When Mothers Try to Keep Their Daughters Young Forever
The process of separation between mother and child is negatively influenced by our patriarchal society. Our culture seems to encourage every woman to spread their wings and learn to be themselves, like their mothers once told them. However, despite how common this wish is, it is rarely fulfilled, especially in patriarchal societies like ours.
The opposite is actually much more common. Rather than allowing their daughters to think and live on their own, many mothers seek to hold them back and maintain control over them. They’ll play the victim or induce fear. When their daughters hint at wanting autonomy, which contradicts their views on life, they tend to say things like, “raise crows and they’ll peck your eyes out.” Or they’ll throw out vague and terrible predictions: “Someday, you’ll get tired of me, and I’d like to see how you’d handle that.”
“When did we part? Was it only yesterday evening? Or was it the day before? Anyway, it doesn’t matter. Yesterday, the day before, years ago, it has been the same story.”
-Ngugi wa Thiong’o-
For a woman, breaking away from her mother in pursuit of being herself can turn into a deep conflict. Many women are caught between a rock and a hard place. They adore their mothers and they only want to make them happy. But at the same time, they know that they need to establish a break in this bond so they can find their own path.
Mothers who want their daughters to stay young
Many mothers almost unconsciously communicate this message to their daughters: “Stay young if you don’t want to make me suffer.” But there is also a terrible threat hidden between the lines of this command: “Stay young if you want me to keep loving you.”
Wanting their daughters to stay young is a common desire among women who were raised in patriarchal societies. Their daughter is a continuation of them, not a free individual who can demand and achieve autonomy. If she continues to stay young, even as an adult, the mother has no reason to question her own achievements in life or the fact that she might have wounds that she, and only she, can heal.
A daughter’s desire for independence can be taken by the mother as a huge threat or affront. At that point, mothers are capable of rejecting and even abandoning their daughters if they resist their command to stay young. The daughter, for her part, will have to endure inner turmoil before she reaches the other shore.
The pain of separating from mom
The mother’s temptation to keep her daughter young is very strong. Many women have to choose between being completely loved and protected by their mothers and renouncing autonomy, or moving apart from their mothers in order to find their own paths, which would cause a lot of pain, anger, and guilt for all involved.
This is not a minor conflict. In fact, it’s one of the most difficult times in a woman’s life. Paradoxically, even if it all goes well, a profound pain remains. The symbol of the unconditional mother, whose love is infallible, is gone forever. Her desires will always contradict those of her mother, who sees her independence as a wound in her heart.
Every woman who chooses to break away from her mother’s wishes will have a time when she wants to cry to her mother and she won’t be there. However, at the end of the process, she will have achieved one of the highest achievements in life: personal empowerment. Because – it must be said – when a woman lives in the shadow of her mother, she will always feel a certain degree of insignificance.
Breaking from the feminine model imposed by mothers
Many women have been raised to feel responsible for the emotional well-being of everyone around them. Theories have even been invented to justify this role imposed by the patriarchy. It’s been argued, for example, that women are maternal by instinct, and for that reason, they naturally tend to protect, take care of, and take responsibility for others.
This is why there are so many women who feel responsible for the shortcomings or suffering of other people. Starting, of course, with the emptiness felt by their own mothers. Breaking away from this role imposed by sexism involves a process full of doubts and distress. She’ll feel guilty every time she doesn’t set aside her own desires to attend to the needs of others. Mothers who haven’t achieved their own autonomy want their daughters to be “good girls,” and they’re highly disappointed when they make their own desires a priority.
For a woman to know who she really is, for her take control of her life, she has to break with the stereotypes that she’s often seen reflected in and defended by her own mother. And although this involves distancing herself from her initially, it’s worth it to complete the process.
In the end, her mother will likely absorb it all and adopt a healthier attitude towards the autonomy of her beloved daughter. If not, she might simply end up accepting things. Either way, the bond will change for the better, because it will be filled with gratitude and respect, and the neurotic chains will break.
Images courtesy of Brian Kershisnik