‘I know you’re fucking him’ she snarls at me across the table looking from me to my step-Dad, while my brother and sister, who are both not yet teenagers, look at all of us scared. It’s my 22nd birthday and my mother is accusing me of possibly the worst thing a burgeoning young woman can think of. This was the beginning of the end really.
But I guess before I even talk about the disaster that was my relationship with my mother, I have to talk about the disaster that came before. My mother’s father died before she was born. My grandmother said she cried so much, at four months pregnant, a newly married Irish girl living away from her family, that she got ulcers in her eyes, she could barely see for her pain.
My mother became her entire focus in life, the thread that kept the young handsome love of her life alive. Still at 87 my Grandmother could could literally kill you with kindness, smother you in fussing, she does very little for herself, always putting her family first. I spent many years trying to understand my own mother, who at the age of 15 developed severe anorexia, which became a life long very complicated issue that when I was a teenager was full on bulimia.
My mother died last year aged 60, leaving my grandmother still standing after losing two husbands, an only child. I see her looking back at my mother’s life going ‘what did I do wrong?’ I literally think, she loved her daughter too much.
I now know with how much I love my son Larkin, my heart might explode from loving him just normally, without adding in grief and loss and finding a reason to even get out of bed in the morning. Could she be blamed for holding on to the memory of her all too fleeting love just a little bit too tightly? Perhaps a psychiatrist would say yes.
I swing from trying to unravel it but then it seems to want to lead to a conclusion towards my grandmother that feels like blame. Sometimes I can see why my mum would take control of something in her life with an over-clucky mother but what I still can’t explain, is how, why, it got so very out of control.
It’s strange for me to even be writing the word Mother Mum Mummie as even the word brought on the anxiety and pain of all the stuff I couldn’t understand and so repressed for at least 15 years. I think with hindsight my mum might have had a mix of mental health issues. Living, growing up with, being taught by, trusting someone who is not coping with life, self medicating and hiding too scared to participate in getting the right help was like trying to walk a straight line in an earthquake.
It went from me trying to look after her, to needing her to help guide me through my own very choppy seas of being a teenager which she couldn’t, to finally when things got too abusive to having to take on the responsibility of walking away, basically abandoning her.
All of which, no matter how hard I either try to hide it or deal with it, has left me fundamentally damaged, often befuddled by female relationships, and terrified of having a daughter (there’s a whole other essay on this when coupled with being immersed in female imagery and fashion my whole working life, but I’ll cross that bridge if I ever get to the second child at 40 stage).
She died when Larkin was eight weeks old, she did meet him despite our years of being fractured, but i didn’t tell her I chose his name in loose reference to the Philip Larkin’s poem ‘This Be The Verse’ –
‘They fuck you up, your mum and dad. They may not mean to, but they do. They fill you with the faults they had And add some extra, just for you. But they were fucked up in their turn By fools in old-style hats and coats, Who half the time were soppy-stern And half at one another’s throats.’
I know it sounds all a bit dramatic, but in a way with her all I knew was drama, so when I look at him I want to be reminded to think about my parenting and my relationship with my husband and try not to hide from areas where I feel I might not be doing my best or not coping as burying it is just sometimes easier.
I have no idea how to be a good mother, my parents split up when I was 18 months, I have no idea IF I’m being a good mother (because what does that even mean anyway), but my feeling is that as long as I’m ok then he will be ok and I’m going to just keep working on that.
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