For as long as I can remember, my relationship with my mother has been complicated.
As a child, I was told continually by both her and everybody else around me how fortunate I was to have a mother like her.
I was spoiled in many ways. Showered with gifts constantly. My birthdays were always extravagant affairs celebrated with big lavish parties, and expensive presents. Anything I ever wanted, I could usually have.
Christmases were much the same. There was never a time when my wishlist to Santa went unfulfilled.
I had the bedroom of dreams. All of the latest toys. The most adorable outfits.
I was the envy of my peers when it came to “stuff”.
But one thing I never had, was affection.
I can’t remember a single occasion from my childhood where my mother told me that she loved me.
I have no recollection of any hugs, any kisses, any bedtime stories.
What I do remember very clearly is crying a lot. Always feeling worried that I would do something to displease her. Always feeling on edge, always feeling desperate for her approval but never really feeling like I got it.
As an adult, the story remains much the same.
I feel as though I have two mothers.
My “Public Mother” – the one who leaves the most loving and supportive public comments on my social media posts. Who gushes with pride at my achievements and supports my work.
And my actual mother – the one who never so much as asks how I am when we speak, who never shows an ounce of interest in my life, and who actively tries to downplay any positive piece of news I share with her or turns it all around to be about her.
Living with a mother who is emotionally unavailable while simultaneously putting on the Perfect Mother act for those around us is difficult, to say the least.
As not only do you need to navigate your way around the effects of living without maternal affection and approval, but you have to do so while those around you make their assumptions that your relationship is a good one – and that any issue you have must be your own doing, because they have witnessed your mothers many public displays of wonderful parenting and believe them fully.
It’s a tricky thing to have a very different mother behind closed doors to the one that you appear to have in public.
For a long time, my relationship with my mum ruled my life in a number of ways.
I never quite grew out of that childhood desire to please her. To win her approval, to have her show me some affection for once.
Whenever anything positive happened in my life, I would always rush to call her – to excitedly share my news with her, only for her to dismiss it quickly and move the conversation quickly along to something about her.
But somehow, I always blamed myself for the way she reacted. I would scold myself for expecting more. Become angry with myself for never learning from my past experiences and expecting her to change.
It’s only now that I’m in my 30s raising children of my own that I have finally begun to realise how damaged our relationship is and always has been.
And the effect that has had on my confidence, my self esteem and – something I only realised very recently – my relationship with other women, has been devastating.
My mother – for reasons that are still unknown to me – has always had a problem with other women.
Growing up, I regularly witnessed the insincerity of her female friendships – she seemed to have many friends, women who appeared to like her a great deal.
They would come to our house for coffee and spend hours chatting with her or spend whole evenings on the phone to her as she laughed with them and seemed to enjoy their company. But the second they left or the phone call ended, my Mother would launch into a rant about how much she disliked them. How dull they were, how much she disagreed with their point of view, how annoyed she was at the time she had just spent with them.
Through watching this strange display of friendship, I grew up feeling unsure of how to navigate my own.
I learned to see other women as people to be quietly tolerated and agreed with, rather than to have any sort of honesty with.
Perhaps it’s little wonder that I have spent my adult life struggling to form lasting female friendships of my own.
As well as her strange displays of friendship, my mother also demonstrated a strong distaste for women in general.
She would regularly spend car journeys pointing out random women on the street, and saying to us “Look at the state of her! Who does she think she is wearing that?!” or similar appearance-based insults.
She’d regularly insult strangers from afar based on their clothing, their size, the way they walked…anything at all really. Her attacks were always reserved for women, I can’t recall a single one that was aimed at a man.
Of course, if you met my mother you would never guess any of this. She is always as nice as pie to those she meets – polite, friendly even. She comes across as a pleasant, affable woman that you’d struggle to find a quarrel with.
Growing up around this, I of course learned to critique females in the same way that she did. I noticed peoples appearances and dress sense before anything else. I judged them on it instantly.
Having spent my childhood having my choice of friends vetted by my mother, based usually on the clothes they wore, how well they spoke and how much she liked their own mothers, I struggled to understand how to pick friends for myself and always found myself seeking her approval on them.
It’s taken me almost 40 years and a lot of therapy to finally realise that the woman-hating behaviour I witnessed from my mother, and the toxic relationship I had and still have with her, are not normal.
I think this quote from Dr Karyl McBride’s book “Will I Ever Be Good Enough?” sums up my maternal experiences and the effect they’ve had on my life best of all…
“Narcissistic mothers teach their daughters that love is not unconditional, that it is given only when they behave in accordance with maternal expectations and whims. As adults, these daughters can have a fear of abandonment that can lead them to form unhealthy romantic relationships, as well as a tendency to perfectionism, and unrelenting self-criticism”.
Only in the last year have I finally begun the process of repairing the damage done to my ability to connect with other women, form honest relationships with them and stop seeing them as competition.
It’s taking a lot of work to unlearn what she taught me, and it will be a slow process, but it feels good.
photo credit: Miguel Pires da Rosa Gossip girls via photopin (license)
This post has been submitted anonymously.