Monday, 14 January 2008

Voyage around a Mother

In so many families, there seems to be a vicious circle as each girl child swears to herself and to her mother: 'I will never be like you...' and despairingly watches and hears herself becoming that person, despite her best efforts to the contrary.

I grew up watching my father, however unknowingly, disrespect my mother, my father-in-law doing the same to my mother-in-law and my husband to me. None of these men found it easy to show affection or appreciate their wives in terms of their appearance or the love they were given without return. In their search for the straight man/the stooge who would make them look like the life and soul of the party, they thoughtlessly demeaned their female counterpart in the eyes of their audience of children, particularly the girls. The boys instinctively retain their protective feelings for their mothers, even when they are pulled away by their future wives. But the girls...

Do I just feel this through my own jaundiced experience of three women? Or are things better for the women who bring up female offspring without the interference/disrespectful example of a male partner?

I do know several couples where the women are the driving force of the pair. Where the male adores his strong woman. Whilst he provides the money to run the home and then enforces her rule where necessary, he enjoys being pampered and cared for and makes those feelings clear. He compliments her and shows his affection openly and she responds in kind. These are the strongest partnerships that I have come across. They complement each other. There is an almost palpable synergy between them. Yes, they have their spats, but then the joy of the rapprochement is eagerly awaited.

My own daughter recently subjected me to a 20 minute tirade, shouting vitriol viciously over the top of my own attempts to calm her. Apparently I am a sad old woman nearing 50 who spends all her time on the computer, who should get a life. Whilst, almost in the same breath, she accuses me of never being at home. It would seem that laundry, housework, cooking and shopping constitute the bare minimum obligatory requirements of motherhood and she completely overlooks the 12 years that I spent at home totally devoted to her and her brother. I am a shrieking banshee who only ever shouts at them.

When I try to point out that the shouting tends to come when I have asked politely and respectfully for the same task to be completed three or four times earlier, this thought is pooh-poohed with the distraction technique of reminding me that respect has to be earned and that if I stopped shouting at her, she would stop shouting at me.

It is so hard to listen to a catalogue of obscenity-ridden invective without chucking some back but, always at the forefront of my mind, is the concern that anything nasty I might say now could come back and bite her on the bum in terms of psychological disorder in the future. So I hold my tongue and when she gets out of the car, I allow the seat to go flat and sob at my inadequacies for the majority of the hour that I am waiting in the cold darkness, whilst she has her music lesson, before driving her home again. She, of course, seems to have conveniently forgotten all the nasty phrases she used only minutes before and behaves as if everything is normal.

The terrible thing is that I do have a choice. And the decision over that choice becomes easier and easier when the reasons for which I stay become less and less obvious.

Several hours later, she did at least have the grace to come and apologise which is something of a first. But these altercations seem to be coming more and more frequently, despite my attempts to acquiesce to all her demands for independence and I am at a loss as to how to do things differently without it looking as if I do not care for her safety at all.

All I ever wanted was to have the kind of relationship where we would enjoy going shopping and stopping for coffee - something I never had with my own mother and watched other friends enviously who did.

I talked to my own mother only a few days ago. I told her that I had forgiven her for leaving us. Knowing what I have to deal with from just one teenage girl, I remember that she had two obnoxious hussies plus a disrespectful husband to contend with. No wonder she left when someone showed her some affection, gave her some sense of value.

She told me that she had decided when we were quite small that she would leave my father as soon as we were old enough and get herself a little flat and an alternative future. When she revealed this fact to my dad during an argument, his reply of 'Who would have you?' did a great deal to destroy what little self-respect she had left, but also galvanised her into a more determined desire to follow her threat through. However, she said that didn't stop her from being very sad to have to leave her children behind when she started a new life in a new town with a new man.

Sadly, her second marriage failed after about 15 years and, when my grandmother became ill, my mother finally had an excuse to leave him as well. Another 15 years later, now that Grandma has passed away, my mother is alone again. She would like some male company but will make it quite clear that verbal companionship is all she requires. She seems unruffled by the thought of not having sex ever again. After all, her own mother lived alone for 50 years.

But I am not my mother. I believe I have learned from her mistakes although I am, by no means, the perfect example of motherhood. But I have tried to be the antithesis of the cold, tired, screeching maternal figure I remember. I have been extremely tactile with my children to the extent that, now she considers herself too grown up to snuggle with her mum, I will stand on my teenage daughter's foot in order to make her stand still and have a cuddle, however unwillingly. I believe it is important to retain that ability to hug your children, no matter how reluctant the hugee.

My own mother tries to embrace me now when she feels the need for some affection but it is so hard to forget her desertion and the fact that she couldn't or wouldn't indulge in this behaviour when we were younger. I am the equivalent of my own teenager in those situations - rigid with embarrassment and uncertain how to respond. We have lost the intimacy for this type of closeness. If only my mother could make a joke or stand on my foot to lighten the uncomfortable moment, but she is a product of her own mother's inability to show her even the smallest amount of tactile or verbal love. It is so sad.

I was talking to another friend who had suddenly found herself faced with choices similar to those that her mother had had to make 30 years before and for which she has bitterly resented her for years.

Suddenly, I start to wonder if sometimes what goes around, comes around and we are put in positions that are similar to those of our mothers in order that we can learn to at least understand their actions... if not to forgive.


elizabeth said...

I think the cycle is neverending. Through trying to reverse the mistakes of the previous generation, we end up falling into the same habits. My mother and I have an awkward relationship; we hardly hug, and when we do, I feel uncomfortable because physical contact with her growing up was practically nil. I know this is because of her strained relationship with my grandmother, and I can only hope that I can do better with my own kids one day.

Gorilla Bananas said...

I think you were right to not shout back at her. I think she'll appreciate your patience when she's older. She'll realise that only parents give you unconditional love. Perhaps you should ask her for a hug now and again to let her be in control.

Vi vi vi vooom!!!!!!!! said...

Yes, it is funny how we seem to follow in our mothers footsteps no matter how hard we try not to. When my parents split, I was with my mum, and I resented her working all the time, leaving me at home. Now I'm doing the same thing to my kids, but I'm trying to involve them as much as possible still.

Anonymous said...

My daughter is 20 now. She's a gorgeous, intelligent, mature young woman with a princess complex, and we're very close. Which is all very lovely for me, but god, was it hard won. At various times when she was between the ages of 12 and 17, I honestly thought it might be better for both of us if the inevitable happened and social services just moved in and took her away from me.

I felt as though I had irredeemably fucked up her life, as though all the effort I had put in during her childhood, to surround her with love, and to try to instill some moral code and values, had been for nothing. At times, underneath the surface of the juvenile delinquent I seemed to have raised, I'd get glimpses of the funny, happy little girl she had been, but they were rare. In her eyes, I was the Anti Christ. it was pure, unabated hell.

Then one day she started to crawl out of the swamp of adolescence, agonisingly slowly. Now she's profoundly grateful to me, and to her grandparents, for keeping the faith, and says so constantly. It's not easy - she made some terrible choices, and has had to live with the consequences. But she accepts that she made mistakes, and that although I did too, they were at least made in good faith.

It's a tricky relationship, mothers and daughters. I think my point when I started this comment was that in our case, her blatant show of lack of respect for me could not be blamed on any negative paternal influence, as she has never met her father: her main male figure has been my father: the archetypical "good" Alpha Male, who adores his wife and daughters, and who would never dream of treating his family with anything but overt love and respect.

Hang on in there. It will get better, I promise you, and until then there's nothing you can do but try to remain consistent, and be there for her when she needs you. And one day, you too can have the dubious pleasure of having your daughter trail around the house after you, wailing: "You're a saint! How did you never kill me? Please tell me I'll never have a daughter like me!"

(Sorry this is so long - it hit a nerve or ten).

Gypsy said...

When I was a teen I was a complete and utter bitch to my mother. We constantly fought and argued and there were times I actually thought I hated her. Fast forward to me becoming a mother and I had a slap in the face epiphany about what a monster I had been. I have been trying to make it up to her ever since and I believe I have. Today we couldn't be closer and never say hello or goodbye without a hug and a kiss.

My twins are now 13 and I am bracing myself for what will surely be a healthy dose of comeuppance for myself. What goes around, comes around....I hope to Christ that isn't true.

nitebyrd said...

My daughter is now 30 and is not only my daughter but my friend. I still wonder how this difficult, judgemental, nasty teenager grew into this smart, funny, talented woman. My mother was cold and distant. I knew I wouldn't be that way and wasn't. I cried many times at the hurtful things my daughter would say to me. I also questioned my value as a person when I was only looked at as a "mother" with all that title implies.

When my daughter was about 23, she gave me and her father a card that she said put her thoughts about us into words. It was a beautiful, touching card. Added to her signature were the words - I couldn't have asked for better parents. You are the best. It made the toment of adolescence worthwhile.

Don't give up, Cake.

Cloute said...


Its not about how hard you try, in my opinion, its about how hard you tried, and how hard your trying.

Your a good mum, better then mine(i shall not elaborate). Stay that way!

You the Mum!


Blazngfyre said...

I lost my own Mum when I was 10, and I only had 2 older brothers ... so it was all men in my house.
To this day, I still feel a twinge of jealousy over NOT having experienced that Mother/Daughter dynamic.
To say I am fascinated by it is an understatement!
Now that I'm an adult, I have only men in my house again .... 2 boys, no girls.
In a way, I am thankful for it as I am absolutely terrified of parenting a girl! Yet ... part of me longs for that female relationship that, as much as I love my boys, I can't share with them.

I think you did the right thing by not screaming back at her. What would it have solved? I talk to my boys, and yes, sometimes I DO scream, but I always come back and talk to them rationally.

Good luck Cake, and for what it's worth, someday your daughter will realize what a good Mum you are.
For yourself, maybe you could find a way past your Mums mistakes and work towards a more intimate and loving relationship because when she's gone .... well, you know.

I wish you all the best.

Pixie said...

The blaming of you as a useless parent is not girl related, my youngest with attitude, male, 16 gives me hell about what his needs are. And rarely gives back. so those odd occasions he does are just so precious and I am so grateful for.
We have a punch bag in the garage, works a treat when I want to kill him, and he's oblivious, and when I get back in the house having worked off my rage at his attitude I feel fine!!!

Ro said...

Teenage years are always difficult in the best-run families; when there are other stresses and strains they can seem to be impossible.

When you also have such difficult decisions to make and remake, I am sure, on a near-daily basis it must drive you to distraction.

But be reassured: you have made a decision for the benefit of this daughter and at some personal cost; no matter how things work out you can at least hold your head high and know - know - that you did the very best you knew how to do for her.

And as so many others have said, it's amazing how things sometimes work out. I remember my mother and sister arguing on an almost continuous basis ... right up until my sister left home. Maybe there's some sense to the old adage about two women never sharing one kitchen!

Walker said...

I think no matter what we say we end up picking up a few of the things from our parents even if we try not to.
Its years of conditioning.
The most important thing you learn i think is that you don't agree with every thing that you saw.

Another thing, if you see yourself doing someof the things your mother did it might be for e good reason.

Times are changing, people are chamging and the old domineering was are falling by the wayside, except in the Middle East if course.

Teenagers are a pain in tha ass and thats all I got to say after raising three of them with one still left.

If you are a least a little better than your mother and your daughter is a little better than you then I think everything is going in the right direction.

As for husbands and fathers, my father is Greek and the man wears the pants in the house but he vacumes the caroet when my mother tells him if he knows whats good for him LOL

Redhead Editor said...

Our girl children have a tendency to know what buttons to push and where they are. And we all wait for the day our daughters see us as human. It took my divorce to realize how difficult it must have been for my mother to go through a horrible divorce from a horrid man all the while without a friend in sight. She's been gone 10 years, and there were many times last year I wish she were alive so I could apologize for being such a bitchy daughter to her. I finally saw her as human in need of friendship and companionship that she never got. I have faith your daughter and my daughters will see us as human long before we are gone! Hang in there, Cake. Hugs from across the ocean.

BenefitScroungingScum said...

I'm not the best person to comment on this, but...teenage years are hell. I think without exception (girls particularly) say and do the most vicious things that really they don't mean, and like you say have forgotten in an instant, long before the person they direct their insults to can put them aside. Those who seem to have such wonderful relationships are just as hysterical and difficult behind closed doors.
That said, the thing that makes you such a good mother is how you continue to try so hard. It's all anyone, parent or child can ask for, and given a few years I'm sure she will see that. Hugs, BG x x x

having my cake said...

A huge thank you to you all for your words of encouragement. It's good to know that I am not alone and that there can be good outcomes after this dark part x

toby said...

I have vivid memories of my older sister and mother screaming at each other. For most of her teenage years! Now they are best pals. Although, they both still feel the need to press each other's buttons from time to time.

One day I might confront my sister for her selfishness and vanity and for subjecting us to her stupid, over-confident boyfriends. And for leaving us crippled with debt after her wedding. Or maybe not.

One day I might also confront my mother about her foul temper and her manipulation of her son's loyalty and for squandering his wages. Then again, maybe not.

I'm sure I pissed them off too. Occasionally. Can't imagine how :)

Loving Annie said...

There is an incredibly wonderful ten day seminar/workshop called 'The Hoffman Process' that deals with just exactly that. I highly recommend it.

It changed A 48 year relationship of bitterness and anger into a peaceful, and even occasionally appreciative, one - something I would not have ever thought was possible.

I wish that for you and your daughter, and you and your Mom.


The Land of Plethora said...

Beautiful post Cake, so filled with truth and emotion. Just to add to the others, there is hope for a wonderful relationship in the future. My Mom and I are very close and yet I'm terribly ashamed of my behavior and treatment of her while I was a teenager. The hormones, stress, and daily adventures of a teenager are more difficult than some remember and who better to let out their frustrations with than a close parent. Not that it makes it right, it just makes it safe. My good friend's teen daughter rarely speaks to her anymore, and that's the much more scary alternative.

Oh, and I also recommend a punching bag in the garage, it's a splendid stress reliever for all. :)

Best wishes and huge hugs...

Melissaria said...

I definitely read somewhere that it is necessary for teenagers to despise and argue with their parents - because if they didn't they'd never have the motivation to leave home and fend for themselves! If I remember the source I'll let you know. It was an excellent piece.

My own mother says that all you can do is your best when they're little, brace yourself through the teenage years, and hope that the good work you did earlier on pays out once they grow out of it. And I'm an only child, so I can't imagine what she means...

Good luck...