Mother-daughter relationships: ‘I wanted a mother that would give me different things and she hoped for a daughter that would fit a different role’
Mother-daughter relationships are hard. Yes, they can be rewarding, fulfilling, enriching and fun but they are also hard.
There’s a reluctance to discuss the common struggles of mother-daughter relationships openly as it’s often felt that it is a veiled criticism and might even be perceived as a chance to have the last word on a sometimes fraught relationship.
If you researching the tops, most of what you will find has been written by daughters. Why? Is this because mothers are reluctant to acknowledge that the relationship did not develop quite the way it was “supposed” to, or is it because daughters end up feeling more like the victim than the perpetrator? That language might seem harsh but you get the point.
My mum is no longer with me. She died 8 years ago tomorrow. So she and our relationship are very much at the forefront of my mind right now. A lot of our relationship was challenging, for both of us. It is my firm belief that this was a shared experience. I wanted a mother that would give me different things and she had hoped for a daughter that would fit a different role. Both of us were somewhat disappointed.
The unexpected death of my dad after a very short illness left Mum and I quite literally staring at each other. Our referee had been removed.
Much is written about the idea that mums and daughters can clash because of their similarities. I get that shared genetics can cause this but it also feels, dare I say it, a little lazy, to put the focus on something so obvious. Can it not simply be a case of two people having overlapped in life who just didn’t have their expectations met in the way they had hoped?
I consider myself pretty fortunate because, for the final seven years of her life, she and I had the opportunity to rebuild our bridges and to create a new and much more meaningful relationship. Not everyone gets this chance, but the unexpected death of my dad after a very short illness left Mum and I quite literally staring at each other. Our referee had been removed. It was just us now.
We were the last two left standing because uniquely enough, in that same year, we each had lost our life partners. We were both hurting but were clearly done with hurting each other.
When thinking about where it went off course, I’d have to confess that I’m not sure I can remember when it ever felt right. For as long as I can remember I had always felt the need to be less Niamh and more like everyone else.
Growing up I’d quickly understood that to belong I needed to be who they wanted me to be. This became a more profound theme when we, as a family, faced some challenges and I was reminded that my needs were insignificant in comparison to everything happening around me.
I learned that life is hard, that secrets are bad and that the more you try to be everything to everyone else the less you get to be yourself. I loved my parents and carried that immense responsibility of being the daughter they needed me to be, so much, that I totally abandoned myself in the process.
My parents had a very loving marriage. It was also a genuine partnership. They had independent interests and hobbies but learned to develop their common ground more with each passing year without ever losing themselves.
Dad was an exceptional man. I believe we met in another life and I know our souls will meet again. He embodied love and decency from his toes to fingertips. I’m hoping my husband won’t mind me saying this (I know he won’t be surprised!) but he was and still is the one man who taught me what true, pure unconditional love looks and feels like.
My Mum was a fun, lively, bright, generous woman. Life was never dull around her. She rarely drew a breath and silence in her company was uncommon! Growing up, I always had a deep sense that she was ahead of her time. It’s a belief that I now feel explains a lot of the challenges she and I had together.
She was a city girl who fell in love with a traditional country man. Receiving the highest grading in mathematics in the country she was highly intelligent and ambitious – before ambition really a thing. It is my honest belief, that had she been born even just twenty years later, her life would have been significantly more fulfilling. Though clearly, had that been the case, I wouldn’t be writing this right now!
My mum was, like all of us, a flawed human, who did her best and just wanted more from life.
Leaving Dublin, she was forced due to the existence of the “marriage ban”, to relinquish her career and o found herself in the role of wife and mother. A role that perhaps did not come as naturally to her as it does to others. She had also lost her own mum just 6 months after I arrived at a time when she needed her most. Life wasn’t always fair to my mum, no matter how it looked on the outside.
Who my mum really was
These details, and so many more besides, have helped me understand why my mum was how she was, but more importantly, it has informed me as to who she was.
In Jasmin Lee Cori’s acclaimed book The Emotionally Absent Mother, Cori encourages any of us who may have difficult mother-daughter relationships to explore and understand our mother’s life experience. “It helps you not personalize her behaviours so much. You can more easily slip out of feeling unlovable, for example, when you see that Mother had limitations in love. The more we see our mother’s clearly, the easier it is to find compassion for them”.
My mum was, like all of us, a flawed human, who did her best and just wanted more from life. I know that in this last decade, as I’ve pushed myself outside of what’s familiar to me and aimed to move into an area of real personal growth, that her energy is all around me. I feel her encouraging me to break the mould and follow what feels right for me. I feel her willing me on to do what she never could or would do.
I remain forever grateful that we had those years together before she died, to go on holidays together, to bring her back to the city, to show her what she meant to me, to make her proud of me. Right to the end, she knew I was always there, supporting her. Her biggest concern was that she would be a burden to me so I’m convinced she bowed out just as she knew things were really good between us and when she could see I was moving into a happier space. Not for the first time, she was right.
She did what every great mother would do and gave me back my freedom.
I miss you mum x
Niamh Ennis is Ireland’s leading Transformation Coach and Founder of The RESET for Change 3 Month 1:1 Private Coaching Programme and host of The TOUGH LOVE ENERGY™ Podcast. She’s known for her practical solutions to life’s challenges and her ability to tell you not what you want to hear but always what you need.