For the last few weeks I have had the pleasure of hosting Mummy Rockstar Dinosaur Pirate. She emigrated around 8 years ago, and hasn’t been in this country since my thirtieth birthday, when a group of the most amazing friends any Dinosaur could wish for secretly collected enough money for her to fly over to attend my party. It was a fancy dress party, with the theme of your favourite children’s TV programme. My desire for accuracy in my costume – Stormer from the Misfits from Jem and The Holograms – meant that I wasn’t wearing my glasses. Therefore when a 5’4″ penguin walked in after a big fanfare, there was a moment (which I am told was writ large on my face) where my thought process went:
- What. my friends have bought me a penguinogram? Is that even a thing?
- Actually, that penguin looks like my Mum. Which is funny as mum loves Pingu.
- It really does look like Mum. But she’s in Cape Town so it can’t be.
- That’s my mum.
My friends have often commented on how good my relationship with my mum is, and Mr RPD is fascinated by it. (Mother RDP and I are so alike, he says, that having her to stay is pretty much like having two of me around.) It isn’t what you’d call a traditional mother-daughter relationship. It’s more like having a twin, albeit one
much a little older. We give each other great advice, because we think the same, and we always understand each other’s difficulties as we tend to react to things and view things the same.
Because of how much of a pair we are, people are often a little shocked when I respond to the question “but don’t you miss not having your mum nearby?” with “sometimes, but really, we get on much better now she’s a thousand miles away.” For all our closeness, and as good as our relationship is now, it wasn’t always so.
If I could give any piece of advice to my teenage self and her embattled mother, it would just be “hang in there. It will get better. So much better than you can imagine.”
If you have been a teenage girl, and grew up living with you mum, you will probably know what I am talking about. Or if you lived in the same house as a teenage girl and her mother. There are exceptions I am sure, but if you google “mother and teenage daughter relationship” you will find that those exceptions really are exceptional. From more or less the minute I turned 13, I turned into a MONSTER. I hated everything. People, school, life, but especially my mother. She didn’t UNDERSTAND. She NEVER UNDERSTANDS. She’s TWISTS MY WORDS. I HATE YOU . *Slams the door*.
Nothing either I, nor my mother, could do, for about 6 years, could ever be right. She wanted to hold my hand, because I was her lovely little girl. I wanted to be independent and didn’t want to be seen with her, so shrugged off her hand, which hurt her. And that teenager knew it hurt her, and that makes the teenager inside shrivel in hurt and confusion even more. It wasn’t a good feeling to hurt your mother, but there was so much twisting anger boiling inside. Even now, with a distance of half my lifetime, I can remember that boiling searing confusion and anger, and not knowing why I was angry or upset. Only now I am older I am more able to sympathise with how Mum must have felt, and it beings me to tears.
She wanted me to tidy my room, or do the washing up, just to help her around the house. I didn’t want to do anything to help her. WHY SHOULD I I HATE YOU *SLAMS DOOR*. She wanted me to brush my hair, wear a nice dress for a family occasion, smile for a photo, please can we just have ONE DAY where we JUST GET ON, please? And yet I couldn’t. And yet, so alike are we, that the one person in the wold that could have any true understanding of what I was going through was her – and she was the one person from whom I both craved and rejected understanding.
The situation was compounded by Mother RDP being a very popular and well liked teacher of my peers. I was told on daily basis – “you’re so LUCKY to have Mrs RDP as a mum” , ” I wish MY mum was like your mum”, “it must me SO much fun having Mrs RDP for a mum” and so on. Every day. “you try living with her.” was my usual gruff response. Of course, most teenagers are selfish in many ways, just trying to survive adolescence – so I wasn’t taking into account that the girls saying this to me were having just the same problems at home with their mum as I was with mine, and they saw Mrs RPD as so “cool” that it never occurred to them that in Mum Mode, not Cool Teacher Mode, that she could rouse the same feelings in me as their mothers could in them.
There are many theories on the internet as to why this happens to teenage girls (as you’ll have noticed, if you did that google search); hormones, resentment of girls ‘turning into their mothers’, fear of growing up, a reflection of conflict women face in society and more. I can’t explain it, but can recognise that our situation was exacerbated by our extreme similarity. When you are in the midst of furious adolescence, hating everything and feeling tense and cross and tearful so often, and you have a fractious and fragile relationship with your mother the absolute last thing you want to hear is “gosh, you’re so alike!”. Being told that was guaranteed to send me into a foot stomping door slamming fury. I didn’t WANT to be like her. I HATE HER SHE DOESN’T UNDERSTAND.
It was this striking similarity (and possibly, in part, my wholesale rejection of it) that made things so difficult. She could see our similarities plain as day, as could I when in a more reflective mode, and it scared us both. In each other was reflected all the negative things we didn’t like about ourselves. A quick temper, tendency towards laziness and weight gain, a habit of interrupting other people before they’d finished their sentence, a strong sense of empathy but little tact. Add in the same face, the same gestures, the same facial expressions even and you have a perfect storm of mother-daughter angst. Mother RDP could also see the good in me that was in her – large personalities, with quick wit and a love of laughter, a stong sense of social justice and a sharp mind – and was proud of her fierce and independent teenager just as she’d been proud of her outspoken and loving child. But as a teenager I couldn’t see any good in anything.
Like many mother/daughter relationships ours matured as I did, and as I left my troubled adolescence to become a troubled adult I started to appreciate our friendship and our similarities. I was able to recognise how valuable mum’s advice and insight was, and as I age I appreciate it more and more. We still are able to have huge fights if we’re around each other too long, but I now understand that those huge fights only happen with people we really care for, and who we know will forgive us afterwards.
Our last day together on this recent trip was a walk along South Bank. It was an emotional day and not just because she was leaving later that day, with little chance of her coming back to the UK anytime soon; the walk we took was the last one that Mum took with her mum, 15 years previously, shortly before her mum was diagnosed with cancer. South Bank has changed massively in terms of architecture over the years, and mum was astonished, and largely pleased, by the changes. But the river remained the same, and the day was a beautiful one, with the sun sparkling off the river and a gentle breeze along the riverbank. We talked of many things; food, friends, love, life. We didn’t discuss Grannie RDP much as we both get a little tearful; although the symbolism of the walk was not lost on either of us and it was a powerful sensation. Words that were unspoken, but felt by both of us on this walk, were how far we have come, Mum and I, on our adventure through life. How many changes we’d endured, how many conflicts survived, and look at us now – the same person separated by 2osometing years.
Despite the tumultuous years in between, we’ve developed a relationship built from mutual respect, admiration, love, and an understanding of how each other works that no one else is able to have. That has come from distance; distance in miles meaning that we make the best of the time we have together, and distance in years meaning that as we both age we understand each other’s histories better.
If you are a teenage girl, or the mother of a teenage girl, just hang in there. It will get better. So much better than you can imagine.