She’s loving, generous, supportive and a bit bonkers! She’s got a wicked sense of humour and hair the colour of smoked salmon (always has had). She’s opinionated, speaks her mind and, in her own words, doesn’t suffer fools gladly. She was born in 1936 and grew up in East London during the blitz (a time she loved, by the way, because she got to spend nights underneath the arches with all the neighbourhood kids – very exciting for her as an only child). She first met my dad when she was five (he was eight and his mum knitted my mum’s vests). They met again at a youth club 10 years later. They married when she was 18 and he was 21, and will celebrate their 61st wedding anniversary this year.
But life hasn’t been easy for mum. She had a stillborn baby before I was born, after 11 years of trying to conceive and pioneering fertility treatment. I can’t even begin to imagine how devastating this must have been for her and my dad. I came along 18 months later, a cherished child.
Over the years, my mum has driven me mad. During my teenage years we fought like cat and dog. I too was an only child and she was very protective. She suffers from severe anxiety, which meant that she was always worried about me, obsessively so. I found this very claustrophobic and I rebelled, big time. Now I can see that I was just trying to work out who I was by pushing the boundaries. More than anything I didn’t want to be like my mum. This pattern continued over the years.
I felt bad when I upset her but that didn’t stop me. So strong was my desire for independence that I made some pretty poor decisions along the way, but I just wouldn’t listen to her.
Over the years, I was so conflicted. For as much as I fought against my mum, strove to be different to her, to live life my way, I sought her approval for everything I did. Somewhere along the way, I learnt to believe that her happiness depended on me. I had to make up for her losing my sister (who was a big part of my life growing up, even though she was dead). On the one hand I felt trapped by mum’s all-consuming love, on the other I craved it.
As you can imagine, she was the most popular topic of discussion with my counsellor. I reflected on our relationship and the impact it had on me. I learnt to put in boundaries. I stopped feeling responsible for her happiness; I know that is her responsibility. I stopped being her couples’ counsellor – she and my dad could work things out themselves.
And I’ve started doing things I wish I’d done years ago. I listen to her without judgement and encourage her to do the same with me. Because of this I’ve learnt so much about her life, her upbringing and her relationships; the secrets and lies that undermined who she thought she was, and how her experiences have shaped the woman I only saw as ‘mum’. Now I see a woman who has suffered more than her fair share of trauma and loss, yet has fought bravely for her self-esteem and sanity. I understand why she is so fearful that something awful will happen to me. I feel her sadness at not having achieved all she wanted. And I share her joy when she reminisces about the good times.
I’ve reached a point of acceptance and feel true love for my mum. I genuinely enjoy spending time with her. We laugh a lot and rarely fall out. We see each other as women now, not just mother and daughter.
And, as much as I fought against it, I can see just how like her I am. I’m resilient, determined and tough. I’m accepting of others, no matter who they are or where they come from. I share her sense of humour.
I’m different to her too, and that’s ok. I take risks, she’s cautious. I’m not as opinionated, or as blunt, I have few regrets. And I don’t have salmon pink hair. Yet.