PARENTS

Did Your Relationship With Your Mother Change Once You Became A Mum?

27/03/2014 11:51 | Updated 22 May 2015

baby, mother and grandmotherRex

My mum always insists that I phone her as soon as I am home. Sometimes she tries to press food onto me, even though the journey, which I've been doing for over 30 years, is under four hours. I find her fussing annoying, but at least now I understand, so I bite my tongue and graciously accept the packed lunch.

This is one example of how my mum's concern is, occasionally, excessive. There are many more.

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What I didn't appreciate, until I had children of my own, was that this fussing was simply her overwhelming love for me.

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As an only child until I was almost 10 years old, my parents were devoted to me. Although my mum did work when I was older, she was a 1960s model of a mum: the school run - forget two car families - was a mile walk each way, twice a day, automatic washers were not invented and the ready meal was unheard of. Her life pivoted around her family. As a teenager I pushed against her fussing and once, annoyed at how protective my parents were, I ran away. For four hours. Then my boyfriend's mum drove me home. Now that I am older, I cringe: "How could I?"

So what has changed? Simply that I have become a parent. When my daughter travels, taking trains and the underground, I make her promise to phone me as soon as she is home. Or I will call her mobile. Often.

But there have been sticky moments when my mum and I reverted to the squabbling we did when I was a teenager. If my children were behaving badly, she used to tell me that I would never have dared behave like that - and if I had, she would have had the answer to stop me.

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But I am not her, and my children are not me.

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And when my daughter began dating boys, the over-protectiveness that I had experienced as a teen was voiced again, and we argued again.

It's clear that women's relationships with their mums are complex.

Sarah told me how, "When I was growing up I had a fraught relationship with my mum. I felt very misunderstood and as if she never listened to me. I had periods of not calling or visiting, then guilt would send me back, and soon we'd be arguing again.

"But as soon as I had my daughter, I forgave her for all the perceived slights. I understood that she did her best - and having been abandoned by her own mother when she was two, she'd never had a role model. She had also lost a child - a daughter born before me - which I now see as the most awful experience a mum could have."

Chloe, who has one son, agrees. "Before I was a mum myself, I did not appreciate her motherly role. When I became a mum for the first time in my forties, I realised that the joy my mum used to talk about was there. She did keep quiet about the difficulties of being a parent, as if she didn't want to discuss these, or help me find a way through them. This may reflect the fact that the pressures were so different because we had brought up a child in different eras."

And bringing up children today has its pressures; but in some ways we have it easier. As Kate recalls, "When my mum was bringing me up, she didn't have any of the support groups that mums have now, childcare was a rarity and women didn't have the conveniences we have, such as 24-hour opening of supermarkets, online shopping and cleaners - all of which are the norms for many working mothers.

"My view of my mother definitely changed once I had children. As a child, I used to think she was tough on us, in terms of how we behaved in public and how manners were important. Now, with my own children, I cringe if they display poor manners when we are out. So I have turned into my mum!"

Sometimes, even the most fraught relationships turn a corner. As Sarah explained, "My mum spends a lot of time with my daughter, and it's as if she is making up for whatever she missed out on with me. She has never said so directly, but she has told friends how proud she is of me, now that I am a mum."

It's certainly true that different generations experience motherhood in different ways, but what binds us together is the fact that we can never really understand our mothers until we are a mum ourselves. And once we experience what being a mother really means, for most of us our relationship with our own mother deepens and improves.

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