Shield Mothers: War and Children seen by Fulvio Scaparro

R.Remember Kim Phúc, the main character of the Vietnamese girl in the photograph that symbolizes the war in Vietnam? We see her running naked, despairing, in tears, after napalm burns her village. With her, there are other children on the run, terrified. The only adults are in the background, soldiers advancing gently with weapons in hand. Let us compare this picture with one of the many taken during the invasion of Ukraine which, as I write this, is still going on. It is not the only war going on in the world, but it affects Europe and therefore has a much greater media presence than all the others.

Fulvio Scaparro

We notice that the Ukrainian mother is fleeing her invaded country with her little girl in her arms and on her shoulders a backpack with the few things she has managed to put inside. Both images, taken in different war scenarios, have the horror of each war event in common, but we can see a difference: Kim Phúc and the other Vietnamese children who run scared are alone, their parents may not have died in the bombing or in any case missed, the child is with his mother.

Children in war and shield mothers

I take these pictures as a starting point to reflect on why I do children experience the tragedy of war in a different way if they are close to their loved ones and animals and objects that were part of their daily lives in peacetime. It is an experience that has lived since the world began, every time those who preceded us in time found themselves in grave danger. “First Women and Children” is a chivalrous command rather than a seafarer closely linked to the species’ survival needs.

The transition object

Headline in a newspaper dated March 31, 2022: “Every tenth Ukrainian escapes abroad. Half of them with dolls: they are children “. The function of the doll, the doll, the stuffed animal is clear to many readers who love the adventures of Schulz and Linus with its cover. Perhaps fewer will be those who attach the cover totransition object described by Winnicott, pediatrician and psychoanalyst, which I have mentioned several times. He loved the paradox, one of which, “the child does not exist,” could make the heart of anyone who does not want to read the explanation given by Winnicott himself: there is no “child” in the abstract but always in relation to other people and with an environment.

Gendan Winnicott

Winnicott addressed these issues for much of his professional life, even when he was named CEO organize the lives of displaced children from big cities of the United Kingdom subjected to Nazi bombings during World War II. He was not the only one. He and other colleagues in the United Kingdom inevitably found themselves in possession of a privileged observatory for the study of family ties. Among them were different opinions: to protect the safety of children by removing them from their parents and protecting them outside the big cities that were the target of the bombings, or leaving them in the city under the protection of their family. The first solution prevailed and a large number of children were displaced in the country Child guidance clinics in the London countryside, where prominent scholars worked, including Winnicott. The reader will be able to find the details in his works by Winnicott, among which I suggest The deprived child. The origin of the antisocial tendency (Milan, Cortina, 1986).

A personal experience

On the subject, I have a personal experience to tell that I have very vivid memories of. From the time I was five years old, I was a child first on the run and then displaced. I’m talking about the years from 1942 to 1945, when I did not have a Winnicott to take care of, but only my mother, an aunt, a brother, older than five, and a cousin of three. There were no longer any adult men in this family group because, in order not to involve us, they lived far away, obliged to survive the consequences of the fall of fascism, which had eliminated their social position before the war.

Mothers shield

I can therefore give first-hand testimony about crucial weight than the presence of a mother or a woman taking over her place it can have by filtering or dampening the impact of the little ones with the terrible experiences of war. My brother and I fled Tripoli by plane before the British winners of the Battle of El Alamein arrived. We arrived in Rome, where we somehow settled until the Allied bombings of the capital began. That sirens, stacked down in the basementsthe adults with pointed ears to understand where the bombs would have fallen, me huddled next to my mother and brother messed with the dynamo light that I had a hard time operating with one hand. We were quickly forced to do so evacuate with my aunt and cousin to the Marche where once the family of the two sisters, born in the Marche region, had landed estates and still some support from distant relatives and elderly peasants who had worked for their family in distant times. It was the period when thousands of Italian families displaced from cities threatened by war events seeking refuge in their “small homelands”, the villages of origin on the plains or in the mountains scattered here and there on the peninsula.


Getty Images

Fear and horror filtered by mothers

I can only imagine the mood of the women in my small family group, alone in charge of three children looking for a home to live in the dark years. After some time, I realized that one of the great advantages of these two women was their ability not to convey their despair and fear to us children.

The war raged in the marches, though in a different way than those we had experienced in Libya and Rome. After a few months of relative calm, which I remember with nostalgia, because those were days always spent outdoors playing with friends or living life in the field under the guidance of a farmer, the war presented itself in its harshest form.

Curfews, searches and roundups: the word of war

The retreating Germans arrived, there were roundups in the hunt for partisans, two of whom were found, shot on the spot and their bodies hung in the public square. During the curfew, the patrols walked around the city, shooting at any lighted window, killing even a man I was happy with – I called him uncle – because he took me out into the country on his Guzzi, an unforgettable experience.

L’antispocchia, Milano, Bompiani, 2015.

The war told by mothers

Continually between the tragedy and us rose the protective wall of the mothers who tried not to show us this, could have scared us, or when it was impossible to hide the worst consequences of the war for us, they managed to distance us from the scene or minimize the situation by telling us versions of what happened that inevitably ended , if not with a happy ending, with words of hope.

Brave mothers and women

We have also reviewed one house survey which put the aunt’s and mother’s self-control seriously to the test. A fully armed German soldier knocked violently on the door. He wanted to know if we had guns in the house and where the men were. Here my mother and my aunt gave their best. They tried to seem calm and even hospitable, they offered a coffee and some bread, I do not know how to explain to the soldier that the men had stayed in Rome and that not only did they have no weapons, but that they did not even want to know what to do with them.

The danger escaped

They opened the rooms for the soldier, who looked around and seemed pleased with what he saw. He walked from there was warmly welcomed mother and aunt who, as soon as the door closed, hugged each other overwhelmed with feelings of the narrow escape. The soldier had not asked to see the ceiling. There he would find three shotguns and many cartridges, left there by the nice “uncle” who had introduced me to the motorcycle. If the German had found them, there would have been no escape for my brave women.

The power of the maternal shield

Then the Americans arrived and shortly after the news of the liberation of Rome, my aunt’s husband came to pick us up. He had grabbed a small three-wheeled truck, where he managed to cram us all. I do not know how. The journey was long and tiring through harsh and still not very safe roads. On an uphill we all had to get off and find a farmer nearby who for too little money strapped the vehicle to a pair of oxen and took us to the top. Along the way we saw on at least two occasions two roadside corpses, which mothers hurried to call “people sleeping” so as not to scare us. Even this journey, though exhausting, we children experienced it as an adventure.

The reality of the search, the dramas the country experienced and the very long journey home, we were told years later. We children were left with the memory of a period that was rich in experiences on the whole, even though it was difficult some rare emotional breakdowns of mothers who did not always manage to pretend self-confidence and even optimism.

Only much later would I understand and appreciate the power of the maternal shield.

What is Associazione GeA, Parenti Ancora

Fulvio Scaparropsychologist and psychotherapist, is the founder ofGeA associationsfor 30 years committed to supporting couples in crisis through family mediation.

“In 1987, by founding the GeA Genitori Ancora Association, we began working on a project full of utopia: conflict management, especially family conflicts, not only as destructive events, but also as opportunities for growth and transformation of relationships. Help the parents in separation to regain trust, hope, understanding and mutual recognition. Spread one mediation culture from which results of great benefit can be derived not only for individuals but for the whole of society in the form of pacification of social relations and trust in personal and societal resources.

Over the years, we have found many fellow travelers equipped with courage, optimism, deep awareness that in school as well as in the family, in the company and in the institutions, there is a growing need for brokers who help the parties to negotiate, in terms of seeing longer than a possible immediate victory, to seek alternative solutions to a frontal collision.

Above all, a long and fruitful journey was made with practice and reflection, not only about how, when, in which areas to mediate, but also and above all why it is worth mediating ”.

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How to Support the GeA Association, Ancora Parents

To contribute to Fulvio Scaparro’s commitment to pacifying family relationships, it is possible:

  • join the GeA Parents Ancòra Association (annual membership fee € 50.00)
  • pay a donation of more than € 50.00
  • sign in the box “support for voluntary work and other non-profit activities of social benefit, associations for social promotion and recognized associations and foundations operating in the sectors referred to in Article 10 (1) (a) of Legislative Decree No. 469 of 1997 “present in all models to indicate the income of individuals (Unnico, 730, CUD, etc.) and enter the tax code 97059120150).

Read all the articles by Fulvio Scaparro here


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