Mango Mama Redux

Back around the turn of the decade/century/millennium, a young, beautiful woman lived amidst the banana groves on Maui with her husband and her three unassisted-birthed, unschooled, natural-fiber clothed babes. She claimed to have healed herself of uterine cancer; her family ate their raw, organic vegan meals at a low, Japanese-style table…when they weren’t roaming the plantations, eating fresh bananas straight off the plants.

Those of you who were participating on mommyboards back then probably remember Jennifer Van Laanen-Smit, aka Mango Mama. She ran a couple of websites (only an early version of one of them still exists via the Wayback Machine, alas) and a vibrant message board about “natural” parenting; in the days before blogs, she wrote a web diary in which she regaled her loyal readers about her idyllic, oh-so-natural life. She also contributed to other, similar websites, writing stuff like this (in praise of wearing only natural fiber clothing):

Natural fibers work in harmony with our bodies, while synthetics have vibrations that work against the human vibration. What we wear can affect our emotions. Wearing synthetics can make you feel irritable, jumpy. Start wearing natural fibers and much of this nervousness will disappear. In addition, natural fibers– cotton, wool and silk— allow our skin to breathe and give off toxins.

Jennifer was, almost literally, the poster girl for “Natural” parenting; she and her family posed on the front of Hygeia Halfmoon’s book, Primal Mothering in a Modern World (Halfmoon is quite the piece of work herself; lately, she was seen cheerleading her then 13-year-old daughter’s relationship with a 25-year-old man. But I digress). Yep – all the crunchy mamas of the time wanted to be Mango Mama when they grew up…she was, simply put, Sanctimommy Supreme.

Until sometime in late 2001/early 2002…when she simply disappeared off the face of the Internet. Some months later, her devotees were told she’d run off with another man. It was said she’d gotten a job, the kids were in (teh horrorz!) school and had stayed with their father. The classic “How the mighty have fallen” morality story…

Now, years later, Mango Mama has returned to tell the story…what made her do what she did. It sounds like a combination of an insensitive husband and her own exacting parenting and “natural living” standards did her in, possibly bringing about a mental breakdown. And with that fall came a reassessment of what she had become, what she actually wanted to be…and ultimately, clarity of sorts.

From her October 5th entry, “Perfect Mother“:

I poured all of me into my children from day one. I went all out to be super-mom… home birthed, breast feeding, no babysitters, sling carrying, home schooling, wooden toys, home-cooked organic meals, arts and crafts, no TV… the whole continuum concept-attachment parenting- granola thing. My children were my best friends and I devoted myself to them twenty-four hours a day, seven days a week… for nine years…

…It was my decision to devote myself so thoroughly to my children. In retrospect I can see how that contributed to my breakdown and to the damage of my marriage. I never once complained or asked for help. After nine years of being self-less and super responsible, I found that I needed to nurture and feed, pour more back into me. I was an empty shell and I needed some life other than being mom.

In those years I had no breaks from mom-hood and I was cracking. Small shit could just do me in, I would break down. The shit pile was so high that another shovel full would just tumble off and I’d loose composure and cry. Cry and feel as if I was falling apart, barely holding the seams together.

My children’s endless needs, being mom-cop, the huge laundry piles, never ending dishes, cooking, cooking, cooking, watching for signs of asthma attacks, recognizing `could-be’ dangers, being the teacher, mother and friend all rolled up into one. These responsibilities were getting too much for my shoulders. Some days I swear I just stood in the kitchen… cooking, cleaning up, washing dishes then cooking again. And what I would have given to just once go to the toilet by myself. I was never alone.

Here’s another description, from her December 18th entry, “My Story“:

I began to understand my ulterior motives. I so desired to be needed and loved. I craved it. It filled this drastically empty space in me.

I was in a place where I needed my “labels” as mother, wife, alternative parent, web presence Mango Mama… because I didn’t know who I was. I needed my children to love and validate my life. My desire to be the worlds greatest mom came from wanting to heal my own painful childhood. I had more children to ensure that I would always be needed and loved, to be important to someone. I choose to raise them in such a self sacrificing way, in a very time demanding way, and in such a way that I wasn’t free to be anything else, because it was intensely important to me to raise them the best that I knew how.

And all of that was bullshit. In giving them the best of everything I had, I lost myself. Now I aim to please one person and one person only – MYSELF. And it is not selfish, it is empowering and it has made such a change in my kids too. I finally let go. I was so controlling, I needed to control everything in my life, I had rules and strict beliefs about practically everything.

It’s worth going and reading it all in context (I didn’t include the bitching about her ex-hubby, but it’s relevant), and the other entries.

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12 Responses

  1. That was perfect! Thanks.

  2. It sure takes guts for her to share her struggle, and to reveal what she’s gone through. I applaud her for that; her honesty. Not an easy thing. She will help others who read her work.

    Being a mother ain’t easy; pressure to perform to some kind of “perfect” standard doesn’t help. Our kids need to see us as fallible; imperfect. Otherwise they’ll have this unrealistic image of perfection to live up to. Good-enough is GOOD ENOUGH.

    I hope I get to meet Mango Mama one day here on Maui.

  3. It is too bad that she wasn’t able to find some balance. It is possible to be an attached parent and still have balance in your life, but she obviously didn’t have that. The strength of my marriage and the support of my parents are critical in my ability to achieve balance for myself and secure attachments with multiple trusted caregivers for my children.

  4. In other words, phd, what you’re saying is that she just wasn’t doing it right.

  5. @WonderingWilla

    I don’t know what you are trying to get at here. She said herself that she didn’t have any balance and that it contributed to her breakdown. She doesn’t need me to tell her what she was doing was right or was wrong, she has come to her own conclusion.

    I just wanted to make the point that being an attached parent doesn’t necessarily have to mean giving 100% of yourself 7 days a week, 24 hours per day.

  6. And, Annie, as I’ve pointed out before, being an attached parent doesn’t necessarily mean following Attachment Parenting. Could you *please* stop confusing the two?

  7. @Sarah V.

    Did I confuse the two? I don’t remember mentioning attachment parenting in my comments. I think people are reading things into my words that are not there.

  8. Yes, you’re right – I apologise for my comment, which was unnecessarily snippy. Because you’ve confused the two in the past, I unfairly assumed you were doing the same thing again.

  9. My children’s endless needs, being mom-cop, the huge laundry piles, never ending dishes, cooking, cooking, cooking, watching for signs of asthma attacks, recognizing `could-be’ dangers, being the teacher, mother and friend all rolled up into one. These responsibilities were getting too much for my shoulders. Some days I swear I just stood in the kitchen… cooking, cleaning up, washing dishes then cooking again. And what I would have given to just once go to the toilet by myself. I was never alone.

    I’m about as crunchy as a bowl of oatmeal, but I think every mother can relate to feeling like this at some point.

  10. Li – well, yeah, but unlike Jennifer, “soggy” moms have fewer qualms calling a babysitter and getting away from it all for a couple of hours when necessary.

  11. Exactly, Esther, I mean how substantial is this ‘attachment’ that it cannot survive a few hours of separation. Kids are pretty resilient so their feelings aren’t changed in that space of time, soooo that leaves the parents’ feeling of attachment that can go out the window in a flash if they take some personal time, I guess that’s the danger (tongue firmly in cheek).

  12. This is several years after this article was ‘published” but I remember Mango Mama from the early days; she was very supportive and loving, giving it her all in what felt like crazy, distructive times. We mothers wanted to create the little world of nurture and safe for our children; raise them to grow beyond the craziness of the world. I remember when she disappeared, it seemed so empty but what she taught and the love she gave will never be dismissed by those she helped. I wish her well.

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