Blah, Blah Black Sheep…
This is a difficult post to write, but today is Mother’s Day here in the UK and both my FaceBook Newsfeed and WordPress Reader are full of people extolling the virtues of their mothers, either because they are still best friends or because she is no longer with them and they would give anything to see her again just for one day. Each heartfelt declaration of love for the woman who first gave them life only adds further fuel to the fire of my guilty feelings deep down about being a really bad daughter.
Everyone loves the idea of the perfect mother-daughter symbiosis. But however hard I’ve tried across the years to reach out to my mum with understanding there is never any reciprocity. I simply don’t have a close loving relationship with my mum, who is still very much alive and very disapproving of so many people in life, including me. I say ‘simply’ but looking beneath the surface I suppose there is nothing simple about it. Sadly I am not, and never have been, the daughter my mum wanted.
In fact, my mum has spent my entire lifetime laughingly joking to all and sundry that she actually wanted six boys, but I came along first and spoiled it all. It’s a joke I’ve never really understood, and cumulatively over the years the irritating friction it has caused has created a problematic flaw in the fabric of our familial relationship which by now has worn exceptionally thin.
As well as being born a girl I was a quiet, moody child; ill a lot with a severe allergy condition over which I had absolutely no control, and I’ve struggled emotionally with recurring depressive episodes for as far back as I can remember. But because early on I was labelled ‘the difficult one’ seemingly intent on spoiling my mum’s idealistic vision of what constituted ‘happy families’, I’ve always felt guilty about being ‘not good enough’ as I am, and that is an unforgiving label that still rankles even today.
This post isn’t about apportioning parental blame, because I know myself from experiencing it from the other side just how difficult parenting can be and just how oh-so-easy it is to get it wrong. I know I’m mixing my metaphors here but in parenthood there’s no dress-rehearsal, rather we’re all dropped straight in at the deep end, sink or swim. We win some, we lose some – and that’s perfectly OK, as long as we recognise it as such, however uncomfortable that may be to accept.
But it seems that in my mum’s closed-minded world where she reigns omnipotent as the perfect parent, she is by default always right in all things so any point of view that dares to differ from her perspective is inevitably wrong, deviant and ultimately in need of correction. And by extension, in the particular circumstances of our forever-differing mother-daughter relationship I too must be inevitably wrong, deviant, and ultimately in need of correction.
Even now I’m in my fifties with three grown-up children in their thirties and five grandchildren of my own, my mum clearly still thinks of me (and talks to me) like I’m some recalcitrant teenager, deliberately antagonistic and always out to cause her grief, and it still hurts. I have to admit to feeling thoroughly fed-up of always being thought of and talked of as the black sheep of the family, just because I’m being… well… me.
But nevertheless I’ve learned a lot from it. I may be nothing more than an eternal miscreant misfit child in my mother’s eyes, but I am also a mother myself who accepts that I may not always have got it right with my children, and I have no qualms in apologising to them for my unintended failures as necessary. I understand implicitly from personal experience that mothers are not Madonna-esque saints, they are simply ordinary women with all their pre-pregnancy personal flaws and foibles still intact, who along the way have simply had a baby.
I do appreciate that at times it is indeed difficult for adult children to accept the fact that their mothers are real people too – but sometimes it should be recognised that it is the mother who cannot see that her maternal status does not necessarily give her the monopoly on being ‘right’ in her world-view no matter what. And that her children, whatever her personal opinions on their attitudes and behaviours, nevertheless remain valid individuals in their own right, albeit outside of her maternal preferences.
Otherwise what is being offered up is no more than a manipulated, distorted, calculated form of conditional love, with an in-built requirement to behave a particular way in order to be worthy of the maternal love most people might expect to receive as an unconditional right. Yet sadly that restrictive kind of parental love is the upsetting everyday reality for many of us that, on celebratory occasions like this, can sometimes feel just too much to bear…