In parts one and two, I explained how dating reflections of our father creates unrealistic expectations. We try to fill the void created by the dysfunction that we may have experienced. In part three, I delved into the tricky subject of dating reflections of our mothers, something that resonates with a lot of women. Whether it’s that we gravitate to people that reflect our mother’s characteristics or the ideas and beliefs 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 on this earth automatically dependent on our mothers. It can feel very odd, near painful, to not be able to depend on 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 don’t experience what ‘everyone else’ is, i.e. The Norm, we wonder what the hell is wrong with us.

In part two, I laid out examples of some of the things our father may have been and done that created the wrong message and affected our self-esteem. You can take that list and substitute mother, and here are some additional possibilities. Perhaps she…

  • Abandoned you or was fond of disappearing acts. Being given up for adoption, for example, while some may feel like it was an act of care, for others, it may feel like they started life with rejection.
  • Taught you to feel bad about loving your father or to even be ashamed of your background.
  • Was/is a drama queen invalidating everyone’s feelings around her, creating havoc, conflict, and misery, but never being accountable for her actions. She teaches those around her not to voice their feelings.
  • Made her love life 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.
  • Was jealous of you so it may have felt like she treated you like an enemy or a love rival.
  • Was 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.
  • 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 mother 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 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 key.

Here’s some of what I’ve learned that helps me stay grounded and get perspective about my relationship with my mother.

I’ve focused these ones on the mother-daughter relationship, and I will get back to fathers in part five.

It’s OK to be compassionate but don’t take on your mother’s problems.

My mother has her own issues, and I can be compassionate enough to recognise this and respect the impact 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 thirty-three years. Whatever I do is never going to be enough because I’m not the problem or the solution. My Good Girl, people-pleasing ways are not going to fix her, and I accept this.

When you take on your mother’s problems, you’re just enabling a self-fulfilling prophecy. The best thing to do is not facilitate it. Your mother will either find the drama elsewhere or realise that they have to adapt and change. Why? Because your healthier boundaries make it impossible for the pattern of your dynamic to persist.

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., 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; I cannot allow her problems to dominate my life or change how I feel about myself.’

I’m not my mother, 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. Then I’d say ‘Okay, I’m B’, and she’d say I was Z. Gaslighting 101.

Much like when people express caution about a choice, not because they’re thinking about you but because they’re projecting their fears, mothers in dysfunctional relationships with their daughters don’t see their daughters; they see their own warped projections. It’s an enmeshed relationship where we don’t have our own identity.

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’s never been able to accept you for who you are and value you. Yes, I said it.

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 your life is different from hers anyway because you are not the same person.

Our mothers often repeated their own mother’s behaviour.

I know my own mother is irked by her mother’s 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 childhoods and repeated their mothers’ behaviour or even outpaced it. You know how you might feel unmothered? Well, you may have an Unmothered Mother. Our mothers didn’t know any better, and many of our parents come from an era where they feel that if it was okay for it to happen to them and they survived, then so can we. A very low and warped standard. I’m sure many of them had good intentions, but the intentions didn’t show up in their actions. Other worries they may have had, like man trouble, may have impacted this.

Our mothers think that ‘love’ is enough but then create double standards.

As most of us have discovered, saying ‘I love you’ is 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 erase or absolve dubious, neglectful or abusive parenting.

I’m not saying that mine or anyone’s parents didn’t love them. However, 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 you experienced) teaches us that people who mistreat or neglect you love you. Someone can love you but not know 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. 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 mom loves me in spite of everything she’s 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. This brings me neatly to…

Sometimes our mothers said and did stuff out of fear of us ending up like them.

Or they feared us making the same mistakes or fulfilling any other paranoia 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 in people’s lives. I didn’t get “knocked up” at eighteen or have the gazillion kids, the bad life, become a criminal or any of the other things she feared would become of me.

I respect that she was scared; she had me aged nineteen and experienced a lot of judgement. It’s a shame, though, that her being scared, while it aggressively pushed me to do better (and made 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 predicted, it’s just a shame they couldn’t dream positively for us.

In part five, I share more insights on issues like being critiqued, the jealousy, when you feel your sense of femininity has been attacked and tools for moving forward.

Your thoughts?

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