by Laura Jarratt
One of the really important themes that comes out of Without Saying Goodbye is that being a good mother is something we learn. It’s not innate in that we can just rely on instinct to make it all happen for us. There’s a widely quoted African proverb: ‘It takes a village to raise a child.’ In the developed world, we have sometimes lost that sense of the importance of aunties, grandmothers, and older women feeding into our collective knowledge of how to raise our children.
As a young woman, I wasn’t interested in small children or babies, so I never thought that I would enjoy motherhood, especially in the early baby days. By the time I came to have my daughter, she was very much wanted, but I do remember having concerns about how we’d bond. What if she didn’t like me? Fortunately, my own mother was excellent, but she was almost eighty by the time she became a grandmother so she couldn’t give much practical help, but from the moment my daughter was conceived, let alone born, it felt like her brand of motherhood had etched itself into my DNA.
My grandmother looked after me as a baby when my mum, a single parent, went back to work. In turn, that’s how she’d been brought up, too. I guess I come from a pretty matriarchal family, and grandmothers have played an important part in raising us in my little Anglo-Irish clan. Those relationships between women have always interested me, and they form the basis for the friendship that strikes up between Cerys, Lily, and Dilys in the book. Cerys is the link in the middle that leads one woman to learn how to be the best version of herself as a mother, which she so desperately wants, and at the other end, gives the older woman a chance to experience what she had always wanted as she gains a surrogate daughter and great grandchild.
I’ve written before about how I don’t plot my books in advance in detail, but instead allow loose themes of ideas to play out as I write, led by the characters. However, one of the non-negotiables in this book was always that Cerys and Lily would meet and Cerys would be integral in supporting Lily learn those skills she felt she didn’t have because she hadn’t had chance to learn them from her own mother. Lily has all the instinct she needs to keep Sammy safe, but what she can’t manage are some of the practicalities of how to be resilient and organised and ready for all eventualities in the way that Cerys can. She’s never experienced that in her own life and she doesn’t really know what she’s missing – only that she lacks so much. Her lack of confidence is her biggest downfall and just being around Cerys helps her to feel more assured.
But Cerys herself is going through her own crisis. Her own mother has died, leaving her rudderless in a world that hasn’t taught her how to let her children fly the nest, how to age, and how to find purpose beyond her own children. Right when she needs her mother to help her with that, she’s no longer there. Which is where Dilys steps in.
When we lose our female community, our ‘village’, we lose something incredibly valuable. We are all taking this journey once and we learn wisdom along the way. The whole point of that is to pass it back to those following. That’s how society has developed. Now we have the internet and a series of self-appointed experts and suddenly community has been less important to our journey. I come across women all the time who don’t feel their family is there for them as they need them to be. Maybe they don’t get on with their mother; maybe they don’t have one. I was lucky enough for such a large portion of my life to have mine there for me. We didn’t always get on but mostly what we quarrelled about was taste in soft furnishings, not the big stuff. For women who don’t have that and have the time and space to move beyond the family, the art of cultivating intergenerational friendships gives us back that village it takes to raise our children. We don’t just make friends with people who have identical interests to us. Often our friends are quite different and complement us, in the way romantic relationships have the ‘opposites attract’ mantra. There’s no reason why age should be a barrier to those close friendships too, that building of our second ‘family’. We just need to take the time to look around us and see people for who they are in the fullest sense.
Motherhood is always an over-riding theme for me in my adult books. It takes up some much of my time and my life. For the largest portion of my adult life, so far, I was not a mother, but when I did have my daughter, it was utterly all-encompassing. I remember apologising to my mother soon after my baby was born about all the times I’d got irritated with her for being over-protective with me. I finally got it. I’ve tried not to let that show so much to my daughter as she grows, but it is hard. Our instinct to protect them is so enormously strong, but I remember my own frustrations and try to temper it a little. And that’s all we can do as mothers: try to do our best and take a little of the collected wisdom we get from the matriarchs around us, however they come into our lives, and play it forward to the next generation.
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