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  • Writer's pictureclaudiaherman

What if... A jolly read about 'mum stuff'.

What if you're a mum and you don't, or can't, like your kid? What if your mum doesn't, or can't, like you? I'm over simplifying massively. This has come up lately in a work context and it's something I've done a lot of work on over the years so I thought I'd share my experience (yes, another one!) in this area. If you're familiar with my other arse numbingly self obsessed blogs (yes, that kind of is the point of a blog) you'll know that I tend to share stuff if I feel it might be of use to others so that they feel less alone on their journey.

It goes without saying that only my perspective is represented here and memories are notoriously wonky and unreliable for all of us. My mum isn't able to share her perspective on account of being dead. I'm fairly certain my dad doesn't read my blogs and if he did he doesn't tend to talk about stuff. So, get yourself a mince pie, a tiny violin and settle in for a festive pity party.

At Christmas, many of us find ourselves thinking about those who aren't here. I only started 'doing Christmas' when I had my daughter. Childhood Christmases had been, invariably, shit. Mum became a Jehovah's Witness when I was four years old. This was a source of conflict between mum and dad in their already not great relationship. Mum fell out with the Jehovah's Witnesses a few times over the years. She was able to pick a fight in an empty room. It was quite a skill.

Mum's version of being a Jehovah's Witness was no Christmas, no Easter, no birthdays, no smiling. It was unrelentingly joyless. This wasn't my observation in other Jehovah's Witness families - the unrelentingly joyless bit, anyway. Dad wasn't one for celebrations but sometimes would go all out, I suspect to annoy mum. There would then be the dilemma of accept the cool stuff dad had got and deal with the wrath of mum - the prospect of eternal damnation from powers higher than mum was ever present, or don't accept the cool stuff dad had got and risk upsetting him. It was always far worse to upset mum. I was always puzzled that Christmas was such a power struggle between them because dad has never been a fan of Christmas. Birthdays were fun too. Every birthday, I would be told at length how traumatic my birth had been for my mum. Happy birthday, I've gift wrapped some guilt.

Interestingly, the addition of our fabulous little man to our family has given my dad permission finally to talk about his experiences, albeit only a little bit. I've always known that both my parents have had terrible experiences. Mum would tell me all about hers on an endless loop. Dad's not much of a talker. I knew that dad had spent his childhood in and out of care. I only learned recently that he was taken into care on Christmas Eve one year. He experienced appalling violence from his dad. His dad might have been a perfectly lovely person but for a catastrophic brain injury aged twenty one years old. The version of the story I have is that he was in a motorbike crash, smashed in the front of his skull and had the damaged bit of skull replaced with a metal plate. The front bit of the brain is where our executive function and personality live. I'm sure you can see why this would be a problem.

Mum and dad both brought a generous dollop of childhood trauma to the party. I don't think mum was exposed to the violence that dad was but losing her dad when she was seven years old was something that she was never able to process or come to terms with.

I had a big sister. She only lived for a few days. It was the seventies. I'm not sure how available bereavement counselling and such like was in the seventies but I'm guessing, not very. I imagine it was new fangled hippy nonsense. Anyhow, the version of events with which I'm familiar is that my mum was advised to just crack on and have another one. You know to replace the dead one because human beings are interchangeable like that. But crack on they did. My big sister died in the November and I was born the following September. As a grown up and a mum I imagine my mum's pregnancy was incredibly stressful. I don't really need to imagine because she used to tell me how awful everything was for every minute of every day for as long as I can remember. I was born prem and poorly by emergency c-section. My mum used to tell me often and at great length how she didn't meet me for three weeks because I was in a specialist children's hospital. That bit of the story always puzzled me because I'd crawl over hot coals for my kids. Knowing what I think I know now, I'd put money on my mum being walloped with post natal depression which must have been crippling on top of her unprocessed grief. I suspect she couldn't visit me because she thought it was all happening again and if I wasn't going to make it what would be the point.

I have very hazy recollections of still having physio and medical appointments for various things well into primary school. Poor mum with all her unprocessed grief had been sold the idea of 'have another one, that'll fix it' and she ended up with a poorly dud. Rather than fixing stuff I was a constant reminder of what could have been. A bit like on Bullseye, off of the eighties, when contestants hoped to win a speedboat and went home with a crappy bendy bully. If you're too young or not in the UK look on youtube. Apologies for being flippant but it is literally impossible to compete with a dead sibling. They are simply ace and will never get anything wrong and will always be better than you. Even if you turn yourself inside out and paint yourself orange you'll still not be good enough. A couple of years after my disappointing/traumatic/triggering arrival my brother turned up. Mum's relationship with him appeared more positive. I think it was easier for her to bond with him because he wasn't ill and he wasn't a girl so there weren't the same triggers for her. However, I don't think this gave him a free pass to dodge the dysfunction. His experiences would obviously be different to mine but not necessarily better.

Right up until she died in 2015, I honestly believed that if I tried hard enough she'd be able to like me. I did start to establish some boundaries when I had my own kids. Behaviours that I'd accepted for years, I found I wasn't willing to expose my kids to. This resulted, in quite an unplanned way, in me withdrawing or at least limiting my services as an emotional punchbag. An unfortunate consequence of this was that one of my aunties found she was my replacement. She was awarded the role without applying or an interview. I still feel guilty about this.

So, what do you do if your mum doesn't, or can't, like you? If you're super lucky you find some great mum type role models elsewhere. I have been super lucky in this regard. Living with the fear of never being good enough, of being fundamentally unlovable is practically woven into the DNA for many of us for a whole bunch of reasons. A particularly vulnerable group is those who are care experienced. My work life has helped me to contextualise my own experiences. When we're kids our world, our view of the world, our perspective is tiny. Everything is our fault. What other possible explanation could there be. We never think we have bad parents or parents who aren't coping we think we must be bad kids. I've done a load of work over the years to understand stuff and I work really hard to not pass stuff on. I've had conversations with mum and dad over the years about accessing support. I think mum was, and dad is, too scared. This is pretty much all they have in common. I think that often when we know stuff isn't okay and there's stuff we need to work on we're scared because we know it's going to be painful. I promise that doing the work is never more painful than the stuff that's causing the pain. If your mum doesn't, or can't, like you please know that it's not your fault. It's probably not your mum's fault either. It's not your job to fix other people. You are good enough. xxxx

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