I’ve been asked to go to my younger daughter’s place she shares with her partner to puppy-sit for a day. It will be the first time I have been in the apartment on my own and I know my fingers will be itching to rearrange the cupboards, put a load of washing in the machine and do a general tidy up in the small patio area. However, I will curb these urges and do what I’ve been asked. Feed the puppy, walk the puppy, love the puppy and relax with a book. Hmm.
I remember my former mother- in- law coming each year from Iran and completely taking over my household, believing she was helping. My lip was torn to shreds from the constant biting down on it. During her prolonged stays I would find myself swigging from the sherry bottle as soon as I got home from work, a practice I carried out in the shower as she would have been horrified. My nerves were shredded but my husband at that time thought it was all quite normal. ‘It makes her feel useful and gives her something to do. You should be grateful.’
This was my territory and my turf. Everything she did was like an attack on my competence. ‘I’ve cleaned this properly,’ she would say. Or, ‘Now you’ve got more time, why don’t you do your nails, get your hair done ( complete the sentence to suit).
Even my own mother didn’t interfere and she knew how things worked. My MIL, being in a strange country and not speaking the language, rearranged my home to look like hers in Iran. Even the fly swats were hung up over the window as in her kitchen.
The problem with mothers of adult daughters is still see them as a child or teenager needing correcting. In turn, the daughter reverts to teenage behaviour and the mother falls back into her old patterns. Daughters fight off over-involvement sometimes for the sake of it for fear of losing their hard-won identity. This can mean moving miles away from the parents, particularly the mother, to avoid feelings of being consumed. Mothers act out their hurt by refusing to help out with childcare and even avoid making any contact at all. It’s like they want to punish their daughters for having a life that doesn’t include them.
I wonder if there is some jealousy afoot here? Life for many women in the fifties centred on their family and domestic duties which were time consuming and tough compared to nowadays. They wanted their daughters to do better – go to college, get a training, be independent and not have to rely on a man. Mothers of the eighties are those same daughters and they want even more for their own daughters but they don’t see that nurturing independence means there is a price to pay. The daughter doesn’t need her mother to fix her problems but she might want some practical help from time to time and can’t understand why her mother goes passive-aggressive on her. ‘Sorry Darling but I am so busy you know. You told me to get a life….’ The daughter wants her mother to be happy for her, to be her friend after all the years of battling and fighting to be free and finds herself rejected.
So what’s going on here? Quite simple. The generation of mothers has an expectation, or should I say hope, that her daughter will invite her to help decorate her house or buy the cushions she’s been ogling. It makes her feel useful in the way it had made my foreign mother in law, who spoke no English , feel wanted by her unfathomable English daughter-in-law. I’m sorry that I didn’t understand that at the time. After the divorce twenty years ago I never got chance to say that.
It’s about making too many assumptions about what is acceptable. Would this same woman go into her friend’s house and rearrange her cupboards? Of course not. So it should be with the daughter. I’ve asked mine to write me a list of what I need to know about the puppy’s needs ( don’t have a clue about dogs) and whether or not she wants me to do anything – shopping, meal preparation and so on. I’ve made it clear it’s her home and I won’t judge her for how she lives. It’s interesting how she used to be so messy as a student and yes, I did go on at her about germs but she’ss more like me now… a bit of an obsessive tidy-upper.
After a few years of very little contact, I choose my words carefully and respect her boundaries. It doesn’t feel natural as she is still my little girl in my mind but I am proud of how far she’s come with her award winning business and the fact that when she was awarded her Hon Doctorate by Aston University, she said her success was down to being raised by a strong mother. So, I didn’t do a bad job and all those accusations of ‘You’re a horrible mother,’ although heartfelt at the age of fifteen, were par for the course of separating.
So, back to the puppy. I hope I don’t lose it, stand on it, forget to feed it or anything worse. I won’t because it will be like loving my baby girl all over again.