Updated: Apr 15, 2021
When I became a mother, I went on a quest to find my mama village. This story is about that experience.
In late 2017 when I found out I was pregnant with my son, I held my breath for the first 12 weeks. I could not wait to tell my family, but I did not want to jump the gun and tell them before that first trimester was up. I experienced a miscarriage before, which was one of the most isolating and lonely experiences of my life. I will save that for another blog post.
As the reality set in that my pregnancy was going to "stick" and be the real deal, I went on a journey to find my mama village.
I wanted to find mama friends, I can confide in, ask, and learn through. My mama village of like-minded women who chose to parent through consciousness, connection and who understood the importance of attachment in the parent-child relationship. I also wanted to find mothers who had similar life experiences to mine so we would be able to relate to one another on a deeper level and connect easier.
Like any modern-day person, my first research quest was good old Google. I typed in "Bosnian mom" or "Balkan mom" or "Balkan parenting," etc., and all Google provided were memes of Balkan moms and their common phrases. Some of these were legit funny, yet many of them hurt deep because they were also accurate. A few of these memes centered on the emotional abuse Balkan children received growing up. Some spoke about the common phrases Balkan parents use when parenting. Yet most of the memes made fun of the fact that Balkan parents resorted to physical abuse whenever they "felt like it." At this point, my search for my mama village did not look very promising.
My next try was my friend Facebook. I typed the same search words and looked for mom groups for me. I found some exciting groups for Balkan women who owned their businesses or had written books and offered services in these groups. However, I did not see anyone who spoke to me about being a Balkan mama and wanted to parent through the conscious approach.
With these two failed search attempts, I began to wonder - am I missing something? Am I the only Balkan mom who seeks conscious parenting ways, or am I the only Balkan mother who did not experience conscious parenting in her life? Maybe my experience was a one-off, and I need to reevaluate my ideas of how Balkan moms parent.
I joined some general conscious/gentle/positive/mindful parenting groups and made connections with the mothers in there - however, these connections did not feel deep. There was always that lack of deep understanding of my experiences and expectations.
With that, my Balkan Mama village search re-ignited, but I began to ask a different question. My question turned from "where is my Balkan Mama village" to realizing that I did not have a mom identity, yet another thing I felt detached from; therefore, I struggled with finding what I needed. My question then became, "who are Balkan mamas?"
Before we can answer who Balkan mamas are, we first have to look at who Balkan women are.
You see, history has not been kind to Balkan women. Our ancestors have survived wars, genocides, colonization, occupation, oppression, concentration camps, displacement, and so much more.
During these challenging periods in Balkan history, women received terrible treatment. Some examples include forced marriages, rape camps, lack of education opportunities, and lack of overall rights.
However, as you look at Balkan women today, you will notice something about them— beauty like no other, strength like no other, love like no other. They are the glue that holds the Balkans together in the most beautiful way possible. When wars erupt, they are the ones who come together and heal our communities. When children are hurt, they are the ones who come and help each other. When hunger arises, they are the ones who make something out of nothing and feed a whole village.
Balkan women come from various religious backgrounds and minor cultural differences. Balkan women are the core of Balkan society. Without their incredible courage and ability to make ends meet, the Balkans would cease to exist. Some of you may disagree with this statement - however, I don't recall any women ever waging war in the Balkans.
Balkan women are raised with the idea that one day we will become mothers. There is a lot of pressure to get married and have children immediately. Many Balkan women become mothers after marriage and a small minority of women before marriage (still a big no-no due largely to religious and cultural expectations in parts of the Balkans).
Balkan mothers are exceptionally aware of their children. They want to parent through connection and love, nurture, and relationship. They want to be present for their children and guide them through life.
Why, then, are we not talking more about what motherhood looks like in the Balkans? Why are we allowing different oppressive systems to impact our identity as Balkan mamas?
Remember the brief description of the Balkan history I provided earlier? That history is a trauma history. Balkan women never had the chance to feel safe enough and grounded enough to provide the parenting they so desired to give. Through the trauma history, communal parenting turned into individualism and competition for each household. Some traditions still carry on - like rocking/feeding a baby to sleep - however, many of the nurturing and connection-building parenting experiences were forgotten about or were never allowed to develop fully.
When a group of people experiences trauma through generations, a survival mechanism takes over. It becomes how the people begin to understand the world, their role in society, and their self-view.
With enough time and untreated trauma, survival mechanisms become part of the cultural identity of the people experiencing it. Survival mechanisms are maladaptive behaviors focused on survival rather than connection and thriving. These survival mechanisms affec how a culture is perceived and when left untreated it fuels new trauma responses. Even when the person thinks they are safe and unaffected, their brains are constantly alert because that's all they know.
With this historical experience, a Balkan mama could never form her true parenting identity. We parented based on our experiences growing up. We did not spend time understating why we do certain things and why certain things kept happening to us. We blamed one another, nationalism increased, and the painful trauma cycles kept repeating themselves.
Coming to this realization was hard for me. I always saw the women in my family as the most beautiful and strong women. I wanted to be like them. I wanted to show the world how amazing we Balkan women are. And this still stands.
However, now I also want to give healing to the Balkan mother. I want to help her heal that intergenerational pain she carries in her genes, in her response system, in her culture, worldview, and self-view. I want to help the Balkan mothers develop their sense of who they are as mothers. I want to help bring in our collective, nurturing parenting experiences that kept our cultures going through the pain we all experienced and remove the things trauma and individualism brought in.
With Balkan Mama Therapy, I want to help Balkan mamas develop an identity so powerful that we shake up the Balkan region with love and courage. I want every Balkan mama to have a village of support, love, nurture, and the ability to be present for one another to raise new generations of children not chained by the pains of the past.
Most of all, I want every Balkan mama to have a strong sense of who she is as a mother, heal her wounds, feel understood, loved, seen, taken care of, and validated in her parenting journey.
Selma, a Balkan mama in the trenches with you