Call mom: The complexity of the Mother-daughter dynamic:
(Extracted from a very personal short story I wrote two years prior, unearthed after conversations with friends at dinner).
Last week, I went out with friends for a birthday celebration. Our conversing led us to discuss the mother-daughter dynamic and the lasting effects carried on into adulthood. That conversation cemented what we always knew, there is a common thread in humanity, we all yearn for similar things, and we are bounded by similar adversities and trials. Nothing someone goes through is unique to only them. Just like the complexity of the mother-daughter relationship runs deep through different generations. It is the unspoken complexities of female relationships, of self-limiting beliefs that if one woman shines my light will be dimmed, of women through the generations learning to put themselves last, not taking any time to articulate and verbalize how they want to be loved, not realizing how to love themselves nor loving themselves first. What I’ve realized is, most mothers, like women before them, have been pouring from an empty cup. How then can we maintain loving relationships with firm boundaries and self-prioritization, when our mothers were never taught how to do that.
I often think about other adult women and the relationship with their mothers - this I love you, but I am not sure how to show you love, relationship.
The struggles of their own relationships with their mothers and partners, of knowing through words that they are loved, but not fortified through action. The acceptance of sub-par men, friendships, self-care and marriages because from the foundation, they just did not know how to ask to be loved or how to love. As a young adult born and raised in the West Indies, our roles centered around taking care of everyone else especially the men. To be calm and soft spoken, to be delicate and quiet; mostly to be an obedient good girl. Obedient, good girls grow up to be non-challenging, passive, quiet women. We’ve been cultured that women should work hard and any traits of aggression, dominance and passion are frowned on, let’s not mention being outspoken.
I reflect deeply on the standards I’ve set in my life and how I want to give and receive love. The ideals I set firmly in place for my family and partner. I sometimes think of relationships I admired when I was growing up in Salisbury, I wonder, were the wives ever loved so deeply, passionately, tenderly; exactly the way they wanted to be loved. Were they ever able to be who they are unapologetically and romanced for their very being? Or were they just good wives because they took very good care of the children, dinner was always prepared, and laundry was always done. Did they even know more was possible?
I watched my mom, over my teenage years, rise at 4:00am daily, to cook, and exercise and then get ready for work while my dad slept till late with just enough time to shower and get dressed in a freshly ironed trousers and shirt my mom spent 3 hours ironing on a Sunday evening after cooking for 2 hours prior. Every time I revisit those memories, I am in awe of how she was able to do it. Work a full-time job, take care of a family and work just as hard at home on the weekends. She was considered a good-wife, because she always put everyone’s needs ahead of hers. I ponder, did she ever want more? She gave so much and the return, through my teenage eyes paled in comparison.
Mommy and I did not always have enjoy a close relationship as we do now. I struggled throughout my teens and early twenties wondering why she didn’t like me as much as she did my brother. I was a girl, the last child, but no matter what I did, I could not receive praise from her they way she did for my brother. I just could not measure up. I was always in competitive mode when it came to my brother, I wanted so desperately to be praised and seen and acknowledged like she would do for him. Doing self-work forces one to reflect on your childhood and unravel the very knots which held your childhood together.
A conversation with my partner about Five years ago allowed me to express something I was grappling with for a long time prior. I required validation from those I love to feel loved. I needed to hear I am proud of you, I needed the pat on the back and my work to be acknowledged. I needed to be the best and to be chosen to be the favorite friend, student etc. It was difficult hearing me utter these words in a moment of vulnerability. Acceptance is the first step to healing. I had to accept this reality, to understand where it stemmed from.
My need to be the favourite and to be chosen stemmed from my inner child wanting to be seen by my mom, wanting the same attention and praise she would lavish my brother with. I over compensated, by being strong willed and independent from a tender age, anything to been seen and hear well done. I set bigger goals, worked harder to accomplish them, elevated the bar. I needed to hear, you are the best, I am proud of you.
I reflect on this as I raise my daughter; wanting her to be whole and loved. I gave my inner child grace to feel and be healed. Mom and I had an open, vulnerable conversation about it; what I know for sure is my mom did the absolute best she could. It’s a marvel, when the vision is no longer blurry, and you can look back on things through 20/20 lenses. As a child we think our parents have it all together and know it all, you grow up to realize they were still figuring it out, coming to terms with their struggles, just doing and dealing with so much more than our teenage minds could conceive. Knowing my mom did the best she could with the hand she was dealt is sufficient for me to heal and let it go.
I sometimes dream about my mom as a young adult and the dreams she had for her life, I find myself on the journey with her, loving her, showing her the vastness of this world and the fullness of life. These dreams prompt me to make up for lost time when we weren’t close during my teenage years. I see her now not just as mom but a woman, balancing her time to be multi layered and fulfilled. I let go of what was and what should have been. I pray we give ourselves space to reflect on our childhood vulnerabilities and the way in which they show up and sabotage our present day lives. I trust we give our parents grace and be comforted, they did the best they could to raise us.
‘You do not know what you don’t know until you do’. Myleik