The mother/daughter relationship when pregnant
The pregnant daughter – Ruby. “I’m six months pregnant and now the sickness has passed I’m loving every bit of this trimester.” My client’s beaming smile shone at me online. She looked healthy and full of life. “The problem is my mum. I feel like I want to treasure every second of this pregnancy. At night I feel my baby kicking and I feel calm and happy. But when I think of my mum wanting to be a part of this; well, it’s the only black cloud.”
I had been working with my client, Ruby, for six months and together over that time we had explored her relationship with her mum. My client felt that they did not have a good relationship and at times it was strained; prompting Ruby to reach out and figure out how to explore another way of communication with her mother.
We had worked on establishing boundaries to protect Ruby’s well-being and to reduce her anxiety. So far, Ruby was feeling like she was becoming more assertive and in control. We reflected that when Ruby had first started seeing me, she was anxious, confused and had no boundaries; she had come a long way.
The mother-and-daughter relationship is a crucial one for any woman. Whether you have daughters yourself or are a daughter there is no denying the impact of this relationship on wellbeing. Who you are today is a result of how you were parented (or mothered if we are talking specifically about that in this article) and how your mother was mothered and so on back through the generations.
Oftentimes we can reflect on the history of the female lineage in the family of origin and realise that the lens through which we see the world might have been shaped by that lineage. It is through this reflection that, as daughters, we want to change the way that we parent our own daughters. Reflection is important for change.
Through counselling, Ruby realised that, at times, her mother was emotionally dysregulated and struggled to take responsibility for her own feelings. This might appear as blaming conversations or passive-aggressive text messages. Ruby’s mother was often distant and emotionally unavailable when Ruby was growing up. Sometimes she would withdraw and not speak to Ruby or appear angry at her for no reason.
Upon asking Ruby how her own grandmother had been it became clear that Ruby’s mother had never been shown affection as a child or taught how to express her emotions in a healthy way. Ruby felt that it was important that this was something that she wanted to help her own unborn daughter with to stop this cycle from continuing.
Emotionally distant mothers
We must be careful here not to ‘mother bash’. Most mothers and caregivers do their best and of course, we all make mistakes when bringing up children. Unfortunately, our kids don’t come with manuals! Parenting and being a mother is a hard 24/7 job. If we aren’t shown how to display love or affection in our family of origin, this may be something that we can consider working on in therapy during adulthood.
That being said, what happens if you and your mother are estranged, or you don’t feel that you can ask for support during your pregnancy because of a strained relationship? What happens if you have been hurt by your mother in the past or don’t want to share your pregnancy experience or your newborn child experience with your mother?
This can feel difficult to explore by yourself. There can be conflicting emotions. On the one hand, you feel joy at this new life that you are creating and on the other, there might be a feeling of guilt, resentment, or rejection surrounding the idea of letting your mother into your life at this time. It is important at this time to seek support from someone who you can talk through how you feel and who will offer a non-judgemental attitude towards you and validate how you feel.
Protecting your well-being through boundary setting
In these situations, you may feel that you want to protect your well-being and mental health and therefore putting boundaries in place with your mother might go some way towards this as well as keeping a healthy relationship with your mother before things escalate.
- Decide for yourself how much of your pregnancy information and decisions you want to share with your mother. If you feel that sharing information is difficult for you then know that you don’t have to. It takes a loving and trusting reciprocal relationship to want to share this precious transition into motherhood.
- How much time can you reasonably spend with your mother before it begins to affect your emotional energy? This depends on your relationship with her and how strained it is. It may be that you can’t spend any time with her and again, this is OK.
- Some of this is also about working on acceptance of the situation. A therapist can help you through this.
- You are allowed to set boundaries, and this might look like saying to your mother that you can only meet for one hour for a quick catch-up. Give yourself permission to protect your well-being. If being around your mother makes you feel anxious then you don’t have to tolerate this.
- Exploring your own childhood and the impact that this had on you can be a useful way of acceptance and understanding. It can also allow you to reflect on what you wish to change for your own child.
If any of this resonates with you reach out today and learn how to explore your emotions and put effective boundaries in place. You don’t have to struggle through this alone.