Signe Hammer: “Mothers of daughters are daughters of mothers and have remained so, in circles joined to circles, since time began.”
Signe Hammer refers to the generations of women connected together, relationships with each other, linking mothers and daughters down the female line in their family.
The relationship with our own mother is recreated in our relationship with our own daughter. Our experience of being mothered, positive and negative, influences the connection we have with our daughter. A mother can be the greatest influence in a daughter’s life. A mother reflects back to the daughter what it is to be a woman, a mother, a daughter. Knowing your mother’s story, your grandmother’s story, the motherline of your history, is walking inside your own story. There are connections with past generations of mothers and daughters, connections with the future generations of mothers and daughters.
The Mother-Daughter Experience Down the Generation
As a Mother-Daughter Coach, I’m interested in generational patterns and dynamics between mothers and daughters, to help understand how experiences and beliefs become normalised within the family.
Many women have told me numerous personal stories of grief, determination, fear, disappointment, courage, loneliness, choosing the road less travelled when discussing their families.
When I began to read the Silbery’s account of their mother-daughter relationships, I was hooked. Three generations of women unpacking their dreams, their dramas, their private lives in the book “Out Of The Box”. Isabelle, Kerry and Emmie appear, warts and all, as their selves on the TV show “Gogglebox Australia”, a show about people watching other people on TV.
This wonderful book, revealing their personal struggles, achievements, sorrows and reflections, is dedicated: “To all the Mothers and Daughters out there, this is for you”, in the hope that women will understand they are not alone in their journey as a mother and as a daughter.
Along the highs and lows of traversing the mother-daughter relationship, they refuse to hide themselves under a rock for fear of judgement. They come clean on what it means to be a daughter across three to four generations. Grief, infidelity, motherhood, feminism, money and body hair. These three women are unafraid to share intensely personal stories on being a woman.
Yet the love and constancy in each others’ lives underpins Isabelle, Kerry and Emmie’s relationships with each other.
The Complex Mother-Daughter Relationship
Isabelle, the daughter, aptly describes mother-daughter relationships as “complex at the best of times…our similarities drive me crazy, as well as our differences…. Mothers and grandmothers are a unique category of unknowable humans.” Though she feels triggered by them in lots of ways, she is fortunate to have had lots of time with her mum and grandmum.
Isabelle contributed her story in the hope to heal the little girl within her, hoping that Kerry and Emmie can heal their inner little girl too. “Together, we can be stronger collectively.”
When mothers and daughters find strength within themselves and together, they can overturn patriarchal structures that teach a young girl to neglect herself in favour of father, husband, son, and other males within her circle. She is not heard, not visible. Sons are celebrated for career and lifestyle choices. Daughters are adorned with the robe of caretaker, a responsibility towards parents. The inheritance of family caregiver flows down each generation of the female line. It is considered not a choice but a daughter’s duty to self-sacrifice and care for family.
Mothers can stereotype their daughters into the caring role, just as the mothers have been stereotyped themselves into their families.
As Eve Rodsky, author of ‘Fair Play: A Game-Changing Solution For When You Have Too Much To Do (And More Life To Live)’ writes, “What I realised is that we’ve been conditioned since birth to be complicit in our own oppression.”
Some mothers who didn’t receive the care, nurture, support, the emotional bonding in their family while they were growing up, are dependent upon their daughters to be their emotional helpmate, their confidante, to fill mother’s empty cup. A mother feels deeply hurt when her daughter cannot provide the nurture that mother desperately needs.
My Mother My Daughter
I loved this book, the raw vulnerability, their openness to share their lives with the hope that other women can learn from their experiences. It touches on many themes. The loss of self in raising a family, the hardship of mothering and the impacts on marriage. What it means to be a mother. The changes and impacts of mothering over the last one hundred years, through the experiences of these women – from infant-loss to betrayal, death, grief, post-natal depression, little is left unshared.
As Kerry so eloquently writes: “As you get older, you understand the concept of ‘family’ as a relationship that grows and evolves. We can’t always protect each other from bad things happening, but we can support each other – that’s the most important thing.”
Grandmother Emmie’s life was a fascinating read – the culture, the values of the time, women needing a man to be her guarantor to buy a house, a car, have a bank account. It seemed that women were treated like a small child. Emmie grew up in a time where the world was changing rapidly, particularly during and after World War 2. It was interesting to contrast generational differences in how women were perceived when Em was a young woman compared to the expectations of women in this 21st century.
In the 1940’s, housing may have been cheaper but wages were lower. Just a few decades ago, women had to give up their jobs once they married. Their life trajectory was to care for others, whether it was siblings or her parents, get married, care for husband, have children, care for children, and so on. She was housewife, homemaker, mother. It was deemed that a woman’s place was in the home.
Preconceptions of society were that women had to prove their worth. Women felt guilt and blame if their relationship ‘fell apart’. When a man had an affair, it was the woman’s responsibility to keep ‘her man’ happy. If he wasn’t happy, then blame the woman. When Em suspected husband Wal of an affair, Em had a boob job, thinking this would get her husband’s attention. Em felt “ashamed of my deflated breasts which had fed three children.” After she recovered, she felt fantastic and feminine. Yet Wal’s interest in Em did not last long.
The notion of blaming women, blaming mothers, still prevails in some quarters of society – in politics, in business, from other women. If you want further information on gender roles, tap this link to the National Film and Sound Archive Australia. It’s a fascinating read, with some short video examples of 1940’s society.
Some subjects were off limits in ‘polite company’ – husband’s affairs were one of them. Miscarriage, infant loss – get over it quickly, move on, try again. Men returning from war with shell shock, what we know as post-traumatic stress disorder – put it behind you, move on. Women sexually assaulted – society would blame her, a woman would blame herself. Did she cause the man to assault her?
It’s no wonder that in previous eras, women and men were viewed as stoic, brave, tough.
Women were denied careers, it was considered unwomanly. They would mainly work as teachers, nurses, secretaries.
When women discuss their mother’s and grandmother’s history, a theme often revealed is their unrealised dreams. Specific goals such as university or travelling were denied to them by parents who felt that their daughter was to follow society’s long and narrow path. My mother dreamed of being a draughtswoman, one who makes detailed technical drawings or plans. Her parents were dead set against this, telling her that she was to be a secretary. Her dream extinguished.
These daughters learned from family and from society to obey their parents.
They abandoned their hopes and dreams.
They suppressed their grief.
Yet heartache struggles to be buried. It has a way of bubbling to the surface, appearing as resentment, jealousy, anger, when their own daughter challenges family standards, as she makes her way in the world, often setting mothers and daughters up for conflict.
Kerry wrote that though each of them have different viewpoints across the generations, Em and Kerry had no major disagreements about caring for a new mother. They just got in and helped Isabelle with her new baby. Kerry was careful not to cross the line with Isabelle, aware that Kerry was on Isabelle’s territory, her home, her baby. Kerry always asked Isabelle how she could help. Asking, not commandeering, gives a new mum agency in her new life as a mother.
“In so many ways, history has repeated itself,” wrote Kerry. “We’ve all been in difficult relationships and been divorced. The problem with history repeating is whether we have evolved. Can each of us write our own version of ourselves? But surviving the adversities of life can also create the closest of bonds.”
It warmed my heart when Em wrote that she says “Love you” when she finishes a conversation with those that she loves. She said that she doesn’t know if this could be her last day on earth. Saying “Love you” could be the last time she utters this tender expression.
I loved this book. It touched on many themes I discuss with women – the favoured child, self-sacrificing of women towards family, pain of unfulfilled dreams, not claiming her voice to speak up, being invisible within her family, sadness at the lack of connection between a mother and daughter, not belonging, identity – who am I as a daughter in my family?, and much more.
Isabelle said, “I’ve come to realise how much I’ve been carrying in my generational backpack. The bag is loaded up with stuff, heavy stuff, from my parents and the generations before me. Trauma, loss grief – most of it unprocessed – and by default, it’s me who’s been carrying it around. I’ve chosen not to zip it back up, but to unpack and process it, for myself and for future generations. Plus, I was sick of carrying it around. Now, it’s up to me to be present today and choose not to pass the load on to my children because it’s not theirs to carry.”
Signe Hammer said: “All women are not mothers but all women are daughters, and even the most traditional woman will be stimulated to reconsider her relationship to her mother and ponder how it has shaped her life.”
These three generations of remarkable women explored what it’s been like to be a daughter in their generational family and to be open to hearing each other’s stories, another’s perspective. They have used their personal stories to encourage, educate, and empower others, and their unapologetic and fearless approach has been inspirational.
As a Mother-Daughter Coach, I support women in their mother-daughter relationship. I work with Mothers and Daughters either individually or as a pair.
I can help you figure out what’s going on, to build a stronger, healthier relationship. Let me support you in your journey to move forward.
Need more information or to book an appointment? Feel free to get in touch. Click the link here.
Image of Silbery’s: Serge Thomann, Melb, Vic.
Image of Generations of Women, created by Janice Williams
Janice Williams is the only Certified Mother-Daughter Relationship Specialist in Australia and the South Pacific region.
Sessions are available across Australia and worldwide.