In 2004, Antonella Gambotto-Burke published The Eclipse: A Memoir of Suicide, which documented the friends and family members – including an ex-lover and a younger brother – the Australian journalist had lost over the years. “The Eclipse may be honest, moving and reflective,” wrote South China Morning Post reviewer Annabel Walker, at the time, “but at its heart it is intense grief”.
Gambotto-Burke’s latest book, Mama: Love, Motherhood and Revolution, is honest, moving and reflective, too, but at its heart is love – because this tome follows not death, but a birth; that of her daughter.
“Our culture is one in which love is sacrificed to material gain, leading to a global epidemic of mood and behavioural disorders and, of course, to suicide,” says the author, who lives with her nine-year-old daughter, Bethesda, on the north coast of New South Wales, Australia. “My daughter’s birth inspired me to write a game-changing book that shows us how to recover our capacity for intimacy, starting with the way we love our children.”
A series of memoirs, tips and conversations with child-care experts such as Steve Biddulph, Dr Laura Markham, Stephanie Coontz and Michel Odent, the book is a passionate exploration of what it is to be a mother in the modern age and how society as a whole is becoming dangerously desensitised. A challenge to the cultural status quo, wherein women are encouraged – bullied, even – into returning to the workplace as soon as possible after having given birth, Mama is likely to prove as controversial as Amy Chua’s Battle Hymn of the Tiger Mother – especially in Hong Kong, where parenthood is outsourced en masse to poorly paid workers from the Philippines and Indonesia.
“The association of maternal-infant separation with developmental havoc is not new,” writes Gambotto-Burke, in the foreword (which can be read in its entirety in the May 31 print version of Post Magazine). “And yet despite the evidence, little change has been made to the way mothers and babies are treated, both by hospitals and by society at large.”
As well as putting up a fearsome fight for the cause of motherhood, Gambotto-Burke has thrown herself into the role of formal educator.
“School was causing [Bethesda] to lose interest in learning as she associated it with indifference, bullying and an institutional environment,” says Gambotto-Burke. “As homeschooling is, in essence, bespoke education, it allows you to teach to your child’s strengths and to strengthen their weaknesses.
“School is dehumanising. It serves a number of purposes, two of which are babysitting and the inculcation of conformity. Few people look back on their schooldays as being the happiest of their lives. Homeschooling, on the other hand, trains a child to associate learning with love, and thus the child grows to love learning.”
Other advantages include the flexibility to take days off when desired and the pleasure of being able to follow a subject wherever it leads.
“Today, for example, we stopped to look up maps of London. Bethesda was learning about opening paragraphs in English, so we compared Harry Potter to Wolf Hall – hence the desire to explore Putney, where Wolf Hall begins.”
Furthermore, unlike school, “where one is effectively incarcerated with all manner of children, homeschooling allows your child to pick and choose friends, meaning there can be no bullying or harassment”.
Of course, not every parent, especially in Hong Kong, is in a position to homeschool, and Gambotto-Burke admits there are drawbacks: there is no respite – “it’s like the movie trailers say: ‘In homeschooling, no one can hear you scream’”; there is no backup – “if your child misbehaves, you can’t delegate their teaching or have them suspended. You have to learn to deal with insubordination maturely, which is no fun at all”; and there is a lot more housework to do.
Gambotto-Burke is working on two more books: the first a novel that she describes as “dark, strange”; the second a “radical, inspiring” sequel to Mama.
Mama: Love, Motherhood and Revolution will be released on July 7 and be available from Paddyfield.com as well as bookshops. Bookdepository.com takes pre-orders and delivers internationally, postage free.