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What happened to our rites of passage? Part 1

I have a bit of a thing for rites of passage at the moment.

And my brain has been working on how to articulate my feelings about how we’ve lost them.

But have we?

This piece isn’t so much about HOW we lost them, WHY we were tricked into giving them up, but whether perhaps they are still with us.

Perhaps it just takes a little bit of remembering.

And yes, this has alot to do with life without school, or UNSCHOOLING.

If ‘schooling’ is the easiest way to erase our memories and retrain us, surely shifting away from that can be a really effective way to reclaim what’s ours.

I’ve been deeply immersed in motherhood for more than fifteen years. With each baby, I’ve been asked to go deeper. I often joke that it took me three births to really dig into my mothering instinct - the first time around I was lured into false promises of ‘sleeping through the night’ and wanting my baby to be independent.

The pregnancy with my third was different - he was my first natural conception. I appreciate the technology that granted me my first two children, of course, but was always keenly aware that this was not how it was supposed to be. Far from natural. Maximum interference. And although I would go on to birth all four of my babes at home, with no medical intervention, those first two pregnancies felt over-looked. Too ‘watched’.

The third time around and I had a strong instinct to have no one looking at all. I felt like my unborn child rejected ‘checks’ as much as I did. He wanted no ultrasound. No doppler. I listened to both him and my own heart.

I look back now and know that this WAS my rite into otherhood. And I HAD missed it the first two times. Which partly explains why I had a sort of strange envy at the mothers who were suffering sleepless nights and exhaustion.

With my first two babies, I was still relying on the indoctrination of the modern mother. The total myth around independence, sleep - all denying the connection that simply MUST form the basis of the mother/child imprinting.

I would go on to understand that despite having uninterrupted births, immediate and free skin to skin - The Golden Hour that Michel Odent speaks of so beautifully - separation can still occur when the mother is not connected to her mothering heart. And I was not.

I had literally missed a rite of passage. A great many mothers do. Several.

I read books, followed instructions, went through the motions.

Despite not being as physically exhausted as my peers, friends who I was seeing struggle with rest, AND feeling like I had indeed found the Holy Grail (the full nights sleep), I had a sense that something was missing.

Let me back track in case this hasn’t yet sunk in….I believed the false ‘truths’ that babies need to be trained to sleep; I did not listen to the cues of my newborn and instead listened to the external noise that told me to drown out my babies cries with ill-informed beliefs about what babies need; I trained my baby to sleep by literally ignoring her signals along with my own heart's voice.

I’ll write this in capitals - it’s THAT important.


Skipping this rite has disastrous consequences for that mother, her child AND, as we are now seeing, for a society that now views separation as NORMAL and biology as wrong.

A mother is hardwired to LISTEN with her heart, to her baby. And, as they grow, her child. She will continue to listen. Always.

This is where attachment starts. At least, it’s where it can and does rupture, even though really it has begun in utero, of course. And thus here is another decision point - to continue to nurture the bond that started at conception or separate as modern society wills us to do.

It’s increasingly well known that addiction (and I firmly believe other ‘pathologies’) is an illness of attachment - Jean Liedloff suggests as much in her bible of Attachment Parenting, ‘The Continuum Concept’. The conditions for addiction must be right and that is the lack of early attachment with ones care givers. In particular, I believe the mother. Not to downgrade the role of a father but the biological reality is that it’s the mother who carries the unborn baby, the mother who births the newborn through the birth canal (another important rite of passage), the mother who first holds and feeds the infant and the mother who is imprinted to respond to the babies cries. Of course the mother needs to be held as she does all that and that is another story!

Just as the wound is carried by the infant, and later the child and the adult, when attachment is broken, so too is the rupture on the heart of the mother.

This is heavy stuff - I’m well aware.

Pussy footing around the issue is not helpful though and so I’ll plough on.

When the mother is tricked into handing over her baby, sold the lie that her infant must sleep alone, told untruths about feeding babies on a schedule, manipulated into sleep training, she suffers an unimaginable wound, as does her child, the scars of which may well always be present.

The impact may well be on every relationship she has moving forward. The child AND the mother. The imprint on the mother, by the infant, goes on to set the pattern for the relationships the child will have and the grief felt by the uninitiated mother will permeate everything.

Scars don’t always cause pain though and I fully believe repair is possible - but only when the scars are revealed for what they are and this requires radical honesty about our part in the erosion of this particular rite of motherhood.

To be less than truthful serves no one.

No cacao ceremony, no burning of sage, no false worship of stolen sacrament will heal what is not spoken.

The time for truth telling is now.

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