Good-enough Mothers

In the United States the second Sunday in May is designated as a day to talk about mothers and mothering as regards our gratitude for the sacrifices and hard work that goes into the task of bearing and raising the kinds of people who will some day show gratitude to their mothers. It is by no means something that happens by accident and so (along with Father’s Day in June) it is good that we take some time to praise mothers. The title for today’s article comes from the work of psychoanalyst Donald Winnicott. In the 40′s and 50′s Winnicott along

Sometimes a Panda mom's gotta do what a panda mom's gotta do

with some peers developed a new school of analysis call Object Relations Theory. Central to this school of thought is the early childhood environment and the primacy of the relationship with “the mothering one” (in recognition that this isn’t always a biological relationship). The good-enough mother is one who meets intuitively the need of the infant, but as the child grows tempers that fulfillment with failures and breaks in empathy such that the child grows to see the mother as a separate object. The “good-enough mother” is contrasted not with the “perfect mother” but with the “not good-enough mother.” The not good-enough mother usually through profound lack of empathy with her child fails to meet infant needs or fails in the tempering of need fulfillment with necessary frustration.

Despite the medium of Anime’s reliance on parental loss as a plot device, there are still plenty of mothers around. Some of them are good-enough and some of them are… well, not. There are the average worrying but supportive mothers like Mashiro Kayoko from Bakuman, and protective moms like Karan of No. 6. Some mothers are the light of the world like Tegami Bachi‘s Anne Seeing. While others go to crazy lengths for their children like Portgas D. Rouge in One Piece. Shows that are currently airing have a pretty interesting crop of moms:

  • Layla Heartfilia (Fairy Tail): Lucy’s mother died while Lucy was still a child, but she passed along not only powerful magic but the necessary kindness in the use of that power that has served Lucy so well since.
  • Katou Ririka (Mouretsu Pirates): Marika’s mom retired her blaster and settled into a home and job that would provide a stable environment in which to grow and thrive. She taught Marika life skills that will serve her well as a captain, but didn’t push her daughter into taking up the family business.
  • Uzumaki Kushina (Naruto Shippuuden): Through the magic of ninjitsu, Naruto’s mother, who died just after childbirth, was finally able to meet with her adolescent son at a time when she needed him most. Able not only to impart a mother’s love she also helped him to muster the power to control his inner monster (in this case a literal inner monster).
  • Panda Mama (Shirokuma Cafe): Sometimes being a good-enough mom involves giving a child who lazes about the house a swift kick or, in this case, a good vacuuming. Panda Mama (brilliantly voiced by Morikawa Toshiyuki) clearly loves and nurtures her child, but she also sets reasonable expectations for his behavior.

What Mother’s Day article would be complete without a selection of moms I am glad aren’t like my own? Anime moms who aren’t around because they died is one thing, but these moms absented themselves from their kids voluntarily for a variety of reasons.

  • Sakashita Miyako (Aishiteruzue Baby): Yuzuyu’s mommy is too preoccupied by her own grief to help Yuzuyu. In essence, little Yuzuyu loses both parents. To add trauma to insult Yuzuyu is saddled with the “if you are good” promise that her own behavior can influence to arrival of her absent mom.
  • Suzuhara Shuko (Angelic Layer): Afflicted with a neurological disease, Shuko leaves her daughter, Misaki, in the care of her parents and goes to the big city to seek a cure. However rather than tell her daughter the truth about her condition she leaves Misaki with confusion about her importance to her mother and her role in her mother’s leaving her behind. Misaki grows into an almost manicly happy young woman. Even when Misaki unknowingly finds herself in the same circle as her mom, Shuko delays revealing their relationship.
  • Olga (Ristorante Paradiso): Olga is a lawyer in Rome who finds love with a man who says he doesn’t want to marry a woman who already has a child. Rather than working this out with him, Olga conceals the existence of her daughter, Nicoletta, and pursues her own happiness. She does explain all this as she leaves her daughter with relatives. When Nicoletta arrives as an adult in Rome to confront his mother, Olga begs Nicoletta join her in the lie.
  • Masak Yoshii (Usagi Drop): Kaga Rin’s erstwhile mother left her daughter after the death of Rin’s elderly father. When finally tracked down she shows little interest in Rin’s well-being and less desire to be reunited. In fact she shows little interest in anything apart from her career or sweets.

So there you go, to all you moms out there: be good-enough moms. To all you children of moms: hopefully you’ve got some kind of “mothering one” to whom you can express gratitude. Maybe do so today if you missed yesterday, if anime has taught us anything it’s that we never know how long our parents will be with us.

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