of groceries and her two older brothers―and wanting to assert her absolute independence―generally, it seemed, in the middle of Connecticut Avenue at rush hour. Her temper tantrums were epic, heroic, and when one wound down she was as refreshed as if she’d just had a two-hour nap. I learned more from her than from all her brothers put together.

I became a peace activist while raising our family and running a small family childcare center because the kids taught me that force is counter-productive. Once I ruled out punishment I had only two ways to win their cooperation: changing the environment, and changing myself.

One Saturday when all the kids were grown I signed up for nonviolence training to prepare for a civil disobedience action the next day. The professionals from the American Friends Service Committee were putting us through our paces.

“Breathe.” “Plant your feet apart, take a strong stand, and find your center of gravity.” “Hold your ground, without advancing or retreating.” Something about the whole thing struck me funny, and I laughed out loud when I finally knew what it was. I had taught myself all those same techniques decades earlier, while my dainty diva was finding her own center of gravity.

Women are probably not essentially peaceful. I have no interest in trying to dissect our common essence, whatever that may be, from the experience we share as women around the world. The fact is that our planet is careening out of balance and tilts tragically toward war, while the half of the human race that knows different answers is seldom consulted. Many of us discovered those answers in our role as mothers and nurturers.

Pat Morris

Pat Morris

Now our challenge is taking them to scale: engaging women’s wisdom to put the planet back in balance. So in this month when the world honors mothers, I asked some of the peacebuilders I honor most what they learned about peace from mothering their children. I started with past Peace X Peace Executive Director Dr. Pat Morris. I met her handsome, accomplished son Raymond when he helped us re-arrange our DC offices to accommodate new staff a few months ago.

“What I have learned from being a mother that directly feeds my work is how to love people who are really different from me, with different perspectives, personalities, and tastes,” Pat told me.

“Motherhood is definitely the world’s largest model of loving and caring for other human beings. You might think my son is a lot like me, and we do have much in common, but we are also different in many ways. And I also raised my brother Kevin for several years when he was a teenager. He had already taken on a set of traditional, stereotypical roles, perspectives, and opinions that ran counter to my own views as a woman’s rights activist. I learned to be tolerant with different perspectives. And I guess Kevin learned something too, because pretty soon he was doing the cooking. I was going broke buying groceries for two growing boys, but I came home to good food every evening, so I was a happy woman!

“That’s not what I raised you to believe. We’re supposed to be pacifists!”

When Raymond was in junior high, he was at an arcade with some friends and he was interviewed for an Atlanta newspaper about a new video game. It was real blood and guts stuff, and he told them, on the record, that he thought it was pretty cool.

My first thought was, “How can you say that? That’s not what I raised you to believe. We’re supposed to be pacifists!” And Raymond couldn’t understand why I was upset. ‘Mom, it’s just a game!’

Being a mother taught me how to accept the differences and has sustained this path I travel, where I welcome rather than shun the other.

Parenting is like being a mediator. And it’s part of the core strategy of Peace X Peace. We accompany two people and help them to hear each other. The messages are the same ones we give our children: Listen to your brother or sister; try to see it from their perspective.

As parents, we want tomorrow’s world to be a place where people are supported, not bombarded with obstacles. We bring that desire and those approaches into the workplace and infuse them into our work.”

Mary Mwale

Mary Mwale

Peace X Peace member and active volunteer Mary Mwale grew up in the church in Zambia, leading meetings and taking on adult responsibility while she was still a young girl. Later, having reached the painful decision that she was better off without her husband than with him, she built a business while raising five children on her own. Mary’s goodness and strength disarmed the prevailing disapproval of independent women. She was tapped to take larger and larger roles in church women’s organizations, eventually coming to head the major nationwide women’s organization.

Mary posted this message on the Peace X Peace Mom X Mom virtual event page in Facebook earlier this month.

“Our hearts are so big that they can accommodate the whole world.”

“I have learned that as mothers, as women, our love is endless. Our hearts are so big that they can accommodate the whole world. When I had my first child I was so scared to have a second one, cos I thought my love was all used up on the first, even if I really wanted a second child. When I had my second daughter I was so surprised that I felt so much love and did not love my first daughter any less. Boy, was I even more surprised when I had my twin boys to find I still had so much love! And so I realized our love is endless. Long live womenhood, long live motherhood.”

Dr. Haleh Esfandieri

Dr. Haleh Esfandieri

Dr. Haleh Esfandiari was a journalist in Iran, a noted academic, and the former Deputy Secretary General of the Women’s Organization of Iran. She currently directs the Middle East Program at the Wilson Center in Washington, DC. Like Roxane Saberi, the recently freed journalist whose cause she actively espoused, she is an Iranian American. And like Saberi, she was imprisoned. She was charged with fomenting a ‘soft revolution’ to overthrow the regime. In December 2006, while leaving Iran after a visit with her 93-year-old mother, she was put under country arrest of which 105 days were spent in solitary confinement before diplomatic pressure secured her release. Dr. Esfandiari has a daughter and two grand-daughters. Her mothering lessons echo Mary Mwale’s and Pat Morris’ too:

“You learn that you can love without any limits. You learn to manage and ration your time. You learn to juggle your outside work and your work inside the home. You learn to be tolerant, listen and be patient.

I learned to become a good listener from my daughter; I learned discipline and good management; I learned tolerance: for their foibles and for others who were struggling with their schedules and dealing with problems more difficult than mine.”

Pax Christi USA, the US branch of the international Catholic peace movement, chose MJ Park and her husband Jerry as Peacemakers of the Year in 2008 for their 25 years of dedicated peace education. MJ says:

MJ Park and husband Jerry

MJ Park and husband Jerry

“Giving birth to our five biological children and birthing our adopted son at the airport when he came from Korea has moved me into a mindset of CARE and LOVE and PEACE. Each child, no matter who or where, has basic rights, as spelled out in the United Nations Declaration of Human Rights. Being a mom brought those feelings and needs of children―of all people, young and old―to be on my mind all the time.

Raising Jonathan has taught me a lot about peace and justice. I remember when he was in 8th grade and he came home with detention because of getting in a fight. I was ready to explode, but I took some deep breaths and listened. I found out Jonathan was upset because the kids were calling him names and laughing when they found out his Dad was a nurse. They thought only women could be caregivers, so we had a great discussion about gender and justice.

“I was ready to explode, but I took some deep breaths and listened.”

What does a Mom want for her child but to be loved, fed, sheltered, safe, and happy? Then we have peace and justice. When I see hunger, hatred, torture, homelessness, it breaks my peace. I have felt all this in a heightened, more urgent way since I became a mom. My heart aches, my brain keeps working for ways to help, to be part of the change and turn the peacebreaking into peacemaking. People will not be at peace unless their needs are taken care of. As a mom I have been empowered and called to take care of my children’s needs and also the world’s need.”

Gita Hazani, an Israeli who directs the Mosaica Center for Inter-Religious Cooperation, told Patricia Smith Melton that “every one of us who brings children to the world owes them . . . has a moral duty to improve the world.”

The artist Huong

The artist Huong

Show me a mother who feels that obligation to improve the world, and I’ll show you a mother who spends at least some of her time feeling guilty. The artist Huong fled Vietnam with a baby and one shoe in 1975. As a refugee, she considers herself a citizen of the Fourth World, the people without a place. Now she devotes herself to ending war and creating images of war and peace, so others—especially children—can see both and choose for themselves.

“There are many interior conflicts personally for me to balance myself being a mother, artist, and activist. Perhaps I have failed in my domestic chores and role of ideal mother by not putting my dream, my goal underneath the motherhood. So I guiltily self-question: ‘What am I good for?’

“It was the mother’s instinct and my son crying and my love which gave me the strength to survive.”

But at the end of the day, facing the nation ‘s worst depression in its history, when I look at the face of the new generation, at their reality and their future struggle, I see my son’s face among them, and this infuses me with strength to work harder, to engage them toward their awareness and involvement in society. Or daily, when I read the tragedy of the Fourth World and the horror happening to the war refugee victims, it reminds me of the harrowing road we walked through, and how blindly. At that time I did not realize that it was the mother’s instinct and my son crying and my love which gave me the strength to survive.”

Macrohistorian Riane Eisler, a member of the Peace X Peace Advisory Board, is the author of five major books, including the classic The Chalice and the Blade and The Real Wealth of Nations. We spoke shortly before Mothers Day.

Riane Eisler

Riane Eisler

“I have learned—and am still learning—many things from mothering. Gratitude for the joy my children and grandchildren bring me, humility from the mistakes I’ve made, and perhaps above all a passion for helping bring about positive change through my work, so the world they inherit is a better place.

What I’m learning right now from my grandchildren is how limitless human capacity is when it is encouraged, and human curiosity unless it is stamped out. We had dinner with our eight-year-old grandson the other day, and my husband David, who knows an enormous amount of Shakespeare, started reciting Hamlet’s “To be or not to be” soliloquy. A few minutes later, the child was reciting it along with him.

Children have more capacity than we generally give them credit for. This one knows every bird there is. Having him close by, seeing his enthusiasm for everything from birds to the Bard, is always exciting. Part of my work at the Center for Partnership Studies is to see that we create a world where all children can realize their tremendous human potential.”

WAND and Syracuse Cultural Workers distribute a Lance Hidy poster with a slogan that has stuck in my head for 25 years: “Children ask the world of us.” The scale of the responsibility could make a strong woman weep. Margaret Wolff, an advocate for peace and serenity who conducts women’s retreats and the author of In Sweet Company, shares a necessary caution in the May issue of her newsletter by the same name:

“These days, when I think about raising the consciousness of our nation, I think not only about glass ceilings and the necessity to support activities like the Department for Peace (www.thepeacealliance.org) and the UN Commission on the Status of Women (www.5wcw.org/get_involved.html), but that women make the commitment to actually, daily, lift our own minds and hearts above the fray; that we mother ourselves. I say this now and say it often because it is so easy and natural for women in times of crisis and change to spend our energy helping others, helping others to the point that we become emotionally and energetically bankrupt.”

Michigan (USA) member Mares Hirchert is passionate about inter-religious, international understanding, and she expresses it joyfully through Pinwheels for Peace and the Rebuilding Alliance. Mares also reminds us to be gentle with ourselves.

Mares Hirchert

Mares Hirchert

“Moms are human beings, capable of sadness, resentment, disappointment, and anger, and moms need to be cared about and listened to and honored with all their imperfections. Maybe the best way to honor mother and the mom-like people in one’s life . . . is to know and love and care about her with her imperfections. Moms do this every day when raising their own imperfect children and when dealing with other imperfect children in the world.

Why not give the ideal mom a break and embrace the real mom? That is the gift I believe every mom would cherish. The more I think about it, I imagine it is the gift every human being would cherish. Relate to the real person, not the facade.”

“Why not give the ideal mom a break and embrace the real mom?”

“Why not give the ideal mom a break and embrace the real mom?”

Welcome the stranger. Love without limits. Take on the world . . . but be patient with yourself as well as others. These seem to be the key messages in this informal survey of moms around the world.

Patience . . . That word again! During the family day care years, I got truly tired of people telling me how patient I was. It seemed like a stolid, bovine attribute, especially as conferred by the brisk career women who came to reclaim their children at half past six. Now, older and a bit less patient, loving this world and deploring the mess men have made of it, I come down on the side of the German theologian Dorothee Soelle, who practiced and advocated revolutionary patience.

Yes, that’s a paradox. So one more thing is clear: We can’t do it alone.

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About the Author

Mary Liepold is the Editor-in-Chief at Peace X Peace. To reach Dr. Liepold, email maryl@peacexpeace.org.
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