Thursday, 26 April 2012

Mothers and Daughters

"All women become like their mothers. That's their tragedy. No man does. That's his." (Oscar Wilde)

I am a daughter of a mother and a mother of a daughter. Two of the most important relationships in my life. My mother brings out the best and the worst in me and I believe I do the same to my daughter. As a girl and woman there is something about your relationship with your mother that is highly ambivalent. At one point your life literally depended on her, this is then followed by years of working towards becoming independent from her. Often a struggle for both mother and daughter. How many people haven't you heard say that teenage daughters are much more challenging than teenage boys? When you are born, dependence on the mother is necessary for your development and she is the centre of your world. Little girls are often in awe of their mother and are likely to idealise her. I am frequently being intensely and uncritically observed by my daughter as I get dressed, put make up on, cook, write, or chat with my friends. But I am under no illusion, in a few years this will be replaced by a highly critical attitude where I can do nothing right and on the whole will be seen as right down embarrassing. As you grow up, independence of your mother becomes necessary for healthy and successful development into adulthood. This means that when you are sixteen, the thought of becoming like your mother fills you with dread and every effort is often made not to be like her. It's like you somehow have to reject the whole lot before being able to accept and make your own, the aspects of your mother that are also part of your own personality. Some process!

For me the first stage was easy, both in my role as daughter and in my role as mother. The second part feels so much more complex. I think this may be particularly so for women as opposed to men. Boys seem more likely to grow up, separate from their mum and move on. That's not to say that they can't have a close relationship with her! However, for us girls I think our mothers tend to continue to have a much more significant role in our lives (maybe especially when we become mothers ourselves).   She often continues to be our primary role model and someone we are likely to continue to compare ourselves with. This is a source of pleasure and pain and most likely a life long condition.

As a mother of a young girl I find it hard to get the balance right between acknowledging and empathising with characteristics in my daughter that I see in myself, but without over emphasising our similarities as this could lead to over identification and enmeshment (when two or more people's identity are too tightly wrapped together, preventing them from emotional separateness). It feels like such a big responsibility to know that I'm her primary role model, and as such has a lot of indirect power over how she develops her sense of self. Similarly I sometimes still (!) struggle to 'hold my own' towards, and be emotionally independent  from, my mother. And yes, that is after about a hundred hours of therapy! Which brings me to my next point; it really is no myth that the mother has significant presence in psychological therapy. There are a number of various types of 'symptoms' that seem to figure in the dysfunctional mother/daughter relationships, including over identification and enmeshment, over dependence, unexpressed and expressed anger, jealousy and rivalry, to name but a few.

In some ways I think it boils down to being able to love the child just as she is,  without projecting our own expectations and wishes and in the process fail to see and meet the needs of the person as she really is. Daughters are probably more vulnerable than sons in this respect, as subconsciously we are less likely to compare and identify with boys to the same extent. I think mothers of daughters need to be extra conscious of what is them and what is their daughter in order to enable the daughter to grow up and be her own separate individual. This takes a mother who has a lot of self-insight and is confident in her own right. Someone who doesn't seek affirmation from her daughter or needs her to be in a certain way in order to feel validated. Someone who is happy to be close to, and proud of, their daughter without feeling the need to see their own reflection in her. An ongoing functional relationship also requires a daughter who is willing to accept her mother as less than ideal, whilst at the same time recognising and appreciating that in all likelihood, she did the best that she could based on what was available to her at any given moment in time.

Now THAT is what I call a sales pitch for psychotherapy!


  1. Har fortfarande samma skräck som när jag var 16 år.... ;-)
    Bra skrivet min bästa syster! Puss / Lotta

  2. Absolutly spot on! Nearly hooked me for some therapy! :)