Last week I was fortunate to attend a writing / book event in Melbourne. Margaret Drabble appeared in person at the ‘Wheelers Centre’. I guess the tour was part of a promotion for her newest book called ‘The Pure Gold Baby’ released last year. Margaret Drabble has for years written a steady stream of fiction, non-fiction and short stories. In her many novels and books she explores issues of life, motherhood, place and relationships. Now a Dame, the grand woman of literature exudes intelligent, generosity, calmness and above all inspiration. Sensibly dressed and serene, she is I suspect, not someone who can be easily swayed or talked into a particular point of view. Her perfect English accent demands respect but holds a warmth that very few accomplished writers are able to manage.
The Pure Gold Baby’ deals with issues of motherhood and in Margaret’s own words (taken from an ABC Melbourne interview recently) ‘motherhood in the most difficult of circumstances, being a single mother in the sixties and having a child with special needs’. The book deals with the situation of an educated single mother who has a daughter to her university professor. The child is delightful but has limited educational opportunities due to disability. She will require mothering forever.
It’s tough to know that your child will require care and support for the entirety of his/her life. We often say that we worry about our adult children forever but there is a big difference between normal concern for well and independent children compared with children who have different and very special needs. I can’t quite imagine how it must be to know that one day, as a parent, you may not be around to ensure the appropriate care for your adult child. Margaret Drabble’s book raised these very real issues. What is it like to see other children grow and develop into independent adults and yet your own very child is forever dependant?
The book, in my view has a strong confronting theme about the role of mothers. Mothering is a condition that can be discussed in many ways. It is a topic that everyone has a view about and often vastly differing views. Motherhood is a state of being that one is never quite prepared for, and I suspect it is the adjustment and acceptance of the role, often under less than perfect circumstances, that makes all the difference.
Mothering is a mixed bag. It can depend a heap on how we were mothered ourselves as to how we mother our own offspring. Education (all types) helps, the broader exposure to different perspectives and ideas can be a distinct advantage, although not always. Without new information we fall back to what we know and for many of us it’s the way our own mothers mothered. All fine if conditions were good, parenting styles were satisfactory and the family was secure and functional. If these components or parts of them were not present our map for future parenting of our own children may well be flawed. And yet, when one becomes a mother there is a severe expectation that automatically all women are prepared. Because, after all motherhood is akin to sainthood, isn’t it?
There is no doubt that men feel and experience a great deal of pressure regarding fatherhood, a role that has changed significantly over the last few decades. (I’m getting nervous now, I can feel the quick sand beneath my feet deepen with each word that I write). Although an increasing number of men are primary caregivers and stay at home dads, the majority of primary caregivers and sole parents are still women. So, the motherhood dance continues to expect women to know the steps and to dance well. And if we get out of step or our children falter there seems to be a mass of mother judge’s out their waiting and ready to call the tune.
So, back to the theme of the book about the single Mum and her beautiful but special needs child. How does a mother (and father) cope when having to factor in all the different requirements and needs of a child who will be forever young of heart? How does a mother view her role when all around her she witnesses other mothers moving on (and sometimes struggling) with normal developmental stages of parenting? Does she see others who are able to leave behind some of the constant responsibility of being the main carer and wonder what that would be like? Yes, it must be a difficult course to chart. It appears that the expectations of motherhood are multiplied when a child with a disability is part of the family. Margaret Drabble in her wisdom allows these issues to be explored with honestly.