"A Philosophy of Motherhood" Why? Radio episode with guest Danielle LaSusa
6:52PM Sep 1, 2021
Jack Russell Weinstein
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Hi, I'm jack Russell Weinstein host of why philosophical discussions about everyday life. On today's episode we'll be exploring the philosophy of motherhood with Daniela Sousa. Suppose I were to begin today's episode by claiming that motherhood is the most natural of all human relationships. What would you think about that? Most of you, I bet would find the idea appealing. Sure, some of the more philosophically inclined might ask what we mean by natural or insist that we broaden the statement to include adoptive mothers, not just biological ones. But pretty much everyone would find the idea intuitively satisfying. motherhood does indeed seem like the most natural of all human relationships even more than fatherhood. And I say that as a dad. The problem is, if we're to look at the history of philosophy, this statement is probably the sum total of all observations about motherhood up until the feminists in the mid 20th century. It's not just that philosophers chose not to examine the topic, it's that most of them probably didn't think there was much to reflect on in the first place, because they were men and often unmarried, because the male experience was taken to superior because the life of the mind was always deemed more virtuous than the life of the body. motherhood was just not their concern. Also, if motherhood is actually the most natural of all relationships, whatever that means, it seems to follow that we already know everything about it that we need to such as being a mother is a moral necessity. So women who aren't mothers have somehow failed. mothering is emotionally satisfying. When individual women don't find it fulfilling. There's something wrong with them. Females are built to give birth therefore, being a mother is more important than her working, being a citizen or getting an education. Why should we philosophize about self evident truths? Now, I hope it's obvious that I'm being tongue in cheek here. We now recognize Of course, that motherhood is a choice. It is only one component of an entire life and it doesn't disqualify anyone from other roles, whether personal or political. Getting this through our collectively thick head was what the feminists of the 1950s 60s and 70s struggle to do, which is why conservatives work so hard to undermine them, traditionalist and extremists invest in relegating women to very narrow social roles, and they use the ideal of motherhood as a weapon to do so. No one not even a feminist wants to be a bad mom. All of this is to say that the subject we might call philosophy of motherhood is a lot newer than one might think. It contains as many unanswered questions is that the other branch of philosophy does, but it probably has a lot more unasked one. We have to make up for lost Time and one way to do that is to turn our heads away from the canonical men who wave the questions away and ask mothers themselves. This is what we're going to do on today's episode. Our guest is a philosophical coach, a PhD in philosophy who is more akin to a therapist than a professor. She builds one on one relationships with clients and cultivates group sessions with non philosophers who are seeking to better understand their own lives and to make healthy decisions. philosopher Our guest is a tool for wellness. At the heart of her practice, our philosophical workshops about motherhood, she has constructed a venue for women to explore the experience intellectually. This is a very practical approach to philosophy, it's also an intimate one. All parents understand that their relationships with their children lie at the core of their identity. Few however, have their own personal philosophy to help unpack what this means. In the spirit of moving forward, then I think it's important to revisit my initial claim that motherhood is the most natural of all human relationships. Sure, it seems intuitively true at first, but I can't help but ask why. If making motherhood the centerpiece of the human experience sentences women to two dimensional lives, something has gone awry. motherhood may be a necessity for the species, but it's not a requirement for any one person. It seems to me that the mistake I made was to rely upon the language of naturalism. asserting the fact of motherhood doesn't elucidate its meaning. mothering is both a biological fact and a social construction. It denotes the brute reality that human babies are born of a fertilized egg and gestate in a female host body, but it contains within it everything our tradition, things about bodies, femininity, sex roles, love, identity, self worth, responsibility towards others and so much more. And this is why we need a philosophy of motherhood in the first place. There is too much to learn and too much to explore to reduce it to platitudes. motherhood is as complex a subject as any others. It deserves inquiry that is just as sophisticated.
And now our guest, Daniella Souza, calls herself a practical philosopher. She's been a teacher on a philosophical coach for 13 years, has a PhD in philosophy and a certified in philosophical counseling from the American Philosophical practitioners Association. She has workshops and teaches courses on a range of issues, but specializes in discussion about motherhood. Danielle, welcome to why.
Thank you so much for having me. That was a great monologue jack, I found myself grinning and nodding and holding my tongue.
Oh, well, you won't have to hold your tongue for much longer. And I really appreciate that. our listeners should know that this is actually the next chapter in a conversation that you and I had for a long time. We met I gave a talk on public philosophy quite a few years ago when you were teaching at the State College in Minnesota, and then you had me on your podcast, Think hard. And now we're here for this. So this is this is a great continuation for me, and I'm super excited about it. Thank you. Likewise, if you'd like to participate, share your favorite moments from the show and tag us on Twitter, Instagram and Facebook. Our handle is at why radio show you can always email us at ask why umd.edu and listen to our previous episodes for free at ww why Radio show.org Alright, so let's start from the beginning. Danielle, what is a philosophical coach?
It's a good question. Normally, when I explain to people what that is, I just admit that it is a term that I just made up
in the best tradition of philosophy.
Yeah, I mean, it's you know, it's a brave new economy, you get to make up your own job sometimes. I'm fortunate to be able to do that. Yeah, so I as you said, I have training from the American Philosophical practitioners associate Association and certification in philosophical counseling. And I thought about calling myself a philosophical counselor, but the more I kind of thought about how to kind of brand myself and what my clients would come to me expecting. I just was really wary to to have them expect that I had any mental health training, right. I my training, as you say, is in philosophy. And so I just didn't want to misrepresent myself. So I started calling myself a coach. And the more I did it, the more I realized that that seems more to suit just the way that I engage with clients, but also, you know, just my my way of doing my business. I think when people think of coaches, they expect that they will work with someone for you know, a period of time and be able to kind of achieve certain things and counseling is sort of ongoing. thought was more of a therapeutic model.
There are a lot of philosophers out there who will bristle at the idea of putting philosophy and branding in the same sentence. Do you think that that the new economy as you as you talk about it, do you think that there's a place for I don't want to say the commercialization of philosophy because I get a salary too. And that's pretty commercial. Right. But But, you know, is there a place for philosophy in the new economy? And? And is, is the coaching a natural evolution and natural progression? How much did you have to change philosophy in order to do this kind of work?
Hmm. Well, you know, I like to think about it in terms of kind of the original philosophers in ancient Greece, you know, I mean, Socrates was very much a philosophical counselor, or coach, you know, he was, he was talking to the sophus, about, you know, keep saying to euthyphro, about, like, I've got this problem, I have this ethical dilemma helped me sorted out. And so in my mind, this is actually a move backwards to the original intent of philosophy before it became became sort of rarefied in the academy. And I think that it is really honestly, when I do the work in conversation with people, I feel like I'm doing better philosophy, because I'm actually talking to people about their lived experiences, rather than simply projecting my own experience on to all other humans.
You know, that's, that's such a frequent critique of the Academy, that the history of philosophy has a history of people sitting in their room with a book and a pen, and now of course, a computer and a keyboard, and just sort of imagining the world and there's been a very frequent push to, to have that empirical data to have that real life experience. Do you think that that's gonna be weird question, but I'm not sure how to ask it. Do you think that motherhood is more powerful than other forces? And so there's, there's, it has a unique ability to push that empirical experiment, that empirical data onto philosophy? Or is the problem of talking about motherhood? The same as the problem of talking about the heavens and its relationship to the earth? Or, or whether animals have feelings? or that sort of thing? Is? Is there something about the experience of motherhood? That, I don't know can't be denied? Or can't be overpowered by the brute? That is philosophy?
Yeah, I mean, I will say, it's funny because in your, you know, in your opening, you talked about how motherhood is, is just as important as other fields of inquiry and should be given the same sort of attention. And the more I do those work, the more I think no motherhood is the place where we need to be talking about, like, if we're talking about anything philosophical, right? khemu said, the only important philosophical question is question of suicide. The only important philosophical question is the question of motherhood. Because this is where people begin, right? All human experience starts with someone having a child. And when we think about what it means to have a child, we have to think about the arc of human life and meaning and purpose and identity, and what is it going to be for that person to experience the world? I mean, in it all starts with the beginning of a new life. And so it in that, in that sense, yes, it's I think it's, it's deeply experiential, and also in the sense that, you know, that everyone says that Parenthood is like, Oh, you can never know what it's like, until you go through it, it will change your life, I can't explain to you how, but when you get through it, you'll know. And I think that that's true, I think part of it is this you cannot know what's on the other side of that divide. It's just something that you cannot you cannot imagine your way to you cannot think your way to you have to live that and particular learn from others mothers who burned their children and who get pregnant, like the embodied experience of that, of going through that is just there's no other way through it other than to physically experience that you can't think your way through it.
There's another side of that which is that when you know I have students talk to me about you know, when they might want to be parents and grad students sometimes struggle with is now a good time to have a kid and the the students who I have long term relationships with will sometimes say, you know, I'm thinking about having a kid by doing this and I will say the same thing. There's no rational time to have a child right? It, it changes your life completely changes your identity in important ways. You can't figure it out. I mean, there are certainly moments where it might make a little more sense, right. But, but there's no rational time. And so is is the decision to become a mother. Beyond rationality? Is it? Is it? Is it evolution and action isn't just intuition. How do you start to think about the choices of motherhood? If it's so experiential and feel so irrational?
Yeah, I'm glad you asked that. Because as you were saying, There's no rational time to have a child, I think that there's no rational reason to have one either. I mean, I think that, you know, my sense about how people make decisions, and even even, you know, in terms of ethics, like I think that most people make decisions emotionally, and then we rationalize it after the fact. And I think the same is true for the decision to have a child, we have a child, because perhaps it's, you know, this, like evolutionary urge, perhaps we just really wanted to, we want to, you know, have a smaller version of ourselves where we want someone to love or we want to watch this child learn, or we want, you know, some of these are more magnanimous reasons than others. But I think we just have an emotional feeling about it. And then afterwards, we rationalize our decisions. And we rationalize them in all sorts of ways that, you know, some of them make more sense than others. But I think that that's, I think that's how it works, honestly.
So I think there's a tendency in our culture to once you start talking about motherhood, to make it really child centered, to talk about what's best for the child and the experience of the child. And I think, and you can correct me if I'm wrong, but very often, the mother herself disappears, and, and becomes less of consideration. And I bring that up, because often we don't talk about the birth itself and the effects of the birth, and you have a very powerful experience that is also non rational. When when you gave birth, would you talk a little bit about it? And and I guess, talk about it in the context of the loss of rationality.
Yeah, so um, so the short version is that I had a baby. And I had moved from New York City to Portland, Oregon, where I live now. And I didn't we just my husband and I moved here, he got a job, we didn't really have a community. And when my daughter was about three months old, I kind of got into this cycle of, I was very anxious new mom, as many moms are, we kind of live in a culture that promotes that kind of anxiety. But I was I was an anxious new mom, my husband was working out of the house, I was kind of home alone all day, and didn't get a lot of support. And, and I start that anxiety just turned into a kind of insomnia and the insomnia turned into more anxiety, and eventually got to the point where I wasn't really thinking clearly and I was hospitalized for about five days with postpartum psychosis. And that, you know, it wasn't until a couple years after the fact that I started calling it that and realizing what it was when you know, the diagnosis I got was like, severe postpartum depression, which might have been, it didn't seem like the right categorization for me. Because really what the feeling was, was, I couldn't sleep. And I started, my brain started to go kind of a little sideways. I like to say that my philosophy brain kicked into overdrive because the the morning I went to the, to the psych hospital, I actually had this moment that it was a total Cartesian moment, where I was like, How do I know I'm not dreaming right now? And I, and I was genuinely asking the question, and there was a woman of our neighbor was sitting with me and I, I, like, thought I'd heard something. And she, and I wasn't sure if I'd heard it. And she's like, no, I heard it too, that you heard it, you're hallucinating. I'm like, but what if you're not real?
I want to throw out for a second for some of our listeners, that you're referring to Descartes and his famous, you know, problem of the mind and the body and the idea that knowledge is so imperfect that we might be dreaming, and we don't know why. And, and this is such a powerful experience that philosophers consider this the beginning of modern philosophy. It's the 17th century, but it's still the beginning of modern philosophy. Because this mind body problem and knowing that, you know how and why we exist, changes everything. Was this for you? Did it have that same cataclysmic shift in Your own thinking was there. Is there a before and after postpartum psychosis? Danielle?
Oh, definitely. Yeah, definitely. I mean, you know, by the time I, we were driving to the hospital, I had convinced myself that my entire existence was a hallucination, a schizophrenic hallucination, I would wake up in a psych hospital after the right meds and realizing that none of it was real. And I was, so we were, you know, I remember being in the car driving to the hospital saying, like, I have to say goodbye to my entire life, because when I wake up, it's not going to be here. And that was, I mean, it was a death, it was like, it was like driving to my death. And I don't think you can be unchanged after that.
Is that what inspired you to look at motherhood philosophically? Or was that just I don't want to call it a happy accident? Because of course, it's not a happy story, although you've recovered, right? Which is wonderful. Yeah. And there are people who don't but but it's such a rich experience to mine for philosophical ideas. Is this what led you to the next stage? Or had you been thinking about that already?
No, I never, never in graduate school was interested in motherhood, it was a thing. You know, I think that I had kind of fallen victim to this kind of liberal feminist idea that like, in order to be a good, strong, independent woman, you need to do what men do, and you need to participate in the capitalist system as a man would with equal pay and equal rights, and all of these things and motherhood became this, like, shackle of the patriarchy and an institution that like, why would you ever, like, voluntarily do that, and, and take your out if yourself out of all this progress that women have made, and I think that was, you know, kind of the, the mid century way of thinking about motherhood and, and continues to today and, and I see a lot of women who actually still struggle with this, they feel like they want to be mothers, but they also want to be like good feminists and good, strong, independent women. And they, the very, like, material experience of motherhood does not allow for independence. So it's very disorienting for people. But I didn't want to do motherhood at all, I wasn't interested in it. And after this experience, I just sort of realized that I was grappling with not only how to change diapers, you know how to introduce solid foods to my kid or get her to sleep or whatever it was, I am struggling with suffering, like what does it mean to bring a person into a world that's so full of suffering? I was struggling with a sense of identity, like I said, I mean, I felt like I died on the way to this hospital. And now suddenly, who am I as a mother, I mean, what I just said about being a strong, independent woman. And now suddenly, I'm dependent on all of these people. And on this system that doesn't care about me, and I feel forgotten. And I feel like I am unimportant. And all of my philosophy work, like no one cares when I'm wiping, wiping spit up, off of my face. And so it was just this like, feeling of like, Who am I? What the hell is going on? How did I do? Like, what did I do here? How do I move forward? And I couldn't find anyone to talk to about this. I didn't see any place in the public conversation, I would go to those new mom groups, and everyone was just talking about how to get their babies to sleep. And I want it to be like, I just made a human consciousness does this freak Anyone else? I couldn't find a space for it. And so I made one.
You know, it's interesting that you're talking about consciousness, because I've written about this somewhere I can't remember, the very first time my daughter smiled at me, she was you know, if I guess probably about a month old or so I'd have to look it up. I burst into tears. Because there was something about her acknowledging me, that made me feel like I existed in a different way. And that there was a reciprocal relationship that I knew would change my mind. And so when we get back from from the break, I want to pull this thread I want to pull the thread about consciousness and then I want to start to talk to you about your work with mothers and and the overlap between that and philosophical coaching and see where it takes us because that's a whole different experience that we really haven't talked about on the show at all. Until then, you're listening to Daniela Susa and jack Russell Weinstein, on why philosophical discussions about everyday life We'll be back right after this.
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you're back with wide philosophical discussions about everyday life. I'm your host, jack Russell Weinstein. I'm talking to Daniella Susa, about the philosophy of motherhood. And as she was talking about her experience and the pregnancy and thinking about all of the ways in which mother mothers are, are blamed and Allison's, I thought about my experience in my wife's experience with with having a child. And when people ask me, I mentioned earlier, my students, when my students or friends who are pregnant, asked me about having a baby, I always say the same thing. I would say, Don't look at American parenting websites, don't read What to Expect When You're Expecting go to the Australian websites for information, I always suggest the same thing, the Australian websites, why? Because everything that the Americans put together is about blaming the Mother, don't eat soft cheese, because you will cause them to have this illness. Don't eat raw tuna, because you will cause that this to happen. Don't do this, don't do that. Because any thing that goes wrong with the baby, whatever that means is your fault. And the Australians are just chill. They're like, yeah, you know, this is healthy. This is not, but you know, do what you got to do. And so I guess, Danielle, I want to ask first off, especially given the weight of your experience in the hospital. How do you deal philosophically with a culture that wants to lay blame on a parent, a mother, who in many respects has absolutely no ability to change the thing that she's blamed for?
Oh, yeah, it is so, so damaging, I think to women, and we internalize it. I mean, here's, here's my sense of what's going on. One, this wasn't always the case, right? It's actually pretty new in American culture, maybe in the last 100 years that, that mothers and women were, were starting to get blamed before that it was just sort of, you know, it was up to God, it was God's will if you're even if your child died, it was like, well, it's not your fault. It's God's will. And and mothers were just sort of like we are, we're just the caretakers here. Now, of course, at that time, too. I think women were just sort of like, considered accessories in the house, they weren't necessarily even given the role of like, you have the moral responsibility for the development and safety of this child. But we have that now. And I think that, honestly, I think it's just one more way of controlling women it is it is making women feel responsible for everything that happens to their children. And we internalize this was such an intense state of anxiety that leaves many people debilitated. I honestly think that's part of what contributed to my to my illness was this feeling of like, I am responsible for if my child is too cold or too hot, or if this happens, when that happens, it was like this overwhelming, you cannot put your guard down for one second, because something terrible might happen to her and it will be your fault. And that you can't you just can't live in that heightened state of awareness all the time. I mean, it wears you out.
You know, it's interesting, because you talk about the way that it controls women. And I mentioned it as well. And both you and I already at one point in the conversation separate from one another sort of contrasted your experience of motherhood with the feminists. But it isn't to duality, right? I mean, it's not that feminists are anti mom and moms are anti feminists, that that distinction falls apart. The second you really think about it right? How does how does feminism contribute to the exploration of motherhood as opposed to sort of the the the silly caricaturists picture that some people fall back on, which is, you know, feminist means anti mom?
Mm hmm. Yeah. And I think it's it. I mean, motherhood is kind of having a moment. Right now. I think there are more and more people writing about motherhood and certainly because of the panda. People are suddenly just like, Oh, we have children. Like, we're acknowledging that our colleagues have children that are sometimes in the back of their zoom calls. And when suddenly, they're now more a part of our life instead of like, this thing we're never supposed to talk about at work. And so I think that there is there, there is a certain branch, you know, feminism is not a monolith right there. There's sort of certain strains of feminism, that, that treat these issues in different ways. And I think there's there is a certain lineage that says, what we ought to be doing is to bringing value to the experience of motherhood and to saying, like, let's look at all of the wisdom that is gained from the experience of motherhood mothering, and this actually was what the the suffragettes were campaigning on. And in the earliest 20th century, they said, we're mothers, we know the ills of society, because we care for children. And we care about these things. We care about social welfare in a different way, specifically, because of our experience in motherhood. And that gives us a kind of wisdom and understanding of the world that we can speak from. And I think that is really that kind of, you know, fancy $10 philosophy, where the epistemology of motherhood is, is what we really need to develop into value and saying, like, the, the embodied experience of carrying a new person inside your body tells you important things about humanity, and about life and about society that other people cannot know if they do not have that experience.
So a epistemology is a subfield of philosophy, where the focus is on knowledge, what can we know and how we know things. And what's also interesting is that the example use the suffragettes it's, it's hard to overstate how radical that is. Because the classical Greek world, which a lot of our democracy is built on, was divided into two spheres, the polis, the political arena, which was all male, and the oil goes the household which was largely the female domain. And we inherited that idea that citizenship is somehow distinct from motherhood, and that motherhood disqualifies you from citizenship. But the suffragettes were actually saying know that by being a mother, we're better citizens by being a mother, we're more informed voters specifically because they're their suffragettes. Do you find that as well, that that the motherhood unifies the spheres in the way that the suffragettes were talking about or? Or do you? Is there still a poll to that sort of classical Greek notion that these are separate things and that they are not supposed to meet?
Oh, yeah, I mean, there is a, there's an author named Emily Auster. And she's written a few books about, she's actually an economist. And so she crunches numbers about the data when it comes to like, should you really not eat soft cheese? What does the data actually say instead of you know, what is the fearmongering moralizing version?
And I have to interrupt for just one second, I apologize. But oitavos the word icass, which was the household is the root of economics, right? So so that is a natural progression. polis leads to politics, and oil goes needs at least economics. So economics, technically, is the science of the household. Sorry, it's my little fun fact. And I had to stick it in there. Because it was because it was relevant. But Sorry, go Yeah,
yeah, yeah, that's great. So anyway, yeah. So Emily Auster. Is this, this author who writes about these, these sort of mandates for mothers and asking, like, Well, what does the data actually say? And she, I follow her on Twitter. And she had this thing for a while this was pre pandemic, where she said, she had a hashtag, and I don't remember exactly what it was, but it was like, you know, show your parenthood or something. And she was like, it was basically this campaign, to talk about the fact that we have children while at work, that that, you know, I think still a lot of people and I talked to two women in my meaning of motherhood class, who say, Well, if you know, if I have to leave early, because I got to go pick up my kid from daycare, I don't want to say that that's the reason that I have to pick on me, and that I have to leave work. It's like, oh, I've got I have an appointment, I have to, I have to leave early, or there's an emergency or whatever. But you don't even want to mention that you have a child, because then you feel like, Oh, well, she must not take her job seriously, or her family is going to, you know, be a priority over this work, or she's not gonna be able to do these things. And it's still very much I think, and that's part of the like, the really that's the sadness and the damage that are done to so many women and I should be so clear that like, this shows up in different way for women of different races and classes, but I think a lot People feel like, particularly that like white, you know, professional mom feels like she's split into where she has to go to work and pretend like she doesn't have a family. And then she has to come home and pretend like she doesn't have work. Because if she thinks about work when she's at home, she's a bad mom. And if she thinks about her family, while she's at work, she's a bad worker.
You know, I'm, I'm trying to figure out how to ask this question, because if I ask it incorrectly, I'm gonna sound like a really racist, horrible human being. And I don't want to do that. But you have an aside, you said, you know, it's different for for women of classes of different races. And in part, it seems to me that that's the legacy of the racism of civilization that, of course, African American women have to be in terms of mothers, because historically, they're treated as more primitive or closer to nature. And, and and the same is true of a lot of Hispanic peoples, and that white women are, historically the vision of civilization. And of course, that's atrocious, and it's horrible. And it's so awful that the characterization that again, I'm nervous about how I want to say it, but how does that manifest itself in your philosophical exploration, because philosophy tends towards the universal right philosophy tends towards, here's the definition, here's an experience, this is what motherhood is, this is what motherhood looks like, do this and you'll be good, do something different and you'll be bad. But we've learned, of course, that it's there's no monolithic way of looking at the world. So how do you deal with the philosophical aspects of motherhood, while being sensitive to the cultural aspects, the racial and ethnic aspects and the history of colonialism and racism and oppression? And of course, misogyny that permeates the whole thing? How does that how does that manifest itself?
Well, I think that, I mean, I suppose I don't think about those two things as being not a part of philosophy. I think that that is part of our philosophical examination of motherhood. And I think it's important to when we say, Alright, let's look at what it means to be a good mom. Well, when we look at what it means to be a good mom, in our culture, a good mom is typically, you know, it's a person who is selfless, who doesn't really have any of her own emotions, or she is able to sort of be emotionally cool and calm and contained and universally loving and serves her family without effort without complaining. And oh, also, she's typically white, middle class, partner, and thin, and, and good looking. And this is what it means to be a good mom in our culture. I mean, when when I talk about this in my meaning of motherhood class, we have we have one week called good mom, bad mom. And I asked the question, like, given the definition culturally that we have of being a good mom. And of course, this is just a stereotype. And of course, this is just like a dominant idea floating around there in the ether. It's not true. But can women of color be good moms? Can single mums be good moms? Can poor women be good moms? And, of course they can. But it doesn't fit the the idea that we have of what a good mom looks like. And I think that if we're going to talk about what it means to be a good mom, we need to understand that people are grappling with that sort of thing. Because Because part of what it means to be a good mom in that in that story is that like you feed your kids organic foods that you know, have never had any processing in them and no sugar and all this stuff. And it's like, well, maybe you can't afford organic foods, because they cost more because we live in a culture that you know, subsidizes corn or whatever. I just don't see them as distinct ideas.
It sounds like the ideal of motherhood that you're struggling with is The Giving Tree, right is that classic kids story where the tree gives so much that in the end, it's just a stump, and the kid sits on the stump. It's one of the most fun and evil books I've ever read. Because it's all about how a parent and you know, in this conversation, a mother has to give everything to the child and the child is going to be ungrateful as it sits on your corpse. The bottom half of your corpse because it's tired, right? Yes. And of course, the poorer you are, the more marginalized You are the The more you have to give in order to survive in a certain sense. So so but I want to ask one other question before before I shift to the groups that you work with, because I'm really interested in that and that is the role of adopted mothers. We've talked a lot about the embodied aspect of it and Certainly, giving birth is is is a core component of a lot of women's experience of motherhood. But being an adoptive mother is a powerful experience to set. How do you deal with that? As you talk about it as you explore it philosophically? Are they different kinds of mothers? Are they? Yeah? How do you deal with that? Another duality? How do you how do you approach that?
Well, so to be fair, I actually haven't I haven't done a whole lot of deep thinking about the the distinction here. I think my my instinct is that I think I'm very much a materialist in the sense of, I think that what we know comes from what we do a very, just like hands on our experiences give rise to our understanding of the world. And so it depends, I suppose, on At what point an adoptive mother adopts a child, but the experience of changing diapers and you know, feeding a baby and keeping them safe at various stages as they get older. Brent comes with a certain kind of wisdom and understanding of the world of what it means to be a parent of what it means to be a human. And I think that the embodied birth experience gives a different, you know, different dimension to that. But I'm not sure that there is like, a clear and obvious difference that comes to my mind right away. And and part of it is that I don't, you know, I'm not an adoptive parent. And I actually haven't talked to many adoptive parents about this. So I don't know that I can speak to it in in much depth, but I don't know, my sense is that there's a lot of overlap. And there, of course, are some differences. But there's a lot of overlap. And we look for the overlap in the actual lived experience of doing the parenting work.
So So again, before we shift topics a little bit material materialist in the way that you talk about it in the philosophical sense is, is focused on the physical world rather than idealist, which is the mental world. And so so what you're suggesting is that we learn to be mothers by by the physical experience of changing the diapers of feeding the child of holding the child. And, and there has to be then some difference, some real difference between adoptive mothers and biological mothers. But a even though there's a difference, it doesn't mean that there's a hierarchy one isn't necessarily better than the other and B, it doesn't mean that they're completely fundamentally separate experiences. Because of course, I guess if I understand you, right, the sooner you adopt the kid, the more similar the experience is, because if you adopt a child at 12, you're not going to have that experience for most people anyway, of changing the diaper of feeding them that way. Is it? Am I understanding you correctly? That that's basically what you're saying? Yeah, I
think so. Yeah, I think so. I mean, certainly we do have to contend with with the ideas about what mother like what a quote unquote real mother is. And there's there's kind of matching your identity against that and what that means and and grappling with that. But I think that the actual experience of motherhood does come from the from the lived physical caretaking.
Oh, that's such a wonderful word that we haven't used yet but caretaking and it connects back to an episode we had, I think in our first season, the only other time we really approach this topic where Eva katate talked about the experience of being a mother of a severely disabled child while she was also a professional philosopher. So I encourage people to look at that. I'll link to it on the on the page, but but I want to shift the conversation. So you do these groups with mothers, they find you you have a curriculum, you work through stuff, who, how and why do mothers find you? And what is the what's the goal when they're seeking you out? And I guess, how is their How does their goal their imagined goal differ if it does it all from what you end up doing? Or what you think the goal is?
Okay, so how do mother's find me? Part of that is is is a little bit of a mystery to me. I think sometimes people just just find me I think most of the people who have taken my my course, are people that I have met you know, here in town, they may be clients, one on one clients of mine that you know, take the class or they may come to me through other practitioners You know, I know other practitioners in town therapists and you know, acupuncturist, whenever and they, they'll refer them to me sometimes, sometimes people, a lot of people actually just find me on the internet, they just google like philosophic. Some people actually, believe it or not Google philosophical coach, some Google philosophy of motherhood, and they're just so few people actually doing public philosophy of motherhood, that I that I pop up. And, you know, I don't know how these things happen, but they, they people keep coming. So that's good. And so they come to me. And I think, for me, like, the thing that I am hoping that people get out of the experience with me, particularly the meaning of motherhood course, is this sense that if you're thinking about really big and intense questions, such as, you know, this feeling of like, I am terrified that my child is going to die before me, which is a real, you know, possibility that lives in the mind that every parent, and it seems like the worst possible thing that could happen to us. And I think it is a very central part of the parenting experience.
I think about it every single day, every single day. And I tell people all the time, you know, who aren't parents, the experience of parenting is total terror from the moment you find out about pregnancy, until, you know, hopefully, when you die before your kid
eats her all the time. If it is, I literally had a dream this morning, I woke up this morning, like 20 minutes before my alarm went off, because I had a dream that my daughter got lost in a shopping mall. And I could not
God. Awful. But you know, it's also right. It's also important to talk about this because it's awful, but it's normal. Right? And so and I would imagine, and then I would imagine that a lot of the conversation that you have is about what's normal and what's not. And what that means. Is that is that true?
Yeah, I mean, I hesitate to use that word. But I think that it's, it just seems to me like if you want to talk about that more universal part of motherhood, I mean, the part of my work that I actually really feel most passionately about, is, is this sort of these existential questions like, what does it mean to create a human being that is going to die, whether that child does before you or after you, that person is going to die? And, and you have brought this being into the world, and that comes with a huge amount of weight. And the other thing is like this child will grow up, and they will tell a story about you. And you will not be able to control that story.
They already do I have a 15 year old and I think that the story that she tells me has no relationship to the story I told myself, I think any any overlap is as they say, The move is purely coincidental.
Right, and it's like it is a total and utter loss of control. Right. And and I hesitate to say this, but I think about john paul starts play no exit. And the the idea of this play is three people in a room in like a waiting room waiting to go to hell. And they discover as they start, like telling stories about each other and what they were like in life and what the people in them, you know, back on Earth are saying about them about how they were cowards or have ever bad mothers, and they were this or that. And suddenly they realize that we're not waiting to go to hell, we're in hell, Hell is other people. Right? And so it is this feeling of like I am being looked at by someone else, right? You describe this idea of like your daughter smiling at you, she looked at you in this way, and you get looked at. And that is a really, I mean, gosh, it is just every day when I walk through the house, and I'm taught like the way that I talked to my daughter, the way I talked to my husband, my child is watching, and listening and learning and I have never been more looked at in my life. Right. And all of this is just so intense, like psychologically intense, I think philosophically intense. And part of what I want these women that I work with is to know that this is part of it, and we need to be able to give language to it. And it doesn't mean that if you're worried about your kid dying, that you are somehow, like, pathologically ill, it seems to me like that is a natural thing to do when you give birth to a human consciousness.
There's another side to that, that popped into my head as you're talking about this, about this being looked at. And that's also the validation that we all want as parents and the sense that we want our children to understand the things that we're doing that they can't possibly understand. So, you know, when I take my daughter's phone away because she's, you know, being punished for not doing the schoolwork or whatever. Outside, I'm saying Give me your phone. But inside I'm saying, don't stop loving me. I'm punishing, don't stop loving me. Right? And. And there's that Flipside that that we give all these things to our children. But we want things back and a lot of the things that we want back, they're incapable of giving us or they don't know how to show it, or they don't know that they have it at all with the awareness that when my daughter is 27 years old, and she's talking to her therapist, I'm gonna be the bad guy in the story, right, my wife is gonna be the bad guy in the story. And so that's I love this idea, you taught a online course called the existential crisis of parenthood. And I love the idea that being a parent, really requires you to rethink your very existence and the relationship you have with the world around you. And specifically with the kid, and what your child can give or not give to you.
Yes, yes. And what you can expect reasonably expect or not expect, right? And, and, and it then raises all these questions about relationships, and, you know, what is it that you want from the relationships in your life, and then, of course, as you know, for me, it's just like, Oh, god, I'm freaking out about how to talk to my child, when this is, you know, and she's pushing my buttons. And those buttons were things that when I was probably her age, like, my parents were having their own version of this, and it was pushing their buttons. And suddenly, it's like, all of this stuff comes to the, to the surface. And we're left just saying like, well, that's Parenthood, that's just being a mom. And, and I just wanted to, like, create a space for people to say, you know, I mean, obviously, there's, there's therapy, which is, which I recommend to everyone, especially as you're trying to do this, but also that this is, this is a shared experience, and that a lot of us are feeling it. And I think that is really one of the most powerful parts of teaching this course, is getting people in the room, saying things like, I am so angry at my kids, that I just like, cannot stop screaming at them. And I hate myself for it. And to have another parent or their mother who's not supposed to show any emotion, negative emotion, say that and just be like, oh, okay, it's not just me. Right? There's something so powerful in that, in that understanding of the universality of the experience. And this is why the, you know, in the mid 60s, all of the feminists were doing consciousness raising groups, because it's not just a you thing, it's a structural thing. It's the thing that of the society that we live in, it's all of these messages that we receive. It's the institution of isolated nuclear families instead of this giant village that, you know, we evolutionarily grew up expecting, right? It's all of this stuff that gives us this feeling of dis ease, and fear that our children will stop loving us.
So this, this may seem like a non sequitur to other people, but it makes sense in my head. Why is there such a culture of competition to be the best mom, I mean, this is something that's really gendered in our culture, there is not a competition to be the best dad. I mean, dads want to be liked, and dads want to be fun. And dads want to be, you know, a lot of different things. But the a lot of the motivation for making your own baby food, or, you know, doing all these other things with kids, for a lot of women is perceived in comparison to other women. And there's a lot I know, a lot of women I talked to talk about the judgment of other moms, and how powerful that is, and how scary that is. And so I guess, the question I want to ask, why do you think there's this culture of competition? And when you work with moms, how does that manifest itself? And is it something that can be resolved, and it's something that can be I'll use this word intentionally cured?
Well, I think that part of the competition, I think there's a couple things going on. One is, it is this feeling that the stakes are so high here, right? It's your children. It's the highest stakes that we have. And there is this kind of, I think a lot of that competition for like, you know, only make your own organic baby food and play with wooden toys and never use the iPad and all this stuff is like this intense perfectionism that is culturally specific. And, and that when we grow up in a culture that tells women, that they're fundamental value comes from being good moms, then it's not just about the baby food, it's about their own identity, and the their sense of worthiness in the world. Right? It's this sense of, I need to not screw up my kid. And that may be if I just like, do all the right things, they will love me. And they will never have to go on therapy.
Good luck with that. Right.
Right. And, and it's like, the, you know, you said, dads don't compete for being good dads. It's because dads don't have to do anything to be considered good dads. I mean, I had a co worker who like took his kid to the playground and was pushing him on the swing. And he said, all the other women were just like, Oh, she's such a good dad. And he's like, you mean, I'm, I'm a dad, like, just for showing up and pushing the kid on the swing, you're suddenly a good dad. But if you're a mom, it doesn't matter what you do, you're still failing. So of course, there's this feeling of never being good enough. I mean, I remember in one of these motherhood glasses, and all of us, just this refrain over and over everybody saying, like, I'm so afraid, I'm gonna screw up my kids, I'm so afraid I'm gonna screw up my kids. And then one day, one of the participants just kind of looked at us and was like, you know, it's no wonder, all of us feel so afraid and bad about ourselves all the time, we live in a culture that hates women. And I think that that is a is real, I think that like, for me, motherhood is such like a feminine, it is the ultimate feminine thing. And I have discovered like, motherhood is ground zero for patriarchy. I just think it is like structurally, ideologically, materially, this is where that all of that damage is done in the most vulnerable time of a mother and a child's life.
Okay, so I'm gonna, I'm going to do something, and then I'm going to ask you to yell at me for doing it. And you'll see why, why me that in a second, I'm afraid that I'm doing something on the internet. That's called lamp shading. But but but we don't have to worry about that. You talk. It's lamp shading is when you when you when you tell an offensive joke, but you acknowledge that you're telling an offensive joke to get away with telling the offensive joke to look like you're making fun of telling the offensive joke, but you're really just telling the offensive joke. So like a lampshade surrounds a light bulb. Anyway, that's a whole other conversation. So, um, you talked about, you just have to show up to be a good dad just have to be good dad, which I completely agree with. But there's a flip side, which is that if you're a dad, and you're and you're not visibly a dad, you are viewed as a predator. And so I take my daughter to these concerts, and I'm surrounded by 1314 year old girls, and or young women or whatever. And, and, and I have to turn my dad this up to 150%. Because otherwise, people are gonna think it's weird here. It's weird. And and if I'm in a playground, and not obviously with a kid, right? People are gonna think it's weird. And here's what I want you to yell at me about. I shouldn't have said that. We're talking about motherhood, right? Shut the heck up jack, stop talking about dad stop talking about yourself. We're talking about motherhood? Why is it so hard to keep the focus on motherhood? And why is it so hard to bracket the other conversations, especially when there have been so few sophisticated conversations about motherhood? So, you know, even I, as the host of the show had no willpower and had to find an excuse to say that, so yell at me and tell me. You know, it's why is it so hard?
Well, I mean, okay, there are a couple of things going on here. One to speak to your point about the being the dad at the concert. I think that that is an example of how misogyny and patriarchy affects all of us negatively, right? Because it's weird, because the fear is that you're you're, like checking out young girls, because when you think of young girls as sex objects to be possessed, and, you know, not as actual people. Right, and so that there's the misogyny that is both affecting the young women and affecting the men who are just trying to, like, be with that. Right. So they This is, there's that. So don't you know, that's the answer there. Second, I think that why is it so hard to keep the focus on mothers and motherhood? I mean, I guess the question is, for for you, it's like, well, we we, we have our own experiences, and we speak from our own experiences, and we think about the things that are important to us, which is exactly what I'm doing right, I'm thinking about the experiences that are important to me. The only difference is that not many people have talked about the experiences that are important to me. And it's part of the reason that we need more women doing philosophy, and we need more mothers doing philosophy, because of course, we speak from our own experiences. It's why the history of philosophy is full of like, abstract ideas about the nature of the universe that were had by, you know, single men in their libraries, rich men in their libraries, who did not have this experience of giving birth, for example. So I think part of it is that it's natural to think, from our own experiences and speak from our own experiences. But it's also the case that we, you know, as I said, we live in a culture, as you pointed out, at the very top of the show, motherhood is thought of this thing that's unimportant, and on, worthy of philosophical reflection, because there's not, there's What is there to say about it. And, and so I think that it's just, there's so much richness, and there's so much depth in it. But it's hard to see that and understand it, from outside of the experience. And, and, and I think philosophy has suffered, because of it that history of philosophy, the discipline of philosophy has suffered, because it has left out what I consider to be, again, the one of the fundamental questions of philosophy, what does it mean to create a human life. And the fact that we, as philosophers have not attended to that is just a real loss? It's a loss for our discipline.
I think that's a really powerful observation and really meaningful criticism of the tradition. And of course, the tradition is, is is a tradition of, you know, conversation between experts, and you're working with people who are amateur philosophers at best. And so I guess the question I want to ask is, when these women find you, and they they are either on one on one, coaching, or they're in your group work, what, what should they expect? What does it look like to do philosophy with mothers? I think that a lot of our listeners might find it really hard to have any other model. Other than that, you know, I guess, the therapeutic model or the consciousness raising model, but philosophy is such a weird thing for people who don't have a lot of exposure to it. So what, what does it look like? What do they expect? And how do they contribute? as well as just sort of listened to you?
Well, yeah, so it's a little different, depending on if it's one on one work or group work with one on one work. It's really like, I consider myself you know, the Socratic midwife. You know, Socrates talked about when you're in dialogue with someone, you, you're kind of like a midwife trying to give birth to an idea. And I think that for me, I talk with clients one on one, and it's really just trying to get clear on like, Okay, well, what is the what's the actual belief that's operating behind these, these assumptions that you make? What assumptions are behind it? what's the what's the fundamental story that you're telling yourself about? Who You Are your role in the world, your relationships with other people? And it's, the process is really one of just critical inquiry, where I just ask a lot of questions. Sometimes when I'm working with someone, one on one, I, I'll draw on these different resources, my schools of thought that I typically draw from, and that I know most about are from the existentialist school of thought, the Buddhist school of thought, the feminist school of thought. And so when I ask questions, or offer resources, they tend to be in those areas. And I do a lot of work with meditation and mindfulness in the tools of Buddhism as well. And so, sometimes, I'll work with clients and sort of say, like, here's a kind of primer on or primer on, on, you know, Buddhist philosophy, you know, or Buddhist ideas of identity one on one. And here's how it works out. And you tell me how that fits with your experience? And is it helpful to think about it this way? And how might you interrupt or shift or change the story you're telling about yourself, given this new perspective on how to think about identity, so it's, it's really a back and forth kind of relationship. When it comes to the group work? It tends to be a little bit the way I've structured the course tends to be a little bit more like here's me giving that information and asking a bunch of questions. And thinking about, you know, here's a here's a way of thinking about for example, Good mom, bad mom. Right? And, and, and I'll, in the way that I would teach a class at a university, you know, I ask what what goes in the good mom category, what goes in the bad mom category we spend some time looking at that. And then we kind of, you know, outline it and say what are the common themes, and then I kind of complicated a little bit more talk, you know, talk about race, talk about class, talk about the impact of these good mom's bad mom's tropes on our psyches. And then we open it up to discussion and people kind of are able to integrate it. So it it, it feels like my background in teaching very much is present, both in my one on one work. And in my group work. It's about conversation, it's about relationship. And it's also about drawing from this knowledge that I have in the history of philosophy, and in these different traditions to offer different perspectives to people that may allow them to see themselves differently and feel better.
We're, we're drawing to a close and I want to ask two sides of I guess the same sort of question, which is, what is the thing that surprises the participants the most that they learned or that they gleaned from from the experience with each other? And with you? And then is there something in particular that you have learned from them? And from doing it that surprised you That was That was unexpected, or or that just sort of overrides? You know, is the thing that sticks with you the most so So, so, what surprises them? And what surprised you?
Well, what surprises them, I don't know if I can speak for all of them. But it seems to me that the feedback that I'm getting is often about, it's really just people saying, like, I'm so glad someone is saying what I'm thinking, it's really just like, giving language to the parts of this experience that I have suffered in isolation. with, you know, I, we don't talk about death. In our culture, we don't talk about grief, we don't talk about this feeling of like, maybe I shouldn't have had kids, maybe I regret having kids, maybe I'm really sad that I you know, gave up all of these parts of my life, and you can't be a good mom and regret having your kids. And so to give people a space and even to say those words out loud, I think is so validating for some people. I mean, I know for me, like, you know, the doing the reading that I'm I've been doing as I've been getting into this work, there are times where I just read something and I'm like, Oh, my God, thank you for saying the thing that I have been living with. And so that is my hope for people is that they are able to find a space where someone is just saying the thing that they are living with. I think for for me, it's always there's something new every time. I think the most surprising thing has probably been how rich this topic is. I mean, I I really tiptoed into it and I started my philosophical coaching business, not I kind of put on my website like, Oh, yeah, I specialize in moms, but I didn't really do anything with that. And I didn't kind of like Target my classes or really dive into it. And I didn't want to at first because I didn't want to be the like, mommy person I didn't want. It was my own internalized sexism are really around motherhood, that it's not serious, that it's soft. I was just like, I don't want to like be the blogger who like writes about crafts to do with your kids or you know how to make organic cheese, crackers, whatever, I don't care about that. And I remember I took a business class and the mentors of the class said to me, Well, that's exactly why you need to do this work is because there are other women like you who think about motherhood in terms of the Create a new human consciousness and all of the philosophical consequences that come with that and they don't have anyone to talk to there is no mommy blogger for them. And so I was I would reluctantly have come to this work. And the more I do it, the more I realize, oh my god, there's so much here. It is so incredibly rich, there. We can talk about society, we can talk about consciousness, we can talk about meaning we can talk about ethics, we can talk about identity, like every major philosophical question is inside the question of motherhood.
So that's, I think, that that that too is such a powerful experience the experience of you choosing something because you you tiptoeing up to something, and then discovering how validating and how rich and how interesting and how much room there is. I mean, you have you have a piece of the New York Times Which is independent of how good it is. And it's very good. It's just an accomplishment in itself. You've you've, you know, you're doing all these different things, and your brain to light, a real gap in cultural knowledge and in in the philosophical tradition, and it's tremendously important in the grand scheme of things, as well as I think important for everyone's individual lives. So I'm so thrilled to have you on the show. Danielle, thank you so much for taking the time. Oh, it was such a pleasure. JACK. Thank you so much for having me. You have been listening to Daniella Susa and jack Russell Weinstein on why philosophical discussions about everyday life. I'll be back with a few thoughts right after this.
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You're back with watch philosophical discussions with everyday life. I'm your host, Jack Weinstein, we were talking with Daniella Susa, about the philosophy of motherhood. And there were two themes that sort of appeared towards the end that I thought were interesting contrasts. The first was her admission that the phrase mommy blogger and that and that role that people play isn't always viewed positively, that the idea of being a mom on the internet is such a often stereotype or cliche that there are lots of women who don't want to be it or do it. But the experience that Danielle had of seeing how rich being a mother is, as an intellectual exercise, seeing how rich being a mother is and talking about motherhood is for culture and for other people. That's a really tremendous piece of news, right? It's tremendous awareness that that yet again, we are denigrating something because it's associated with motherhood. And that when we celebrate it, we tend to celebrate it in a two dimensional way, rather than a 348 dimensional way, which is what Danielle is trying to do. At the same time, we had that brief mention of The Giving Tree, the story of a tree that gives so much that eventually it just becomes a stump that the kid it takes care of sits on without any gratitude and that's the flip side of the motherhood. That motherhood is so important that it's so necessary that you have to give so much as a mother that all you end up being is a vehicle for someone else's life and satisfaction. And so, either way, being a mother becomes lesser than it should be. And again, that phrase two dimensional, what a philosophy of motherhood does what Danielle does is make us realize that motherhood can be celebrated not just in the traditional ways that we recognize it but as a expletive exploration as an existential field of learning as a as a as a tool for intellectual development. And that's new, it shouldn't be new. It should be the oldest idea in the world. The oldest idea in the world should be that motherhood is a place of wisdom, that motherhood is a place of knowledge that motherhood is a place of discovery that motherhood is important to the culture and to the world and to history. But that just isn't how we looked at it throughout time. And that has to change. And I'd like to think that will change and it will change because of people like Danielle and the people who join her in conversation. today. That was you as well as me. And actually I'm really proud of that. Thank you very much for listening. I'm your host jack Russell Weinstein. I look forward to talking to you again and as always, it's an honor to be with you.
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