Are mother/daughter relationships self-perpetuating across generations?

“Will I turn into my mother?” I’m sure it’s a question asked by many daughters as they get older. And as they start thinking about having their own children, the question becomes “Will my relationship with my daughter mirror that of mine and my mother?” These are questions which I have found myself dwelling on more and more in recent years. I wish I could say that my family is just like the Bisto family from the old adverts. But like many families, my relationship with my family, and in particular my mother, well lets say its complicated.

Looking back at my life so far (I’m only 33 so I’m not exactly in memoir territory), I have no idea how we’ve ended up where we are today. I had a happy and stable childhood. One sibling, two parents married to each other, both working good jobs (if not highly paid). We had family holidays, went to after school clubs and never particularly argued. During my teenage years I was probably a little challenging. In my late teens I got into a relationship with an older man and my parents weren’t exactly approving (unsurprisingly). But that relationship ended in my early twenties and I don’t think my relationship with my mother would be any different if I had dated someone of my own age.

Essentially my mother is what can only be described as distant. She freely admits that she isn’t a hugger. She’ll cuddle a distressed toddler but once a child gets to school age the hugs pretty much stop and as a teenager and older they are non-existent. Not even my dad is privilege to a cuddle. She blames this entirely on her own parents who she describes as being emotionally absent. She’s also not much of a sharer of feelings, in my family we will often talk about what we’ve been doing but not how we feel and difficult conversations are generally avoided. I used to appreciate this as it meant I never had to have any uncomfortable conversations about dating or friendship groups. As a teenager I would hear my friends talk about having awkward chats with their parents and felt relieved that mine weren’t like that. However, as I’ve got older, I’ve started to wish that my parents would take a bit more of an interest in what I do. It’s sad to admit it but there are times when I almost feel like I don’t have any parents as I don’t seem to be able to confined in them when I’m having a tough time, and if I do, I don’t get the support that I was looking for. I’m sure this all makes me sound very needy but I’m not talking about my mother not being interested in whether I’ve had a bad day at work or a row with my husband, I’m talking about big stuff.

Three years ago I got engaged. I was so excited to be planning my wedding and was looking forward to some proper family bonding with my mother and sister. I asked them both to come wedding dress shopping with me, something that I hoped they would enjoy. However, when we tried to arrange a date, it transpired that helping me choose a dress for my big day wasn’t high up their list of priorities. Both my mum and my sister are teachers which means that get five weeks holiday during the summer so I asked them to let me know which dates were good for them (stating my preference for a Friday or Monday so that I could have a long weekend off work). They eventually (after weeks of pestering from me) came back with two possible dates, both Wednesdays. That was all I could have, out of a full five week holiday they could find two days when they could possibly be free to come dress shopping with me. That hurt but I sucked it up and didn’t say anything. After all it was only a wedding dress, I’d just hoped it could be a big moment for us as a family.

After the dresses was chosen, there were eight more months until the big day and in all that time how many times did my mum telephone me, come to visit me or even ask how the wedding planning was going? None, not even one. It was as if the wedding wasn’t happening. If I mentioned it that was fine but she never ever asked.

One strange thing about my parents is that they seem to think that I’m embarrassed by them. Which I am not and I have no idea why they would think it but they allude to it all the time and ignore my protestations that it isn’t true. This all seems to come down to the fact that I have what they perceive to be a ‘good’ job. I always thought that as a parent if your child was successful this would make you happy but in my case it seems to make them distant. My sister is a teacher and regularly talks to my mum but I’m made to feel like I would be far too busy and important to speak to her so my mum never calls me. Never, not even if I haven’t spoken to her for four months! I know I tried to see how long should would go without speaking to her but after four months I gave up and called.

I wish I had a better relationship with my mother but I have no idea how to change it. I’ve basically brushed it under the carpet and told myself it doesn’t matter but it does. It matters to me, a lot. I’d always thought that if something really bad happened that I’d feel supported. After all, the only times when I’ve been disappointed by the lack of support in the past have been to do with planning a wedding, buying houses and splitting with an ex. Big things but not life changing. But this last year I’ve had three miscarriages. I have told my mother about all of them but only after the event (she only knew I was pregnant with the first one). On each occasion she told me she was sorry but then followed it but by saying it was common and she felt sure that next one would be different. She never asked me how I felt or seemed in any way sad that these were her potential grandchildren that kept dying.

After each of those three telephone calls where I told her about the miscarriages, she hasn’t asked me about the miscarriages again. The last one happened just before Christmas and when I stayed at my parents’ house over the holidays she didn’t even ask how I was feeling. It was like the ultimate elephant in the room and if i dare bring it up the subject will quickly be changed. She has no idea about the subsequent molar pregnancy, hospital visits, cancer risk or anything related. She knew I ended up in hospital for three days having emergency surgery but never asked why. In fact she hasn’t contacted me at all in 2014 other than one text asking what to get my husband for his birthday.

I wish I knew what to do to change my relationship with my mother but I think it might be too far gone. All I can hope is that if I am ever able to carry a baby to term, my relationship with my child will be different to that with my mother. My only concern is that I remember my mum saying the same to me about my grandmother. Maybe we’re all destined to become our mothers no matter how much we want to be different.

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10 thoughts on “Are mother/daughter relationships self-perpetuating across generations?

  1. Mother-Daughter relationships are different and it does seem like a generational issue that is passed down. Don’t we all wish we could be like Little Women with their sweet Marmee? There are a couple of books by my favorite author, Francine Ricers, that addresses
    Exactly what this post is saying! They’re called “her Daughters dream” and “her mothers hope.” They are such good reads, (if you enjoy reading) and I highly recommend them.

  2. I’m so sorry you’re so unsupported by your mum. I can totally see why you find her actions so hurtful. I really don’t think you will be the same with your own children though – you will cherish every moment with them x

  3. I’m so sorry it’s this way, especially when you need her now more than ever. A while back I was feeling the same way with my mom. She just pretended everything was okay with me (my SIL had just had her 4th unwanted baby, which is probably what set me over the edge). I flipped out- I told her that my babies died and I am not okay. I told her that everyone needs to stop pretending like it’s okay when it’s not. I cried, flipped out some more.. it was awkward for a while, but now she’s so supportive. I don’t know if this is an option for you, but I figured I had nothing to lose- she wasn’t there anyway. 😦 I’m so sorry you’re going through this too.

    • I do sometimes think that I could just have a complete crying rant to make her realise how I feel and maybe that will change things but I hate being dramatic so for the moment I think I’ll just keep quiet. Who knows maybe things will change if we ever do have a baby.

  4. It is amazing to me how many blog posts that I read and think to myself, “that’s me! or I can relate!” My mother abandoned me when I was three, so I have no relationship with her whatsoever. But the step-mother who raised me was like this and my father is like this too. And my DH’s mother is this way EXACTLY. You won’t hear her talking about her feelings, and she sure doesn’t want to know anything about yours either. And then heaven forbid she pick up the phone and call you unless she needs something. It has been since Christmas since we’ve seen my husband’s mother and she lives ten minutes away. Except for the time my husband rushed her to the ER because she was constipated, but she didn’t know that. Her side was hurting. See? She only calls when she needs something. Sadly, her relationship with our son is non-existent.

    I am so sorry that you are going through this – I know first-hand how badly this kind of relationship hurts and it sucks. After all you’ve gone through, you deserve and need the support of your family. I wish your sister, at least, would provide a source of comfort for you, even if your mother says she is incapable of it. Sending you some major hugs today.

    • Thank you. I am amazed at how many people also have difficult relationships with their mothers. I guess you always feel like its just you and everyone else is playing happy families but I’m starting to realise that there are no ‘perfect’ relationships. We’ll make the best of what we’ve got. I’m sure that if I ever have a daughter I’ll annoy her by being too smothering instead!

  5. I think (while I hate even saying this) your losses and IF will help you in this situation. You will feel so blessed with your child, that you will be the most cuddly, emotional mother on the planet.

    And they sound a lot like my parents. Mine only hug when we see them on holidays, and it’s one of those shitty one-armed hugs that we all hope would end soon. Probably partly why I abhor hugs and physical affection with anyone with DH. But while I cannot stand hugs, I honestly can’t see myself being that way with a child were I to ever have one. Maybe IF is going to show us to be more passionate with our children, and hopefully it will rub off on them and future generations.

    • Thank you. I can’t believe you read my post. Lame title, huge paragraphs, no lists and probably over 1000 rambling words! Whenever I write a post I always try to stick to your rules for writing and fail almost every time when I get into a proper rant. You inspire me to be a better blogger as I look forward to reading your posts, they’re a great mix of honesty and humour.

      • You forgot about my rule on blogs I will read about people who comment on my blog. It gets my attention! And I felt bad because I hadn’t been over there in a while. I am literally the worst blogger ever.

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