When you and your mother aren’t friends

Some women just don’t get along with their mothers.

I came across an interesting article in the Daily Mail recently, though I must admit I found it quite painful to read. The author had such a poor relationship with her mother that she asked her to go to couples therapy. She aims to document the success or failure of this in the leadup to her giving birth to her own first child.

My relationship with my mother was awful, and that is one major reason I don’t have children – I couldn’t bear the idea that I might have as bad a relationship with my daughter as with my mother, and I didn’t want to screw up my kids the way my parents screwed up theirs – there is not one well-balanced psyche between the four of us siblings and we have spent most of the past 30 years out of contact. 

This article is a useful reminder that there are many women who don’t get on with their mothers. In fact, some psychologists believe it is the most fraught of all familial relationships and the most damaging when it goes wrong, partly because the expectations of ourselves and our mother’s generations are so completely different. The choices that many modern women make – multiple sexual partners, living with people rather than marriage, delayed childbirth, small families or no children at all – can leave many older women nonplussed, or jealous, or angry. 

However, in the case of the Daily Mail writer, it was the total non-communicativeness of her mother that was the biggest issue for her to deal with – she grew up in a household where emotions were something you simply didn’t express (yup, know how that feels – my parents sat on opposite sides of the living room and barely acknowledged each other’s existence most of the time). 

If you don’t get on with your mother, I heartily recommend the book When you and your mother can’t be friends by Victoria Secunda, which helped me to understand why I was always so angry with mine. My mother was needy, clingy, untrustworthy and unreliable – someone you could never lean on or talk to about anything – and although I knew this was due to her terrible childhood, there was a part of me that hated her for this role reversal, where I was like her mother and she was like my daughter. Having spent most of my teenage years looking after her, I left home at 18 pretty much never to return, and for many years we didn’t speak at all, managing – eventually – a distant phone-only rapprochement (voicemail is a wonderful thing).

When I went to visit her shortly before she died, it was the first time we’d seen each other in 15 years and her indifference to me took my husband’s breath away – though not mine, as we’d never had much to say to one another. Besides, she was very ill – though not ill enough, I noticed, to give up her spite against my sister, who had cared for her for most of the previous 20 years. Her stoicism in the face of impending death was truly admirable and she retained enough energy to be mean to my poor aunty right up till the end.  

Shortly after we left her hospice, my husband and I were hit by an articulated lorry on the M1 and I spent most of the next two months having physio, while he spent it on trancs. I phoned my mother every day, sent her flowers every week, and books and music. But I didn’t want to see her again, and when she died, neither I nor my siter went to her funeral. Such is life.

Anyway, you may find the article worth a read if you have the time. 

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