In theory, the mother/daughter relationship should be the best, most loving, longest lasting friendship of a woman’s life. In the past two articles, we had a conversation regarding how a woman’s relationship with her mother deeply affects her ability to have successful female friendships and why so many mother/daughter relationships founder.
But what role does codependency play in a mother and her daughter’s difficulty in maintaining a pleasant friendship with each other?
Each article begins with a premiss and the premiss of this article is simply this: If you’re an emotionally healthy woman, you will mother your child in a healthy manner. If you are a codependent woman, you will confuse codependency with mothering. That dynamic will then be carried on to the adult mother/daughter friendship causing great frustration and possibly the end to what should be a beautiful friendship.
A codependent mother feels the need to create a perfect Pollyannaish world for her child not as she imagines to ease her child’s pain but rather to ease her own codependent pain at seeing her child suffer the normal bumps, bruises and hard lessons of childhood. Yes, there is a strong element of codependence in mothering an infant and baby who can’t communicate their needs and feelings in words. Yes, a mother must feel her babies’ emotions as her own. But at some point, that needs to be dialled back for a child and teenager to grow and blossom as a unique individual.
The problem arises when this pattern of codependent mothering is carried into her daughter’s teen and adult years. The mother still believes she’s feeling exactly what the daughter is feeling. Her ego assures her she knows exactly how to fix every problem for her daughter and it’s her God given role to do just that. She’s surprised when her daughter doesn’t think, act and talk exactly as the mother would think, act and talk.
The daughter experiences this as invalidation. Her mother’s constant need to meddle and rescue is extremely frustrating yet, in its disguise of ‘love’, how can she reject it?
With no knowledge of codependency, this daughter can only assume that something is desperately wrong with her. That if she were ‘okay’ Mam wouldn’t need to tell her exactly how to feel, think, speak, act and even dress. That nothing she feels, thinks, says, does or wears that is ‘okay’ as her mother expresses surprise and always suggest some other action.
This isn’t mothering. It’s codependency based on the entirely inaccurate assumption that a daughter is a simply a ‘mini me’ clone of her mother.
My mother has always seen me as, how do I phrase it, merely an extension of herself like a Siamese twin. In her mind, she and I are one person, one heart, one brain, one soul. Even my body was ‘hers’ as she proved by curiously groping my breasts when I was a teenager.
But it’s not true! We daughters are separate people from our mothers in every way.
In my case, I believe my mother has (undiagnosed) Aspergers Syndrome while I am neurotypical. Our ways of thinking and feeling couldn’t be more different, a fact my mother finds hard to accept. She clings to her belief that how she feels is how I feel. That her thoughts are my thoughts. That her solutions to life problems will work for me as well. Worst of all, to fan her ego she insists that I still need to be mothered and gets her kicks from continuing to mother me. In her mind, I can’t possibly reconnoitre life successfully as an independent adult woman without her codependent micromanagement of every detail of my life.
It’s ripping our mother/daughter friendship apart while also making me downright paranoiac about befriending any other women, young or old.
When I visit Mam, I’m harangued with a barrage of questions from the frivolous to the intrusive. What am I eating? Am I sleeping enough? Are my monthly cycles running on schedule? When was my last period? Am I pregnant yet? Are we using birth control? Which one? Am I having regular bowel movements? What other female friends do I have? Do I talk about her with them? No topic is out-of-bounds to my mother. She barges into the loo while I’m using it and I even caught her scrolling through the call and browser histories on my iPhone.
When she visits Rhys and me, she rifles through bureaus, commenting excitedly on any chemist’s prescriptions she finds. Gives Rhys career advice. Enquires into our finances. Exclaims disapprovingly on finding alcohol in our home. Reminds me to be careful with kitchen knives and hot pans. Interjects herself into meal preparation. Won’t allow me to drain the parboiled potatoes or remove a roast from the Aga for fear I’d burn myself. She does it for me.
‘Have you tried setting boundaries, Ivy?’ I hear you saying. Many, many times! She ignores them all.
She believes she’s being a loving, caring maternal mother. I believe our mother/daughter friendship is on its last legs.
If she can’t and won’t stop ‘rescuing’ me and respect my boundaries, what is the point? I would never allow another woman to treat me in this extremely disrespectful manner so why does the word ‘mother’ somehow make it all okay?
No, to have a successful friendship a mother needs to stop mothering her adult daughter, especially if she mothers codependently. Codependence looks incredibly nice from the outside, but it’s the death knell of the mother/daughter relationship.