In most of my counselling sessions I have concentrated on my father’s attitude over the years much more than my mother’s. Yet as a child I spent far more time and thought with my mother. My view of her has radically altered since I started counselling, whereas that of my father has stayed much the same.
My two sisters were several years older than me so I mostly grew up as an only child, with them either having left home or not wanting to spend time with me. I missed the sibling companionship, although not the rivalry; I do remember at a very young age watching my sisters fighting and pulling each other’s hair quite viciously.
This meant that I spent a lot of time with my mother. I think by the time I was 7 I had visited virtually every museum in London. I still walk into a museum today, new for my children, and recollect a distant visit. We went out together, to museums, to open air theatre, to plays and films. She shared her joy in many actors, films, her own knowledge and interest separate from my father’s. I grew up as a young child with an abiding love of Shakespeare and Gilbert & Sullivan (as well as Humphrey Bogart) for which I am still thankful.
As I grew older she involved me in amateur dramatics when she could and I enjoyed the warmth and comradeship that existed. We spent a lot of time together and I considered her a friend, rather than ‘just’ my mother. I got chatted up by men who didn’t realise quite how young I was, and she never felt the need to point it out to them. At a time when I was being severely bullied at school this gave me a degree of happiness and escape, but in the long run it meant that I never got on with my peers and found them childish. I skipped going out with boys and went straight to men. Only once or twice did I go to a teenage party and I never went out on the town with a bunch of friends.
These things I now bitterly regret. And yes, regret is pointless.
I also think my mother was lonely and wanted some of that warmth for herself and took me with her as a justification. We were seemingly good friends and she talked to me about how much she’d tried to get my father to open up and be warmer and how she’d found the arguments too painful. As a result she had given up, and now just moaned about him behind his back I don’t think she really had anyone else to confide in so I received a burden at a young age I wasn’t equipped to deal with.
A few years ago she told me about the time that 1sis had taken an overdose, in another country and had been taken to hospital to have her stomach pumped. I too had done this once, although not so dramatically. She did not go to my sister’s side but rang her up and said “What’s all this nonsense I hear?” That still gives me the chills. How can a mother do that? She spoke of the unusual coincidence of having had two daughters out of three take an overdose, without realising, or without choosing to realise that there might be a connection.
This was a few months after a conversation I’d had with her when in some form or other I asked her to please stop complaining about my father. Either deal with it, or shut up about it, but I didn’t want to hear it any more was the message I tried to deliver. She didn’t like it and we spoke a lot less, with very little communication for a year. She had got the hump.
Counselling stretches and alters the relationships between myself and both my parents, as my perception of them alters and I consider how their parenting has affected me. I explained this to my parents, when my father challenged me with “your mother feels you’ve become more distant” with my mother sitting silently at the other end of the sofa not feeling able to say this herself. My father saw the logic of this even though he really doesn’t understand why I can’t just put my childhood to one side and get on with life.
I wish I could.