February 8, 2020
Liv Strömquist and Caroline Ringskog Ferrada-Noli
A conversation about motherhood
It’s difficult to have an interesting conversation about motherhood, all my thoughts about it are just normal and super boring. I don’t have a new and exciting take on what motherhood is? I believe in things like that, that the important thing is love and that my children reinvented the concept of love for me, but that’s basically the same things which Linda Bengtzing would say in an interview. I think all my thoughts on motherhood would come off as too conservative – so even if I did have an opinion, I’m not sure I would want to voice it. Because that opinion would be like, ’I think you should sacrifice yourself for your children, that the child should always be your priority.’ I’m not sure if I want to become a public advocate for that kind of opinion.
But I find it refreshing that you have such conservative opinions!
There is something about motherhood and giving birth that is so fundamentally different from the culture in the late modern, capitalist world we live in. It’s like a breeze of something old, something so incompatible with how our society looks now. This late capitalist era is so much about choosing your own life and fulfilling your dreams. ”Live your best life”, as Oprah says, ”Be the best you can be!” When it comes to motherhood, in so many aspects, you can’t choose. So many things are out of your control. Childbirth is one of those things. The situation that something is in your stomach and needs to get out. Ha! It’s like being possessed by something.
Exactly! I thought a lot about the movie The Exorcist during labour. It’s as if someone else completely took over my whole body and being.
There’s only one way forward when you’re pregnant!
That’s actually the craziest thing about being pregnant. You just stop having options.
That experience more connects with a whole other period in human history, where being a human meant something completely different. We’re at a point where there’s extreme friction between how we used to live and how we live now. Women in this late stage capitalist era, are told that we can do whatever we want and are raised to believe that the sky’s the limit.
Everything is all about optimizing, optimizing, optimizing. What’s best for me? Motherhood is when you stop choosing your life. That’s why there is this tension. I read The Art of Decision Making, an article by Joshua Rothman in the New Yorker. He talks about the idea that one believes themselves to have; the bigger the decision, the more power you would have over it. How it’s often perceived as if bigger decisions means more power over that decision. But one of the paradoxes of life is that our big decisions are often less calculated than our small ones. Because actually, we aren’t able to calculate huge, life-changing decisions.
He talks about the decision to have a child; one just simply can’t decide if they want a child or not. Prior to having children, you have no idea what is to be a parent.
If you want to elaborate even further, you can’t really be against having a child. Both situations are presumptive and build on the idea that no one could ever know. What spoke to me about becoming a mother, was the wish that it would change me into another person.
One thing I found quite funny in the article was how he described the birth of his son. They probably planned a c-section, like everyone in the States. He said, “the taxi came around 11AM and when we arrived at our hospital room, they were playing Stairway to Heaven. I remember thinking that Jimmy Page’s guitar solo was very good. Later on, my son came to the world, I didn’t feel anything remarkable or special. After that I ran into an acquaintance in the corridor of the hospital.” This is one of those situations where men and women have such extremely different fates and roles. Would a person who gave birth to a child describe it so chill?
I read a report about pain during delivery and the research question was ‘how much does it hurt when giving birth?’ People got to state an estimate of the pain, and for example, it hurts far more than breaking your leg, or far more than a toothache, etc. And the only thing that hurt more, or was at least in the same ballpark, was the amputation of a finger without any pain relief.
" I read a report about pain during delivery … the only thing that hurt more, or was at least in the same ballpark, was the amputation of a finger without any pain relief."
I mean… and still there is this attitude like, “well yeah, of course you should do it!”. When you’re just an ordinary girl wearing a pair of jeans and a t-shirt who goes for a coffee with your friends. And then what? You’ll end up going to the hospital at some point and have that happen to you? There’s something so fucking primal about that experience.
That’s why this is so hard to discuss. It’s far too crazy, it’s almost impossible to put into words.
Going back to being unable to choose your life, I think that is why some people become parents today. It’s like people are begging to be sucked into a masochist cave! Everybody wants to be … that’s big right now?
To be submissive.
Yes! People are longing to subject themselves! People are longing for someone to decide that they should get up at 7AM, prepare a bowl of oatmeal and watch Pippi Longstocking. Someone who decides that for you and it’s a fucking relief. A relief from life and from Oprah’s knife to your throat. Are you really being the best version of yourself?
There are all these guidebooks on how to be a good parent. But I don’t see a big distinction between being a good parent and being a good person, it’s basically the same thing. I read about Jesper Juul’s authenticity concept where he discusses how one should be honest and true to both oneself and their child. You shouldn’t have one identity as an individual and another identity as a parent. That’s such a non-holistic way of life.
You need to be a good person, but you shouldn’t be perfect or high performing. I grew up with a mother who was extremely high performing, she had an awful amount of fixed expectations set for herself. I remember situations when I’d look at other mothers and just long for their easy-going personalities. I saw a mother who was so fucking joyous and loveable, she radiated some sort of goodness, and when it was time for her to tell her kids to jump in the car, she’d bribe them with buying a bag of chips. Get in the car and I will buy you chips – she really bribed them. You could tell that she was a wonderful and joyous person, so her kids probably thought she was wonderful to be around, because they like her. You can’t just make generalizations and ask, how does a good parent behave? Some people are just extremely boring to be around. I don’t want to socialize with 70 percent of people just because I think they’re boring! And children are stuck with their parents.
Children just want to have a good time!
We shouldn’t differentiate between individual people and parents. Just as no one wants to socialize with boring people, children probably don’t want to hang out with boring parents either.
I want to have a good relationship with my daughter. There were definitely times in one’s adolescence where one used to see other families and envy them. I read Barbro Lindgrens book Bladen Brinner again, and there is this one scene that stuck with me. A girl describes a family situation where every time grandma came to visit, her mom left all of the chores for her husband. The mother and grandmother would then move into the maid’s room to chitchat, gossip, and laugh all through the night.
I envy that mother and daughter relationship. It’s like, I want to have that ‘I have so much to tell you!’ feeling. You need to laugh, and I need to laugh, and we can laugh together. I want a relationship like that with my daughters. There’s something so desirable about it. I don’t know what genre of motherhood it belongs to, if put it into a genre I think it’d fall into something like the theme of ‘having a good time’. I want to be the one that cracks the jokes all the time, I want us to keep talking and telling stories, and to share that kind of intimacy.
There’s a lot of theories about how one shouldn’t be friends with their children. I think we should encourage being a friend to your child, to create a trust and put emphasis on the relationship as the most important part. I don’t know if that’s a possible outcome, but my aspiration is to have some sort of giggly intimacy. I romanticize the thought of my daughters telling me about someone they’re in unrequieted love with. I haven’t had that myself. I don’t know how candid one should be, but it’s the total opposite to my own childhood. And I came to think of it because you said that thing about having a good time. In order for you to have it, you need to create an environment people want to be in. That’s really it.
It feels like as if Carolina Gynning has that kind of relationship with her mother?
It seems like that on Instagram, she makes these elaborate love-rants to her mother.
Carolina Gynning’s mom must not have a bone of judgment in her. Carolina got silicone breasts and is floating around like “I’m a butterfly” and her mom is like, “that’s great Carolina!” Or not even that, just listening and being there for her.
" In order for you to have it, you need to create an environment people want to be in."
It could also just be her believing in Carolina. Maybe she doesn’t take the ‘what the fuck are you doing?’ approach. Instead she believes in her as an artist and visionary; maybe that’s helped lead to her success. But at the same time I can get suspicious towards those relationships. I’ve read Katarina Frostensons book K and it talks about her love for Jean Claude Arnault, but it was another remarkable situation in it, which we both reacted to. She was standing next to her mother’s deathbed and in her last hours said “You’ve been the best of all mothers”.
And that’s the biggest bang in the book.
That IS the bang. It’s like, whatever, you love Jean Claude Arnault so indescribably much and so on, but the craziest thing is…
Have you heard!
Have you heard this! Katarina Frostensson told her mother that she was the best of all mothers whereupon her mother answered “Yes, I know” and manages to pull off one last sigh. It’s just remarkable, the whole dynamic of having that thought, voicing it and having your mother executing that answer. Why do we react to this? Could it be because our mothers belong to the 68-generation?
I was just going to say that! I think it’s a generation thing.
I was raised with the view that rebellion towards parents was normal. You shouldn’t want to hang out with them, it was an ideology back then. I remember my parents told me that people who have good relationships with their children was disturbing. I guess it’s the idea of parents hanging out with their grown up children on a daily basis.
That’s, like, Freud.
Yeah, it’s like, Oedipus and this and that. And that one should…
Kill their father?
Exactly! But Freud is so not hot right now. It also feels quite self-righteous if we’re going to sit here and act as if it won’t happen to us. There’s also a natural development in everyone’s life where one distances oneself from their parents. Why wouldn’t it happen to us?
It must be some evolutionary thing, at a certain age you start to question your parents’ authority and start making up your own rules. I want to design my own life, create my own norms, and think differently than my parents; a rebellion of some sort. I remember having an almost physical reaction towards my parents. Like, ‘I can’t stand these people, just look at how they eat and walk. I just wanna kill this person’ feeling. You develop an allergy towards them. That’s how I always thought of it, it’s just a thing that will happen. It doesn’t necessarily mean it’s a sign of a bad relationship. And there we have it again! You have to be a good and amazing person to endure this. You have to continue being so lovable and be the bigger person a million times over. You have to be wise and put up the right sorts of boundaries. That’s what parenting is. You are there and you do the work and you never ever bail. You’re in it for life.
It’s to stand tall through all the storms, come those teenage years, come children’s diseases, come whatever. Just take all the fucking bullets for the child, and that’s a purpose in its own. As a parent, you just take it.
" Just take all the fucking bullets for the child, and that’s a purpose in its own."
Knausgård described having his child in such a beautiful way, he said that it was ‘an invasion of life’. That’s really what it boils down to. You can just imagine Knausgård prior to having a child, going to Biskops Arnö, getting drunk, cutting himself with a razor, going home and keeping on writing. Suddenly there’s someone who’s screaming that they want blueberry yoghurt at five in the morning, someone who forces him to watch Frozen. It’s so fucking special!
Before this conversation I read Sheila Heti’s book Motherhood. Her whole conclusion of it was that ‘I’m a writer and therefore I can’t have a child’. I want to disagree with that premise, because it’s almost the opposite for me, motherhood enhances my artistic expression. Sheila writes that not having a child means choosing, and then she listed all the things she chose instead. They were things like traveling, living in a skyscraper, things like that.
She feels like she wants to be at the top of Mount Kilimanjaro, and that’s exactly what I didn’t want.
You choose motherhood like, “Please take me away from Kilimanjaro”.
I was on Mount Kilimanjaro! I literally stood on Mount Fuji and was like, take me down! It was a horrendous journey. I was pregnant and didn’t know it yet. I just stood on top of Fuji like…
… please get me down?
" ...What the hell am I doing here?"
Källa 1: Johan Johnsen: Still Life with a Bouquet of Flowers, Unknown date, Nationalmuseum (Photo: Erik Cornelius), public property
Källa 2: Ludvig August Smith: Kvinna som flätar sitt hår, 1839, Nationalmuseum (Photo: Linn Ahlgren), public property
Källa 3: Andrea Scacciati: Flowerpiece Unknown date, Nationalmuseum (Photo: Erik Cornelius), public property
Källa 4: Adriaen van Utrecht: Still Life with Fruit and a Monkey eating Grapes, 1635, Nationalmuseum (Photo: Åsa Lundén), public property
Källa 5: Unknown: Madonna and Child on a Cloud, 18th century, Nationalmuseum, public property
Källa 6: Ida von Schulzenheim: A River in France. Study, Unknown date, Nationalmuseum (Photo: Erik Cornelius), public property
Källa 7: Unknown: Still Life with Figs, 17th century, Nationalmuseum, public property
Källa 8: Henri-Horace Roland Delaporte: A potted Plant, Unknown date, Nationalmuseum, public property
Källa 9: Unknown: Still Life with Fruit and Bread, Unknown date, Nationalmuseum, public property
Källa 10: Ludovico Carracci: Madonna and Child, Unknown date, Nationalmuseum, public property
Källa 11: Anna Boberg: Still Life with a Bouquet of Flowers, Unknown date, Nationalmuseum (Photo: Erik Cornelius), public property