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Relationships • Parenting

Mothers and Daughters

We are not singling them out and you could write a very similar piece about other family configurations, but it could help for now, here, to focus squarely on this: the sometimes difficult relationship between mothers and daughters. 

Let’s put it more pointedly: there are mothers who in the privacy of their hearts harbour problems around aspects of their daughters’ flourishing. There are women who have put little girls on the earth who at some level do not entirely want them to thrive – at least not in any uncomplicated way.

Julia Fullerton-Batten, Mothers and Daughters, Memories, 2011

They would never – of course – want to do active harm to them, we’re not talking of any kind of overt cruelty, it’s just that the idea of their offspring’s complete blossoming is difficult, and it is so for a reason as simple as it is in the end poignant and logical: because they themselves were not wholly and properly honoured, because they were forced to occupy a demeaningly circumscribed space in the world and were not thoughtfully  witnessed for who they really were.

As a result, these mothers both would very much like and yet still cannot completely countenance that a daughter of theirs might live without friction, might be able to explore her desires without penalty or bargain for others’ attention with her mind or declare her point of view without deference. None of this can be discussed or generally even thought, but it is almost impossible to otherwise account for the incessant background scratchiness, upbraiding, moralising and fault-finding.

How complicated to hold in mind that impossible-sounding idea: that my own parent may not have wanted entirely the best for me (because an unmerciful world failed to want entirely the best for her). And yet if it happens to be the truth, what a relief at least to be able to explore it without dreading an imputation of evil or madness – and to be able, finally, to accord to years of raw conflict the justice of an explanation, one that immediately invites pity as much as it does regret or anger.

How happy one needs to be, indeed how very brave, to do that properly generous thing (which only ever sounds easy): allow a child to be happier than one has been oneself, to allow them – truly – to have a better life. 

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