I tried to be different from my own mother, and still made mistakes
Even consciously trying to avoid the unloving patterns of my own mother, and with the best intentions in the world, I still struggle
I can’t remember my mother ever saying “I love you” to me. I remember her getting ready for parties, curling her hair and shimmying into little designer dresses — her long skinny legs mostly on display, wedged into daringly sexy stilettos. But I never remember her hugging me, giving me love, telling me I was safe and special.
It’s a strange thought and I’ve questioned it many times. Is it an illusion, a trick of my memory? Is it some sort of psychological imbalance I have that forgets a huge chunk of my life — my childhood — and makes up another reality? Though these parallel fantasies are usually for happier times.
I remember the “normal” things for a child from the '80s: being beaten with a wooden spoon until it broke, being locked in my room, standing in the drive with my bag packed, waiting to be chosen as, after a fight with my father, my mother drove away with my younger brother in the car.
Maybe these are not such normal things. The maternal instinct, they say, is a primal force — something naturally felt by women as new life grows inside them. I don’t think my mother ever had anything maternal about her. We were accessories to her terribly glamorous life. Photographed when beautiful and hidden when not.
I’ve had boyfriends who have said to me: “When you become a parent your needs are never first.” Not so with Mama dearest.
Of course when I became a parent I had no idea what I was doing, truly not a clue. Perhaps because of this I chose to have my child completely alone. I didn’t know how to ask for help and as things go there was no grandmother to show how to change a nappy, burp, hold, love this small smiling gift that came into my life.
This lack of love has also had an impact on intimate relationships. I often push people away because I’m not familiar with being loved. My biokinesetist immediately picked this up and said to me: “But Alice, you do know what love is, you are able to love, you love your daughter.”
I decided to raise my child away from other humans – I literally took flight to live in a house at the edge of a forest
Sometimes my daughter doesn’t think so. Last night she told me I was the “meanest person” and that I don’t love her. She’s not a teenager. She is, however, not necessarily able to handle emotions as age-appropriate for a nine-year old. Whether she knows it or not, she struggles.
For this I take absolute responsibility. When Livi was born I was determined to raise her differently to how I had been raise, to shower her with love, hold her in a safe space. I had written notes to this effect, passages in journals when I was a pre-teen. Later, I remember as 15-year-old doing an oral about my family entitled “What doesn’t kill you makes you stronger”.
And so I decided to raise my child away from other humans — I had no familial or hired help and literally took flight to live in a house at the edge of a forest, surrounded by nothing. For me, there was no middle ground.
Having a baby alone with no help was difficult.
I still had money to earn and there were times I wasn’t sure we’d both make it out alive. When Liv was at her most plastic, when her brain was laying down the foundation for healthy emotional responses, I was shaking her into stillness, unable to meet her fundamental need for care and attention. I know this. I knew this. And here is the irony: I had made all these choices (whether conscious or not) to avoid the patterns of my mother, to love differently, to show love differently, and even with the best intentions in the world I still struggled.
When my mother visited at Christmas I bent down to give my daughter a kiss, saying “I love you” — I do this randomly 50, 100, 200 times a day (this at least I make sure I do differently). My mother looked at me, leant over and said: “What about me?” It was a whirlwind moment.
If you ask her she’ll tell you I had a wonderful childhood, everything my heart could desire. Many of these things I have no recollection of and yet she is convinced they happened. Including her love for me.