Ask me to describe my mum and I will tell you, she is a female parent. There's a scripture I used to rely on to help rid the guilt of my early post-natal depression. To power phrase, it simply states "In the last days, [men] will be lovers of them self, having no natural affection". That lack of natural affection isn't as isolating as I once thought. As I continue connecting with more and more women over the years, I realise the notion of the "perfect maternal relationship" is more far-fetched than common, and whilst that brings brief solace in the heat of desperation, there remains an unfillable void.
It's no secret, I've described my early relationship with Israel as emotionally unavailable. Months went by, where I catered to her physical needs, but wasn't quite able to make that switch to emotional support until I'd identified my problem. What happens, though, when a child, a daughter in particular, spends their entire life with an emotionally unavailable mother? When a child learns to navigate life on egg shells, looking for tell-tale signs of how they might be received that day? If that child makes it to adulthood, their vulnerability and learned behaviours will likely leave them susceptible to equally abusive relationships going forward. By 20, I was exiting a 5 year relationship, that in hindsight, we had both used as a scapegoat to flee destructive maternal shackles. It hadn't occurred to us naive teens that there were far less perpetual methods of doing so. When I finally left home, prematurely for most but not nearly soon enough for all involved, I made the mistake of thinking I'd finally broken the spell she'd held over me. Her combative behaviour reserved solely for me, was shaded from all around us with such skill you'd think it a sport. Outside of the home, it was so rare venomous words would be uttered, achievements reduced to cinders, and general manipulation, that I was convinced attaining my own abode would be the fresh start I needed. Before having Israel, I'd finally got to a place where I truly believed myself to be unaffected by our relationship. I was earning what felt like a great wage, renting a huge, bright and airy bedroom in an equally fragile and hostile environment but those four walls were all mine. I'd get in from work each evening and count my blessings that my headspace was no longer invaded. I learned to love. Myself and others. I took care of myself and I worked hard. I'd see my mother on the odd occasion I'd visit my siblings, but most weekends I'd have my youngest siblings meet me for sleepovers and catch ups. I'd always do my best to check in without checking in, but in all truth, I think a lot of resentment was built off the back of leaving the family home at such a tumultuous time. Years passed, seemingly healed and free, but my pregnancy dredged up a cacophony of feelings I'd long forgotten. Our pregnancy announcement was met with disdain, there was no accompaniment to midwife appointments or scans and when my due date passed and people would ask if this ran in the family, I had no bank of information to fall back on. That crippling lack of maternal warmth, undeniably shaped my own self-doubt approaching motherhood.
There’s an added sting attached to malicious behaviour directed from your mother that’s hard to quantify. The why’s. A constant self-evaluation of what you should have changed to be loved. The how’s. I often genuinely wonder if my treatment requires effort -upkeep- maintenance or if it’s displaying a natural affection that requires too much energy. When my patience wears thin with my own girls I find myself stopping in my tracks. Is this the beginning of something more sinister? No. Do I love them? Of course. Am I simply shattered? Yes. Am I overthinking again? Most likely. It’s draining. Even as I write now, that I’m passed all of this, I am openly lying. Her words don’t hurt me. False. Her opinion doesn’t matter to me. False. I don’t need her approval. False. And it’s sad. Because that’s an open invitation to remain in my head indefinitely and I truly hate myself for that.
On #IWD, I was interviewed and asked what I actively do at home to teach the girls to be advocates of female empowerment. It’s quite simple- I don't really believe in "healthy competition". I think it creates the mindset that there is only room at the top for a few which is a recurring myth both culturally and in larger households. Israel and Ezra are raised to encourage one another, find genuine compliments, speak up when something isn't fair, stop and pause to help when the other is struggling. Those are the qualities we encourage from a young age and are in our opinion, the founding qualities of advocacy.
We recite our affirmations together. Israel and I complement each other in the morning. And when Ezra tries to attempt something she’s watched her elder sister do, we guide Israel to help, encourage and verbally praise. Hand on my heart, I would struggle to recall a singular instance of heartfelt praise growing up and whilst there are many recent discussions that delve into regular praise being damaging -praise is not currency, and therefore need not be rationed. A recurring theme when talking to women with similar relationships is that whilst essential for your own sanity, setting healthy boundaries with a toxic relative is near impossible. I find myself flitting through periods of being rigid in what I set in place. Don't be the first to make contact. Remove all expectations. Don't share good news. Don't ask advice. Don't show weakness. Depressing, no? But safeguarding my own emotions has never failed me yet. I learned to identify who I could truly turn to for support. It took far too long to realise that expecting support from relatives going through the same thing was nothing short of selfish. Fortunately, I have a handful of friends with less-than-nuclear family dynamics and of course my husband continues to be a great emotional soundboard for the times I doubt my own decisions. But requiring support also means being the support when it's most needed. It's not lost on me there's a fine line I continue to work on to make sure my loved ones can call me just as quickly as I'd call them.
No two siblings will recall an identical childhood and that leaves room for a lot of blame. With every varied, yet valid recollection of childhood memories, it's possible for animosity to grow, when your lived experiences aren't verified. That used to really hurt. Now, though, there's a new generation of siblings; Israel and Ezra. With my husband's support, I refuse to lose sight of the greater picture, and who this is all, ultimately for. -So if that means taking control of damaging relationships and limiting the casualties, I'll do it guilt-free.