Your mother will have her own personal identity based on the stigma of how she believed a mother ‘should be’ passed down to her by her own mother, family culture and societal influence. Her education, upbringing, family of origin and caregivers all shaped her identity outside of the mother-daughter bond. Even though you might not share or like your mother’s personality, traits and behaviours, you began as she did, inside your mother’s womb; you share common ground with her, she, just like you, is also a daughter.
Gathering information about who your mother was or is and her mother before her (your biological grandmother) as well as all the women who came before her (as far as you can go back along your female blood line) will be helpful in identifying the patterns of beliefs and behaviours handed down through your ancestral heritage.
If your mother has over identified with you, there may have been occasions when you have acted or behaved in a certain way where she has felt ashamed, embarrassed and judged by others. You may have even heard your mother using the line “what will people think of me’’ because she feels responsible for your actions and behaviours. It’s true to say, this may also apply to you, if your mother has behaved in ways which shame you because you have over identified with her and you feel you will be judged because of her behaviour. In the separation process, this phenomenon ideally drops away, as mother and daughter take full responsibility for themselves, simply allowing the other person to be who they are in their own right.
The identifications we make as women, mothers and daughters can and do change over time. Many mothers after pregnancy and sometimes before deny themselves the opportunity to follow their personal dreams and career paths, in order to be the kind of mother society expects. Mothers may lose their self-identity as they mould and shape themselves into what they think they need to be to be acceptable mothers.
When a child flies the nest and leaves home, mothers are often left with a sense of isolation and loneliness. They find themselves not knowing who they are. Many mothers who are also daughters, have shared with me the physical pain they feel when their child leaves home; even if the relationship has been hostile, the sense of loss is still vivid.
If a daughter goes on to live the kind of life the mother would have liked for herself, there can also be jealousy and animosity, because the daughter has what the mother wanted. Daughter envy is something mother’s find hard to admit. Mothers are often unaware of the hate they feel towards their daughters. For many mothers who are resentful of their daughter’s status, the anger and hate festers within them and overspills into the relationship. When daughters leave home and don’t keep in regular contact with their mothers, this can feel like a huge rejection, leaving a void which seems difficult to fill. This is even more apparent, if the mother has no sense of self, personal security or ability to nurture herself or meet her own needs.
Daughters too, may experience the separation process all over again when they decide they want to have complete control over their futures. If the mother has doubts about how well a daughter will fare independently on her own or in relationships, the daughter’s confidence may begin to waiver, she may believe she can’t make it on her own without her mother. Separating and being independent of each other is a process all mothers and daughters have to go through. More often than not, the separation can be challenging if both party has over identified with the other and the relationship has become enmeshed.
I could not move completely beyond my relationship conflicts with my mother, until I understood her as a person, rather than as my mother - Wendy Fry * Excerpt from Mothers and Daughters: The guide to understanding and transforming the relationship with your mother
Find out what you can from your mother, her siblings, your father and her friends about her personal history, hopes and dreams. The information shared may offer new insights into aspects of your mother’s personality you have never known about. Learning about her, creates self-awareness and offers the opportunity to find new ways to understand your mother and this will bring a deeper understanding of yourself.
Questions for reflection
What were your mother’s hopes and fears about being a mother?
How many female friends did your mother have while she was growing up?
What era did your mother grow up in?
What era did her mother (your maternal grandmother) grow up in?
Thinking about the era you are in now and the historical changes women have gone through in the last century, what changes have you and your mother lived through as a result of society changing?
What parental influences are now outdated in the 21st century, in comparison to the 1800s-1900s?
How developed was your mother in terms of emotional resilience when she became a mother?
What was/is the quality of her relationship with her mother (your grandmother)?
What have been your mother’s greatest life challenges?
What fears did your mother have about bringing a child into the world?
What physical or emotional changes did she go through which were uncomfortable for her during or after pregnancy?
How did your mother feel about herself when she raised you?
How much support did your mother have in raising you? (emotional and physical support)
What behaviours did you exhibit as a child that made your mother think she was being judged as a parent by others?
Who is your mother still holding resentment towards from her childhood or thereafter?
What did your mother feel she had to give up in raising a family?
What surprises did motherhood bring for your mother?
In what ways did your mother feel she changed (for better or worse) after becoming a mother?
Who does your mother identify with? (e.g. her mother or other female role model)
How responsible has your mother been in terms of caring for your well-being as a child?
How bound have you felt towards your mother over the years in being a daughter?
In hindsight, if your mother were able to live her life over what would she have done differently?
In learning about your mother, what do you acknowledge about her which you never knew before?
Some mothers may have a public façade, acting one way in public and another way behind closed doors. This has become evident in my case studies where Jan said her mother was as sweet as can be in public while at home she was vile, demanding and the complete opposite of her public personae.
A mother’s personal identity generally changes once a daughter has grown up and is no longer dependent on her, though for some mothers they may over identify with their daughters and not want to separate away from them. This can be problematic in the relationship, leaving the mother to feed off her daughter, instead of separating into an identity of her own, causing many conflicts unless addressed. It will be worth considering (and even asking) your mother what her fears are around separation and having an identity apart from being your mother.
Both mothers and daughters will react in certain ways when life throws out its challenges. Thinking about your mother:
How often does she/did she show her feelings openly?
Reflecting on your own feelings, do you follow the same patterns as your mother, or have you found a way to respond differently in times of conflict or struggle?
Who did your mother learn her personal identity from? (Was she raised by your grandmother, another family member or other mother figure?)
What experiences and events do you believe shaped your mother’s life and her personal identity?
Understanding your mother requires you to get curious about who she was before you came along. In taking the time to learn about her, your journey to transformation and healing becomes easier. If you would like some personal support in improving the relationship with your mother or relationships generally, please do make contact to get started www.mothersanddaughters.solutions