What do you know of your mother’s life before you came into being? Perhaps she experienced her own childhood challenges and personal traumas. She may have suffered loss, grief, fear, abandonment or isolation. Our mothers hide much from us, either to protect us or simply because they may not want to share parts of their past which they would rather forget or have not yet come to terms with.
Before and after you were born, it’s possible your mother experienced illness, financial hardship, death of a loved one, divorce or separation, verbal or physical violence, domestic or sexual abuse, depression, stress or emotional problems. Your mother may have lost her home, emigrated, been made redundant or ostracised from her community. Just how much do you know of your mother’s past?
None of the experiences mentioned would have been easy to get through. Bringing children up at the same time means for many mothers, life has been a constant juggling act with no guarantee that all the balls will stay in the air.
Motherhood may not have been fulfilling for your mother. Physical or emotional discomfort during conception, pregnancy or after the birth is not something a daughter generally asks about, though this may have impacted her ability to bond with you.
After childbirth your mother’s life will change dramatically, as well as getting used to being a mother there are frequent sleepless nights, feeds on demand and later on the school run, duties of homemaker and caretaker of the family, the responsibility is huge and often overwhelming for mothers. The role of the mother has no ending and no beginning with other family members having the expectation that ‘mum will do it’. Many mothers I have spoken with are frazzled, emotionally overwhelmed, exhausted and just about holding it together while at the same time trying to be the ‘Perfect Mother’, wife or partner and daughter.
It takes emotional intelligence to be a mother and if your mother was no more than a teenager herself when she gave birth to you, she may not have had the knowledge or maturity to care for you fully. Not having enough emotional or physical support to raise you, would have also taken its toll on her as well as you. If your grandmother, other mother figures or other caregivers were unable to guide your mother in raising you, she would have more or less been making it up as she went along, following the trial and error approach that many mothers do, until they find a pattern of parenting which works for them.
Whether you felt loved, unloved, over protected or under protected, you have the opportunity to learn a little more about your mother, by reflecting on the following questions.
· What do you know about the parenting and guidance your mother received?
· Did she feel loved, approved of and accepted by her mother or caregivers?
· What were the highs and lows of her childhood?
· How well did she get on with her mother and grandmother?
· What are her memories of significant special moments with her mother?
· What are her childhood regrets?
· How old was your mother when she gave birth to you?
· What support did she have in raising you through your childhood and teenage years?
· What practical knowledge and experience of mothering did she have before you were born?
· Did she match up to your idea of a mother in childhood and later years?
· Where did she learn how to be a mother? How many of your mother’s personal and professional goals did she sacrifice to put you and your family first?
· What resentments or regrets may remain for your mother, if she did not fulfil her dreams and aspirations?
· Would you have preferred your mother to have followed her dreams instead of making the choices she did?
· What have you learnt from your mother about being a woman, a daughter and a mother?
· What is the greatest gift your mother has given you? This may not be a physical gift though perhaps after reading my own situation you will think of other gifts your mother has given you whether that be her time, wisdom, some kind of learning from your experience or indeed something we all take for granted. Our mothers gave us the gift of life - Let us be grateful for that gift, life is precious...
‘‘I wonder what would have happened to me, had my mother taken her own life when I was a teenager; she was so close to it. She told me when I was in my thirties, ‘’as much as I wanted to end it all, I wondered what it would do to you and your brother.’’ She made a choice to stay in this world and despite wanting to end her pain she never went through with ending her life. I will always be grateful to her for her consideration of us, although she talked about not wanting to stay in this world, my mother never committed suicide. I don’t know how I would have coped if she had made that choice.’’
Using the following framework of questions, imagine how your mother may have behaved differently towards you if she had been able to work through and resolve her own problems. I wonder, did she ever feel loved and supported and connected with her family of origin? How have her experiences shaped her life and yours as a result of her childhood and younger days?
· What difficulties has your mother lived through, which may have shaped her character, behaviours, beliefs and parenting style?
· What was her experience as a daughter under her mother (your grandmother’s) parenting role?
· If your mother was not raised by a maternal mother or grandmother, what was her experience of being raised by her caregivers?
· How ‘deserving’ did your mother believe she was? (Taking into account if she believed she was worthy of love, affection, attention, approval)
· How similar are you to your mother in this aspect?
· Who did your mother talk to when she was afraid, upset, uncertain etc?
· Thinking about what you have learnt about your mother’s past challenges, her fears and failures – how does your judgement and opinion of her change?
· What new opportunities do you have, in the light of this new knowledge about your mother?
· Coming from your heart instead of your head, what would love do here?
· What do you need to start doing, stop doing or do differently, to improve your relationship with your mother or carry more positive memories of her?
Mother and daughter relationships can be fraught, with each person trying to get their needs met.
The mother-daughter battle can continue right through until adulthood unless changes are made in the relationship dynamic to create a win-win situation. Things improve when mother and daughter (as adults) are independently meeting their own needs or are giving to each other willingly, their time, attention, love and care. Having a deeper insight into your mother’s past and understanding what she went through, takes away some of the negative emotions you might feel towards her. For further insights into the mother - daughter relationship you might like to read my second book, Mothers and Daughters: The guide to understanding and transforming the relationship with your mother or contact me direct to discuss personal support programmes, it will be my pleasure to work with you.
To become optimally healthy and happy each of us must get clear about the ways in which our mothers’ history both influenced and continues to inform our state of health, our beliefs and how we live our lives - Christine Northrup M.D