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by Bethany Webster
Over the past five years I’ve been teaching a popular online course on Healing the Mother Wound that’s been attended by hundreds of women around the world from countries including Spain, Germany, Italy, Poland, and Australia to Malaysia, India and Kenya and many more. Recently a German student of mine told me about a parenting instruction manual for mothers that she discovered in her family home and how it felt to her like an important piece of the puzzle of what she went through as a child. It was a big book called "The German Mother and Her First Child.” This manual was written in 1934 by Joanna Haarer, a Nazi pulmonologist who instructed women on how to raise a child during the Third Reich. It sold over 1 million copies and many sold well after the war was over.
In the book, mothers are instructed to have as little attachment with their child as possible, instructing them to ignore their baby’s cries and to have as little physical touch beyond feeding and cleaning the child. The warning was that if you indulged your child’s emotions, they would become spoiled.
My own mother line goes back to Germany and I was intrigued by what my student told me about this book. I began looking for more information about this Nazi parenting book for mothers. I found an extensive article in Scientific American which quoted directly from the book a chilling passage: “In The German Mother and Her First Child, Haarer wrote, “It is best if the child is in his own room, where he can be left alone.” If the child starts to cry, it is best to ignore him: “Whatever you do, do not pick the child up from his bed, carry him around, cradle him, stroke him, hold him on your lap, or even nurse him.” Otherwise, “the child will quickly understand that all he needs to do is cry in order to attract a sympathetic soul and become the object of caring. Within a short time, he will demand this service as a right, leave you no peace until he is carried again, cradled, or stroked—and with that a tiny but implacable house tyrant is formed!”
The Relentless Child Tyrant who must be Silenced
Women’s bodies, minds and the bond with their children have long been a battleground for men in power in patriarchal societies, particularly women who are poor and non-white. This “mothering manual” from the Third Reich is stunningly articulate example of how a patriarchal state interferes with the mother/child bond as a way to secure its power over its people. Power is maintained by creating people who are cut off from feelings and easily dominated by authority figures. While some may argue that this book is a rare, extreme or isolated example, these dynamics are present in all patriarchal socieities to some degree. This was true in the third Reich and we’re seeing it true now in modern America, with the separation of families at the border, with children detained in horrid conditions without basic sanitary care, as well as the booming industry of child trafficking, which is largely funneled from the foster care industry, bringing in 99 billion a year in profit.
This is not new. It's happened in different American eras from colonization to slavery: The state “secures” its power by somehow preventing a secure attachment bond between mother and child.
Notice that wording of that last sentence in the excerpt above. If you provide, sympathy and care by holding the child “…a tiny but implacable house tyrant is formed!” In the book, the word ‘tyrant’ is projected onto an innocent, vulnerable child, not to the actions of the nation’s leader. The child is blamed and the toxic leader/parent figure remains idealized. Mothers of the dominant social group (German) are unknowingly being instructed on how to train their children to oppress the marginalized group (Jews). It brings to mind how many white women were instrumental in electing Trump, their desire for their families to do better than marginalized groups was stimulated. This echoes a recent headline in the Washington Post; "Trump warns against admitting unaccompanied migrant children: ‘They’re not innocent’.”
Why can't the current administation see the harm they're creating?
And why do we feel helpless in moments to change it?
Author Patricia Evans, in her book “the Verbally Abusive Relationship” describes two vastly different realities that one may live in based upon how alone one felt as a child felt while in emotional pain. Children who grow up with a "loving witness" to their emotional struggles grow to see the world through a lens of mutuality, goodwill, empathy and “power with others." A loving witness is someone stable who reassures them, holds them and soothes them in times of emotional distress. The loving witness helps a child maintain a solid connection to the good within him, an inner resource that can be drawn upon in future moments of distress. Children who grow up WITHOUT a loving witness to their pain, may be consistently withdrawn from, ignored or punished in response to their distress, causing them to shut down emotionally to such a profound degree that their view of life is seen through a rigid, black-and-white lens of “power over others."
To those raised without a loving witness to the pain they experienced, survival means domination of another to some degree and any form of mutuality is seen as inferiority. The domination of others is really about domination of their own painful feelings. Because feelings must be avoided and all memories of emotional pain vanquished, an unconscious process of denial and projection plays out. The “bad feelings” that must not be felt are projected outwardly onto people who are othered, dehumanized, even to the point of calling them “animals.” The only solution is seen to contain them and punish them. In this way, the emotional hell they experienced as children (but deny) is re-enacted onto other people.
Symbolicially the innocent children labeled "bad" represent the disowned child in pain within the oppressor. It’s a raw, primitive externalization of self-hatred. If our leader is like this in America, we know that this cycle plays out again and again in family homes. It’s important for us to recognize what’s happening now as the latest symptoms of our cultural Mother Wound, which is patriarchy’s anti-female, anti-life, anti-child, and anti-empathy stance. It shows that many of us are in a denial and projection cycle of what we went through in our childhood homes, to some degree. This represents a massive opportunity for us to collectively heal the Mother Wound, to break the unconscious cycle of denial, projection and murder of innocents.
Cruelty is the point.“Power-over” compensates for unconscious memories of powerlessness.
As the saying goes, hurt people hurt people. The cycle repeats itself until we become conscious enough of our own childhood pain, process it and work through it with support so that we don’t repeat it. If we are in deep denial of the pain we went through, we’ll play it out with others around us while totally uaware of what we're doing. When we feel powerless, for some of us, it may be that Trump is constellating a dominating parent that we had to obey and “love” to survive, and a child-like need to NOT see the full scope of the pain that is being inflicted.
Sadistic policies are designed to make us feel afraid and powerless to stop the harm that's happening.
Trump’s unconscious perpetuation of this cycle is happening openly on the world stage and many of us feel panicked, frozen or in denial. It’s important that we can recognize this, see it for what it is, refuse to feel powerless, and take swift action informed by the knowledge that we also have a part of this dynamic in ourselves. Here’s an important piece of the puzzle: To some degree, Patriarchy has broken a link within us, a link to the child that we were, with our innate innocence, goodness, creative spark, playfulness, generosity and wisdom. We each need to build a bridge back to this child in us, who is a living energy, whose priority is safety and who often cuts off feelings as a way to feel safe. We may numb out, disassociate, get overwhelmed or feel frozen.
My invitation to you:
Take whatever actions you can to halt what’s happening at our borders now. Donate to organizations helping families at the border. Call your representatives and demand action. AND as part of these steps, take 5 seconds or 5 minutes, to connect with the child within yourself who experienced some degree of the Mother Wound, some degree of withholding of tenderness and care, who bore some projection of an adult who had lost touch with their own inner goodness.
Close your eyes and send that inner child love and reassurance. I recommend doing this at least once a day. You might say, “The pain of childhood is over now. I’m here with you. Your feelings are OK with me. I see you and I’m here to take care of you. No matter what, I see you as good, lovable and whole.” As you do this, you’re building a bridge within yourself, repairing an essential link that was broken as a result of living in a patriarchal culture and the ways that damaged our human development in our families to some degree. This will not be an easy or a quick fix. But it’s our generational responsibility to see the depth of what’s really going on here and to act from that wisdom.
Healing the Mother Wound helps us connect to our humanity and show up consciously in the world.
We need to open our “inner borders” to the disowned child within ourselves as part of helping the detained children at the border. If we don’t do this inner work alongside our activism, we'll lack important insight on how to take restorative action and we’ll likely to remain somewhat removed from the empathy needed to actually help these children, the empathy to see them as human beings like ourselves and the empathy to truly say with heartfelt conviction “never again.”
A personal side note:
While writing this article, I remembered one of the songs that I loved singing in my voice lessons in high school was called "Als die Alte Mutter" by Anton Dvorak, a Czech composer who wrote the song in German in 1880, about the same time my German Great, Great grandmother came to America. Twenty years later I can still sing the song by heart and love the melancholic melody. Today for the first time, while writing this article, I finally looked up what the English translation is and am amazed at how the lyrics mirror the pain and longing of the Mother Wound, the bittersweet hope that faciliates denial and passes it on to the next generation and that pure, childlike hope for that longed-for arrival of freedom, connection, of home.
Title: "Songs my Mother Taught Me" by Anton Dvorak
"Songs my mother taught me, In the days long vanished;
Seldom from her eyelids were the teardrops banished.
Now I teach my children, each melodious measure.
Oft the tears are flowing, oft they flow from my memory's treasure."
You can see the lyrics of the song begin by acknowledging the mother's pain but it's ambiguous whether the ending of the song speaks of tears flowing from the continuation of the pain in the next generation OR from the joy of breaking the cycle and healing it. This open question now rests with all of us.
All rights reserved. Bethany Webster 2019
Contact these organizations today to help detained children and their families at the border:
Familes Belong Together: https://www.familiesbelongtogether.org/
Together Rising: https://togetherrising.org/
If you want to join a global community of women dedicated to dismantling patriarchy in our everyday lives, you can learn more about my Membership community Emergence Now at https://www.emergence-now.com.
Do you want help healing the Mother Wound? Check out the Mother Wound Online Course
Want to read more about the Mother Wound and how it may be impacting you? Click here to download my free Ebook called "What is the Mother Wound?"
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