dating reflections of your mother

In parts one and two, I’ve been talking about how we often date reflections of our father creating unrealistic expectations as we try to fill the void created by the dysfunction that we may have experienced, and in part three, I got onto the tricky subject of dating reflections of our mothers, something that resonates with a lot of women. Whether it’s we they end up with people reflecting our mother’s characteristics or the ideas and beliefs that she passed down, they have a far reaching impact.

It will be no surprise that the things that we can experience with our fathers are all things that we can experience with our mothers, although they can take on a different slant. Why? Because we arrive onto this earth automatically dependent on our mothers. It can feel very odd, near painful not to be able to depend upon her and it can feel devastating if you feel unloved, unwanted, or even hated, which will cause you to spend a lot of time seeking validation and attention. We’re taught to expect to be loved by our mothers and there’s this cosy, rosy image of what being parented should be like – when we’re not experiencing what ‘everyone-else’ is experiencing, i.e. the norm, we wonder what the hell is wrong with us.

In part two I talked about various things that our fathers may have done that created the wrong message and affected our self-esteem. You can take that list and substitute mother in there plus:

Your mother abandoned you or was fond of disappearing acts. Being given up for adoption, for example, while for some may feel like it was an act of care, for others may feel like a start in life of rejection.

Your mother may have taught you to feel bad about loving your father or to even be ashamed of your background.

Your mother was/is a drama queen invalidating everyone’s feelings around her, creating havoc, conflict, and misery, but never being accountable for her own actions. She teaches those around her not to voice their feelings.

Your mother may have put her love-life as her main priority, choosing men over you, and maybe even standing by as they mistreated you. She may have abandoned you every time a new guy came into her life.

Your mother may have been jealous of you so it may have felt like she treated you like an enemy or a love rival.

Your mother may have been near obsessed with what she thought you were and weren’t doing, especially around sex. Even when her accusations weren’t true, she made them sound like the truth. Next thing you know, you’re supposed to be sleeping with the whole village, hitting on her man, trying to rob her, or trying to kill her.

Your mother may have critiqued the crap out of you making it clear that you were not measuring up.

Whatever you have experienced, don’t deny it. You don’t have to pretend that your mum (mom) was a saint or feel ashamed about her behaviour and how it reflects on you.

Acknowledging your experiences isn’t about looking for reasons to blame your mother (or your father); it’s about understanding why you may have some of the ideas that have shaped how you see yourself and the world as well as your interactions, so that you can make peace and adjust your viewpoint.

Note that I say make peace – much like closure, this is something that you can do without having to get your parents involved, especially if they’re no longer around or they’re still up to their antics.

I’ve worked hard over the last five years in particular to distance myself from the image of me that I’m told I am and also from the drama – this is very key.

Here are some things that I’ve learned that help me stay grounded and get perspective. I’ve focused these ones on the mother daughter relationship and I will get back to daddy’s in the next posts and moving beyond our parents:

1. It’s OK to be compassionate but don’t take on her problems. My mother has her own issues and I can be compassionate enough to recognise this and respect the impact it has made on her. She is no doubt recreating patterns that are all too familiar to her but that doesn’t mean I have to take it. I’ve tried to accommodate and be compassionate about these issues for 33 years – whatever I do is never going to be enough and I accept this.

When you take on their problems, you’re just helping to cater to a self-fulfilling prophecy. The best thing you can do is not facilitate it. They’ll either find the drama elsewhere or realise that they have to adapt and change.

You can empathise without joining her in her problems or continuing the dynamic. You can say ‘I understand that she’s experienced X and had to put up with Y because Z happened etc etc and I’m sorry that this happened. But we’re both adults here and she cannot blame those things or expect me to tolerate her crossing my boundaries. This isn’t healthy for either of us and there is a limit to what I will put up with. I have my own life now and I cannot allow her problems to dominate my life or change how I feel about me.’

2. I’m not her, she’s not me, I am me. I didn’t know who the hell I was. I’d say I was A, she’d say I was B, I’d say I was C, she’d say I was B, I’d say OK I’m B, she’d say I was Z. Much like when people express caution about a choice not because they’re thinking about you but projecting their own fears, mothers in dysfunctional relationships with their daughters don’t see their daughters; they see their own warped projections.

Harsh as it may sound, much like when Mr Unavailables and assclowns are in no position to judge you and tell you who you are, neither is the mother who has never been able to accept you for who you are and value you.

If she can’t separate you from herself and see you as a valuable entity, any perception she has of you is really quite warped.

You’re a grown woman so you decide who you are; not her. If you want to be and do differently to her, she has no right to damn you and tell you that you can’t and it is up to you to make it different.

3. Our mothers often repeated their own mothers behaviour. I know my own mother is irked by her own mothers lack of accountability and selective memory about things that happened in her own childhood. Guess what – so am I! However it’s recognising this which can help your compassion – our mothers took out their own insecurities from their own childhood’s and repeated their mothers behaviour or even outpaced it. They didn’t know any better and many of our parents come from an era where they feel that if it was OK for it to happen to them and they survived, then so can we, which is no basis really for very much. I’m sure many of them had good intentions, but the intentions didn’t pan out into actions. Other worries they may have had…like man trouble may have impacted this.

4. Our mothers think that ‘love’ is enough but create double standards. As most of us have discovered, saying I love you is just not enough in our relationships.

Many of us think that if we love enough we can overcome the dodgy busted hurdles in our relationships.

Saying you love someone or that you pushed them out of your birth canal doesn’t blackout dubious or even outrageous parenting. I’m not saying that mine or anyone’s parents didn’t love them but the style of love that comes with the whole I love you but I’m not sure I want you or I beat you but I love you or whatever it is that you experienced, is a way of teaching us as women that people who mistreat you, love you. Someone can love you but not now how to love you in a healthy manner and this creates a limited relationship because the actions are not reflected.

Oddly even though your mother may think that love is enough (I love you, I gave birth to you), it’s not reciprocated because you loving your mother and wanting her love and approval may not have been enough, creating a double standard and an imbalance. I’ve experienced this – I’m supposed to think ‘Ooh yes my mum loves me in spite of everything that has been said and done. In fact she may have said and done things because she loved me’ but if I say that I love her in spite of these things, which I do, I get ‘No you don’t’ or a load of guff about what a disappointment I am. Which brings me neatly to…

5. Sometimes our mothers have said and done stuff out of fear of us ‘ending up like them’ or ‘making the same mistakes’ or fulfilling any other paranoia’s they had. I got a degree, I have two beautiful daughters and a wonderful partner and I get to do what I love for a living – write and make a difference to people’s lives. I didn’t get ‘knocked up’ at 18 or have the gazillion kids, the bad life, become a criminal or any of the other things she was scared of for me. I respect the fact that she was scared; it’s just a shame that her being scared while it aggressively pushed me to do better and had me scared of success and failure in equal measure, it also bought out her mean side. There are better ways to make sure your kid does better. It’s good that we don’t fulfil the doom and gloom they prophesise – it’s just a shame they couldn’t dream positively for us.

Back in part 5 where I share some more insights on issues like being critiqued, the jealousy, when you feel your sense of femininity has been attacked and some tools for moving forward

Your thoughts?


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