I went to the funeral of my friend’s mother today, and during the service I started to think about the different relationships we have with those that we refer to as mum, mummy, ma, mother dearest, máthair.
I have observed my friends’ relationships with their mothers over the years, I suppose to compare them to my own difficult experiences, and I think it is fair to say every one of them are uniquely different; with their own set of internal and external family dynamics at play.
At university, I used to jealously watch as my friend’s mums would ‘pop down to Belfast for the day’ take them out for lunch, maybe buy them some new clothes, slip them a few quid and head back up the road home. That didn’t happen for me.
I’ve watched other friends nurse their mothers through terminal illnesses, their hearts fracturing feeling helpless with the woman who gave birth to them and raised them slowly slip away. Their grief then unfolds as the slow but inevitable realisation occurs after the flurry of activity around the illness, death and funeral, that they will never see or speak or smell or touch that person again; the first person who spoke and listened and smelled and touched us.
Other friends have been so deeply wounded by their mothers that they have chosen to cut off all contact as the constant emotional violation is just too much to bear as history and damaged relationships play out over and over and over again. Bitterness and resentment rot the vessel that holds them; sometimes you just have to let go for your own mental health and wellbeing.
I have been a mum for nearly 21 years now, to three amazing human beings. And through my own adverse experiences of being mothered I think I have learned to do a pretty good job. My children are confident and competent in life skills. They can problem solve, communicate and articulate themselves. They respect themselves and the environment and they are not afraid to challenge injustice wherever they see it; be it at a bus stop, on the news, at home or with peers.
Some mums get hung up on the drinking, smoking, drugs and sex stuff; I never did with my kids. I always saw these things as inevitable rites of passage and I never wanted my children to think that I was a hypocrite. So I talked and guided them through all these issues with a view to harm reduction and damage limitation as opposed to the fairground wheel of being ‘caught’ having being grounded for a period of time and then repeat ad nauseum until your young person moves out.
With my kids, I am much more interested in our ability to communicate and be open and honest with each other. I have guided them and continue to do so through all the trials and tribulations that we will face in our lives. My children are principled, emotionally intelligent and downright good craic. And I love them fiercely.
Being a mother is a real privilege as well as a pain in the arse but I wouldn’t change any of it.
Words and image Kellie O'Dowd
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Love Cheryl and Lyndsey