A very wise friend recommended that I start a Mother Book: a safe space to vent all my thoughts about mothers. Even, especially the not so pretty, not so generous thoughts now have their safe place, their private page in this journal. This is a relief. I am the writer of this book as well as the only reader of this book.
My book starts with the following words:
“I have a mother and
I am a mother”
My own mother’s favourite quote about motherhood is: “God couldn’t be everywhere – that is why He made mothers!”
We live in a polarised world of putting mothers on a pedestal, yet also blaming mothers for many of the ills in our society. Fathers, too get their share of criticism and blame, but generally absent fathers more than the ones that stay around. From personal experience, I know that fathers who stay around without being mentally present or healthy can do more damage than fathers who do a runner from the rigours of parenting. It is not a clear-cut thing, good or bad.
My own mother had a very abusive mother who shape shifted into a wonderful and committed grandmother for me, and my brothers much later in life. She could “do grand-parenting”, which was less intense, and with no 24/7 responsibility, but she couldn’t do parenting. She ended up ‘banishing’ my mother to a boarding school ran by nuns where yet more abuse was meted out. For the periods my mother was at home, or lived at home, she became her own mother’s day-and-night caretaker, catering for her every need, demand, and whim. In adult life, this pattern continued.
My mother had enough sense of self-preservation not to agree to grandma moving in with our family of five. However, she was always jumping in the car because the phone had rung with another emergency, or demand from grandma. Even as a young child, I knew something was seriously wrong with that dynamic, and serial drama. It would take me decades to truly understand what, or why, and that my mother could actually have made different choices.
As is often the way with abused people who are not offered therapy, and who do not commit to a healing journey, my mother married a man who too had been severely abused. I now realise that my father was mentally ill. He suffered from life-long depression, and many phobias. When things didn’t go his way, he resorted to brutal physical violence, as that was how frustration, and anger were expressed in his family of origin. You beat or kick something, or someone, into submission.
The scene was set. I too became the caretaker of my parents almost from birth. Friend, and confidante for my mother, and boxing ball for my Dad. This pattern also affects my younger brother, who is the middle child. Until today, he lives the Rescuer/Saviour Archetype. Our youngest brother, the family baby, and my Dad’s favourite child, got off more lightly, physically and mentally buffered by two older siblings.
I have mixed feelings about sharing all this. It is “old family history” and there are so many accounts of dreadful childhoods out there, published or shared informally over tea, or shared in therapeutic sessions behind closed doors. For long periods in my life, I actively chose not to share this material, other than with a few very close friends. What purpose does it serve?
Shamanism teaches that what we focus on, as in feed our attention, grows…
As a shamanic teacher with a large number of students, shouldn’t I be “over this” now? For long stretches I truly believe that I am! Talking about it fills me with distaste. Today, I accept that on the level of soul I chose this childhood and my parents because I was in training from birth to be of service. To relieve suffering through healing, and unlocking creativity by helping people find their bliss, their power, and inner strength, their healthy Divine core. This is my profession today, and my childhood prepared me for this.
Then again, everyday reality is multi-dimensional beyond human comprehension. There is undoubtedly a karmic component to this as well. When we fall pregnant, we don’t normally think of someone arriving, in our own body, with whom we had major issues in previous lifetimes. Yet, I observe this pattern all the time in healing sessions. The sheer number of people I work with has become a great teacher in its own right.
We nourish budding life from Day One. We stop drinking alcohol. We take vitamin supplements. We vow to give this baby, this vulnerable human child, the perfect circumstances for thriving, the unconditional love we didn’t receive ourselves, the things we yearned for, and freedom from abuse, and addictions. We want all this for our babies, and MORE! Yet, our babies grow up in an imperfect world, and during the twenty years or so this process takes, many unexpected things happen in our own lives.
One of the hardest things is admitting, one sad day, that we, too are imperfect parents. We try to iron out the worst creases. We love our children more ferociously and, more unconditionally than anyone else in our lives, but all we can hope to be is “good enough”. Even good enough parents often produce children with serious disabilities, mental health issues and other challenges. There is an invisible “karmic match-making in process”. Children often end up carrying issues that linger unresolved in the ancestral family field, not to mention unresolved issues from their own previous lives, and so forth.
Thanks to my own childhood I became, among other things, an ancestral healing specialist, and I have been able to do life-changing work with others. I must acknowledge this here, or else this article will feel like a complaint, and accusation, and it isn’t meant to be.
Thanks to my own childhood, I developed my own Shamanic way of parenting, and teaching that I shared in my first book, Natural Born Shamans: A Spiritual Toolkit for Life. People tell me that reading it has enhanced their family life greatly, and comforted them in difficult periods.
For long stretches, I can feel deep gratitude for my childhood as it propelled me to grow, and learn what healing, and mental health is. My understanding of this continues to evolve. There is no end-destination, only a journey through astounding landscapes inhabited by ancestors, soul friends, students, dreams, and revelations. Those landscapes, or soul scapes appear in my paintings. Today I have a rock solid spiritual family, a chosen family of kindred spirits who I love and value dearly. They see, and accept me for the person I am forever becoming, living my talents and realising my Divine potential. Not the wounded person I was decades ago.
For me, the hardest thing is not actually processing childhood memories. I spent years of my life doing that. No, it is staying in relationships with members of my family of origin without losing “the person I have become”, and achieving that difficult mix of acting from a place of love, and healthy boundaries.
I left my country of birth at age 23. I have not lived there since, and cannot possibly imagine living there again. I married a “foreigner”. His country and his culture have always felt like home to me in a way my own country does not. I prefer his language to my own native tongue. Living in a third country, I have ended up being trilingual, equally fluent in three languages. Just this has broadened my horizons hugely. What a gift and joy!
Around my 46th birthday, I started having dreams about my country of birth. In one dream, I was trying to swim across a canal to visit the place where my mother lives today. It was not possible. The current was too strong. An invisible hand held me back. I was told that I could not return. I realised that this canal represented the dividing line. At that point, I had lived abroad for longer than I lived in my country of birth. And yes, it has been a road of no return.
The obligation to visit remains, and I often find it extremely difficult. My brothers have stayed local. They are not into spiritual paths, or “woowoo” type things like healing. What I do for a living is a mystery to them. Actually, that is an overstatement. It doesn’t really exist for them. It seems like make-believe to them. My choices are incomprehensible to them, and the guiding principles obscure. They think I am difficult, genetically challenged, selfish, and too emotional. Mostly, this is because I name, and address the family shadows and skeletons, the things they prefer to ignore. Also, because I do not believe in always giving my mother what she wants, which is unlimited access to me, and long frequent visits. Most of all, she wants closeness without boundaries.
I DO respect my mother’s choices. At least I try as hard as I humanly can. After my father’s death eight years ago, she chose to “stay faithful to his memory”, and not find another partner. There were tentative approaches from local widowers. As she is a very sociable person, this means profound loneliness. Not every dragging day is broken up by a visit. Unlike my husband, I am not willing to commit to daily ‘mother management phone calls’ at this stage.
Instead of taking those oceans of leisure time to reflect on the dynamics of what was a profoundly dysfunctional marriage, my mother resorts to sentiment. “I will never love another man than your Dad!” One of my brothers calls this “rewriting history into fairy tales, and tying up messy loose ends before death by putting a glossy self-serving spin on things”. He says that ultimately this is the way my mother has chosen to make her peace with dubious life choices, and being an active enabler for an abuser, instead of dragging her children out of the situation to safety. I know, Stockholm Syndrome and all that.
My mother’s unspoken religion is co-dependency: addiction to people and illusions. My own saving grace was years of attending co-dependency anonymous programs, and working their 12 step program with blood, sweat, and tears. This literally saved my sanity. It may well have prevented mental illness or serious depression too – we will never know.
For me, going ‘home’ ,or having my Mum to stay for extended periods, is akin to a recovered alcoholic jumping into a sea of vodka. The recovery time, clearing myself of many layers of old programming and old pain is always twice as long as the visit. Spending time with people who do not “see me”, because they only see the person I was 30 years ago, and try hard to push me back into that role, and those dynamics is painful.
It is easier for those I left behind, to see my choices as “cold and selfish”. I am working very hard on total acceptance of that. I am not responsible for, and I have no impact on, the stories my mother, and brothers choose to tell themselves about the reality they create for themselves. Just as they have no interest whatsoever in the healing stories I tell myself to survive, to transmute the pain, to evolve, to survive, to live in joy, and creative bliss.
In my mother’s worldview, she made immense sacrifices for her own mother, her children and unstable husband. She never attended higher education. She didn’t work outside the home, or pursue a career. We all make choices in life, and no one escapes making tough choices. I am old enough at 50 to understand that.
As her only daughter, and firstborn child, she would have expected me to continue carrying the ancestral imprint of ‘the daughter sacrificing herself for her mother’. Moving abroad, and teaching incomprehensible things internationally does not feature in that script. Nor does raising three children whose first language is not my mother tongue. I do make sacrifices for my mother. 30 years of trips to my country of birth inevitably making me feel ill and upset. Making frequent phone calls because she is not willing to embrace modern forms of communication, and every phone call is identical. Everything is on repeat. I have heard it all a million times before. I have long stopped telling her the things that truly engage me, because they remain incomprehensible to her, like a closed book. I listen to old stories on repeat. I witness my mother talking to herself, rewriting history, and glossing over the past. I actively remind myself to be grateful that she “only” suffers from severe, and possibly elective amnesia, not dementia.
Yet I remain determined to see her Divine spark, her strengths, and her Spirit. She gave me Life, and so my Mother Book continues to grow, and throw up surprising insights.
I invite you to start a Mother Book, too. It is a great vessel for things the average person is not willing to listen to, or sit with. Once started, it soon acquires a spirit, and voice of its own. It listens and it talks back.
Imelda Almqvist, Sweden, April 2017
About the Author:
Imelda Almqvist’s book Natural Born Shamans: A Spiritual Toolkit For Life (Using shamanism creatively with young people of all ages) was published by Moon on 26th August 2016. She is based in London,UK and teaches shamanism and sacred art internationally.
For her courses in Norse Shamanism (in both Europe and soon coming to the USA as well) please visit the following webpages
FORNSED IN SWEDEN
2 YEAR PRACTITIONER OF NORSE SHAMANISM PROGRAM
YEAR OF CEREMONY
FREE “HARNESS YOUR CREATIVE POWER SUMMIT” WITH GUNHILD LORENZEN