WHAT KIND OF DAUGHTER ARE YOU?
Why our childhood bond with our mother forms a blueprint for adult relationships
THE BEST PAL When you were a child, your lovely, supportive mum always told you how wonderful you were – perhaps you were even her favourite. Today, you hang out together, borrow each other’s clothes and she comes to all your parties. IMPACT ON RELATIONSHIPS This level of closeness with your mother can make it difficult to be your own person. You may be hooked on approval and pleasing people. No wonder you often agree to things you don’t want to do – or say ‘yes’ to someone’s face, then have to wriggle out of an arrangement later. You will often feel torn between pleasing your mother and your partner: she probably has strong opinions about his behaviour; he doubtless thinks she’s round at your house far too much. THE SOLUTION Remember, it’s always OK to say no or to disagree. In fact, your partner might find honesty refreshing because he’ll know where he stands. Once your true opinions are out in the open, the two of you will be able to negotiate and either find a healthy compromise or do a deal (‘I’ll pick up the kids if you stop off at the supermarket’). THE STICKLER Growing up, you felt under pressure to get everything right at home and to achieve top grades at school. Perhaps your mother was ill or unstable and you didn’t want to rock the boat at home. Maybe she had a sharp tongue and it was easier to toe the line than risk her criticism. IMPACT ON RELATIONSHIPS You’re always thinking two or three steps ahead in order to spot potential problems and to circumvent them. Unfortunately, this keeps you permanently on edge and when things don’t go to plan you explode – often out of all proportion. You find it hard to tolerate your partner being anything other than at the top of his game, and the result is that you are often highly critical. THE SOLUTION Start by being compassionate with yourself. It is impossible to be ‘perfect’, and running yourself down for every shortfall doesn’t help. If you can cut yourself some slack, your overall anxiety level will drop. It will also make life easier for your partner because you’ll be less snappy and less likely to hold him to your exacting standards.
THE REBEL While some daughters will do anything to keep the peace, you went in the opposite direction and sometimes deliberately rebelled – perhaps against a controlling or unpredictable mother – to provoke a row. This meant you were probably blamed for things that weren’t your fault so you have grown up with the sense that you’re a constant disappointment. IMPACT ON RELATIONSHIPS You are easily triggered to anger or tears: sometimes by what other people see as small things. What your partner doesn’t understand is that a fairly innocent comment such as, ‘I wouldn’t do it that way,’ is given extra power because it echoes something your mother used to say. Furthermore, you’re so used to criticism that you probably hear it when none is intended. For example, your husband might say of someone he met at work or at a party, ‘I found her interesting,’ but you will hear, ‘I don’t find you interesting.’ THE SOLUTION Rather than automatically being defensive or going on the attack when your partner says something you think is critical, double check that you’ve drawn the right conclusion – for example, ask, ‘Did you say you find me boring?’ In this way, you’ll go into battle only when it’s really necessary. If you deal with small issues as they happen (rather than muttering under your breath), you will find it easier to keep a sense of proportion because you’ll not be carrying a load of unresolved niggles. THE ORPHAN For whatever reason, you have little or no relationship with your mother. Perhaps she died when you were young, or had postnatal depression when you were born and wasn’t able to bond with you properly. Or maybe a catastrophic row has left the two of you estranged. Either way, you probably feel motherless. IMPACT ON RELATIONSHIPS You find it hard to trust people. You have only a handful of close friends and when your faith in someone is lost it is almost impossible for them to win it back. You expect to be let down (and may even get a perverse pleasure when it happens). No wonder you’ve built a wall round yourself for protection. Unfortunately, this can make it hard to find a partner. THE SOLUTION If you felt rejected or abandoned as a child, deep down you will feel that there is something wrong with you. Think about the message that you understood from your mother. For example, ‘Everybody I love leaves me’: you will find that this is the lens through which you have filtered your life. Step back and challenge that childhood message with adult eyes because it is probably distorted or inaccurate. ➤
THE BLACK SHEEP You and your mother are constantly bickering because you are so different. You may have chosen a career that is inexplicable to her, or perhaps your politics are diametrically opposed. Occasionally, you even wonder if there was a mix-up at the hospital and you went home with the wrong mother. IMPACT ON RELATIONSHIPS Now you are a grown-up, you have found people who understand you. However, when you have to mix in unfamiliar situations – such as starting a new job – you will still worry about fitting in. You are likely to have married someone who is different to you – from another culture, or there is an age gap. When you’re stressed or tired, you’ll probably find aspects of his family or him a bit weird. You will suddenly find the childhood roles between you and your mother reversed – now you’re the one finding yourself at odds with someone else. THE SOLUTION If you come from different backgrounds, try building a bridge by saying, ‘In my family, we did it this way, how did you do it in your family?’ When we love someone it is easy to make assumptions, but this is one of the top causes of relationship unhappiness. So instead of jumping to conclusions – ‘You fell asleep on the sofa because it was easier than talking to me’ – ask an open question: ‘Why did you nod off?’ THE CODDLED CHILD You’re the one whose mother is always ready to help. She will come round and wait for tradesmen while you’re at work – and leave a pile of freshly ironed clothes on your bed while she’s at it. When you were at university, she read books on your reading list so you could discuss your essays together. Even though you are now a grown-up, she’s still constantly bailing you out. IMPACT ON RELATIONSHIPS You suffer from learned helplessness. You will either be dependent on your partner for practical things – motorway driving or dealing with authority figures such as your children’s headteacher – or dump your bad moods on him because you expect him to make everything better. Alternatively, you hold potential partners at arm’s length because you’re worried that, like your mother, they will take over. THE SOLUTION Identify a responsibility that you could take on yourself, such as unblocking the sink – you’ll be amazed by the boost to your self- esteem. Discuss with your partner whether he feels overloaded and look for a more equitable balance between the two of you. If you’re single, spotting your fear of being swallowed up is half the battle to solving it; next time a potential boyfriend appears to be moving in on you, remind yourself, ‘He is not my mother’. If that doesn’t work, you probably need to put up a boundary; for example: ‘A summer holiday together sounds great but let’s start with a weekend away.’
THE DOER You have a perfectly amicable relationship with your mother but there are no girlie shopping trips and any phone calls are about practical things rather than pouring out your heart. Your bond is pragmatic: you know she loves you even if she never says it. IMPACT ON RELATIONSHIPS You may be more concerned about crossing chores off your list than having fun with your partner. Your family didn’t really ‘do’ feelings when you were growing up, so you will not be particularly aware of yours – or perhaps you keep busy to distract yourself from them. That’s fine in the short or medium term but when you reach your middle years, you may wonder ‘What’s the point?’ Beware of sliding from feeling flat into low-level depression. THE SOLUTION Make a conscious effort to be more romantic with your partner. Book a weekend away without the children. Hold hands or take a bubble bath together. If your husband starts messing around, or asks for a cuddle, your first reaction might be, ‘I must tidy the kitchen,’ but push that thought away and join in. You will be amazed at the positive reaction it will get from him and how five minutes of silliness will improve your love life. THE DADDY’S GIRL If your work colleagues overheard you on the phone, laughing at your father’s jokes, they would probably think he was your new man. You’re much closer to your dad than your mum – and your bond with her is suffering. IMPACT ON RELATIONSHIPS You’re probably a ‘man’s woman’, and find your friendships with women compromised because you ignore them when there is a man to impress. You might still be single because no man can measure up to your father. If you are married, your husband may feel emasculated – especially if you’re always running to Daddy for money. THE SOLUTION Rebalance your life by cultivating female friendships and spending more one- on- one time with your mother. Put your husband first and listen to his frustrations about your father. If you’re single, next time you’re tempted to sulk with a potential partner, think, ‘What would an adult do?’