Every relationship is unique, yet when we venture into a conversation with our closest confidantes; that friendly ear at work; or simply a stranger who is in the right place at the right time, the stories and feelings we share often resonate. We may have different lived experiences and backgrounds but themes within relationships can somehow become universal. The partner who bottles up their feelings; the friend who drains rather than waters your energy; that time looking back you recognise now that you were played; the buttons our children start to press unbeknown to them.
Perhaps one of the most profound and at times complex of relationships is that of mothers & daughters. And this relationship can become amplified, when a daughter becomes a mother herself. Our mothers are our first home, and the foundation for our first vulnerable experiences of relationships.
Artist & mother Laxmi Hussain writes so poignantly about hearing her departed mother calling her name on the day her third child Eden was born ‘…… I knew giving birth without her would be hard, but that morning she soothed me and reminded me that she is with me always. Perhaps that’s why I’m more fascinated with how special being a mother is now that she is gone. She was my first love and now that lives within me and the only way I know how to truly express that is in my work.’
Motherhood is often described as being akin to rebirth. With our first and subsequent children we often start to redefine so much of our lives - our friendships; our relationships; our priorities; and fundamentally the way in which we want to live our lives and raise our children.
The reality of that can be impossible to grasp until we step into the journey of motherhood. The seeds might be sown from what we read, what we are inspired by and what we imagine but also so much of what we set up in our minds before birth can fall away or evolve into something new or unexpected. The surprising elements of motherhood, of which there are many, can rock us but also energize and excite us.
Alysha recounts how having her first child forced her to face up to and recognise some of the constraints that had been present in her relationship with her mother. Their incredibly close bond felt at times more so akin to being best friends. Cracks however began to appear as her mother tried to influence how she should be raising her newborn son, and it highlighted how that harmony had perhaps been maintained all these years by Alysha’s willingness to let her mother take the lead in the relationship. The new dynamic of becoming a mother herself rocked everything as she found a confidence and absolute conviction in how she wanted to mother. Time and a second baby have helped them to re-establish their relationship, which is now good, yet, a very different type of bond to what they had before.
Having my own child prompted me to give my own beautiful mother 'much more grace', a turn of phrase spoken by Neri James in a Mother Muse article, that captured so much of what I'd been feeling in so few words. I’ve certainly found kindred spirits amongst other women on this. As I found my rhythm as a mother it melted some of the barriers that I’d built up over years. My defence mechanism in no longer wanting to carry some of her pain meant that I’d pushed her so far to arms length both emotionally and physically there was a period of time I would rarely allow her to hug me. Becoming a mother myself and understanding that depth of feeling and love, coupled with an awareness of generational trauma, prompted a major shift. I had already started to let her back in as I missed her – but motherhood prompted it fully and it was and continues to be lovely. What I recognise is that whilst I softened, I was also emotionally stronger than ever and I think it was perhaps that balance within myself I needed to reach to re-set our relationship.
I know other women who have incredible bonds with their mothers that have only deepened as a result of motherhood. Rebecca had her mother by her side as she gave birth and she acknowledges how her own daughter shares so many similarities with her amazing mother. Seeking counsel from her mum when the more colourful sides of her daughter’s personality emerge provides her with a perspective grounded in experience – both her mothers and her own from growing up.
A common theme women express is that tipping point in your relationship when you fully appreciate that your mother is her own person and as fallible and imperfect as you are. This can evolve early for many and having a child of course isn’t a pre-requisite. But with a spotlight on motherhood it recognises how often a mother is trying to do her best and sometimes she falls short by her own standards (note, I don’t mention others standards). We may not have always mothered how we would want to but fundamentally we must know that we are good mothers. I imagine these ebbs and flows will continue for a lifetime and it’s the way in which we can recover from the tumbles that will in part determine the type of relationship we build with our children.
* Thank you to the women who were generous enough to share their words & experiences with us
Photo credit : Carrie Mae Weems, The Kitchen Table Series, 1990