herald

Monday 18 December 2017

'If you have an issue with your mother and you're over 35, you kind of need to get over it'

Making peace with your mum gives daughters the ultimate freedom, says Tanya Sweeney

Lynn Ruane, who is a single mother and studying at Trinity College, pictured with her daughters Jordanne, age 14 and Jaelynne, 8 at her home in Tallaght
Lynn Ruane, who is a single mother and studying at Trinity College, pictured with her daughters Jordanne, age 14 and Jaelynne, 8 at her home in Tallaght

They say that a woman's work is never done … but let's be fair, this age-old adage usually refers to a mother's ongoing, tireless labour of love.

But while some things about the typical Irish Mammy are timeless, there's no doubting that the role is constantly being redefined. Women are living longer, motherhood is rarely a woman's sole occupation, and the concept of the typical Irish family is becoming ever more fluid.

Of course, this means that the role of the Irish daughter is in flux too. Much ink has already been spilled about the mighty Irish Mammy… but what about the women who have to live with her?

We've long known that the Irish Mammy and her son usually have a typical, uncomplicated love. The cliché about men bringing their washing home on a Sunday exists for a reason, because it's true.

Daughters, on the other hand, appear to have a different, possibly more complicated relationship. There is no shortage of love and closeness, but sometimes things spill over.

Many Irish women admit to a relationship with their mums that is marked with guilt, and even an occasional, a niggling sense of duty.

When her mother became ill with a degenerative condition, one of communications expert Natasha Fennell's first thoughts was, 'have I been a good enough daughter?'

"Luckily, my mother is still with us, but I had a complete meltdown when I thought that she would die on me," recalls Fennell.

"Was I left with enough time to do with her what I want to do? Daughters didn't want to talk about their mothers dying, so I decided to do a huge survey to see if it's a subject we could approach. People felt disloyal and unable to give out about their mothers. But it became clear that not everyone felt about their mothers as I do."

Along with writer Roisin Ingle, Fennell formed an impromptu self-help club, The Daughterhood, where a group of women could come together over good food and wine to help each other navigate their joyous, occasionally fraught relationships with their mothers.

"It was like Daughters Anonymous," laughs Natasha.

Within time, the Daughterhood website (thedaughterhood.com), a place where others could share their experiences, was born. They then enlisted nine women to write about their experiences as daughters for their book, The Daughterhood.

Maeve is the 'busy daughter' of the book; Sophie is the daughter of madness; Lily, the daughter of narcissism; Cathy admits to being the 'becoming my mother' daughter; Grace, whose mother is living with a terminal condition, refers to herself as the 'grieving as she lives' daughter.

Anna is the reluctant daughter, while Debbie admits to being the disappointing daughter. Roisin and Natasha opened up about their own experiences, too: Roisin admits that she is overly dependent on her mum Ann, while Natasha charts the occasional trials of being 'the dedicated daughter'.

One thing is clear … while the role of the Irish Mammy might be shape-shifting, the role of her daughter is constantly in flux too.

"A lot of women worry that they don't spend time with their mothers or take their phonecalls," observes Fennell." Some women don't take their mums as seriously and they're not relying on her judgement or opinion anymore."

Women often have to manage the high-wire feat of having a parent-child relationship with a friend, too.

I asked a mother and daughter pairing - author Muriel Bolger and her writer daughter Jillian Bolger (a parenting columnist with The Herald), about their dynamic: "I'm an only girl with two brothers, as is Jillian, and I think because we never had to share anything as youngsters it may have affected our relationship," observes Muriel. "Sisters have each other to lean on, and we have each other.

"I look at her living her life and I think, 'God, she's great'. However old they get, your children are always your children."

Adds Jillian: "My brothers are very good to my mum, but we're a close little unit. I think girls are a bit more thoughtful with their mums. One of the reasons I wanted a daughter was not to dress up her in frilly dresses, but because I wanted a daughter for adult life.

I know I'm stereotyping a bit, but I think we're better friends to our parents. We're better at picking up the phone about the small stuff that matters. Guys are there for the big moments, but we're better at the little details."

But occasionally, things cloud over. There can be a clash of formidable egos between women, and mums and daughters are no exception.

Natasha observes that women of a certain age - 30s and 40s - were often raised by women that had to give up work as they got married. With their career on a wind down, these mothers expended their considerable energies on their households instead.

"There's definitely lots of anecdotal evidence to show that some of these mothers may have taken out that resentment of not fulfilling their own dreams on their daughters or sons, but particularly their daughters," says Fennell. "For that generation of women who married in the '60s and then became mothers in the '70s, many of them had to ditch their personal ambition and live a life that maybe they hadn't planned."

The mother-daughter relationship will no doubt continue to be frustrating and rewarding in equal measures for both parties. But there is a way to keep the wheels of harmony greased.

"It helps to see things from your mother's perspective," suggests Fennell. "We daughters make so many assumptions about our mums, often forgetting that she had a life before us and was a young woman with dreams and aspirations herself.

"My own personal perspective is if you have an issue with your mother and you're over 35, you kind of need to get over it," she adds. "See it in your heart to forgive and accept things you can, and amend the things let over from that.

"Guilt about your mother is the worst feeling and it will eat you up, and when they're gone, there's nothing you can do. So while you're both here, all you can really do is make the most of her."

The Daughterhood by Roisin Ingle and Natasha Fennell and The Pink Pepper Tree by Muriel Bolger are out now

 

A single mum at 15, new TCD Student President is set to move onto campus with her daughters

As the newly elected president of Trinity College's Student Union, Lynn Ruane (30) will move on to the university campus in College Green this July. However, unlike many on-campus residents, the political science undergrad from Killinarden, Tallaght will bring her two daughters Jordanne (14) and Jaelynn (8) along for the ride. Already, Lynn's two daughters are familiar with the campus: "I want them to be exposed to it and not feel the intimidation," explains Lynn. "If you're living in a community like Tallaght, it can be a little scary. I'm also trying to put emphasis on the fact that (university) is called 'third-level education' because there are three stages to education. It doesn't end after school.

After a rewarding career in community work, Lynn hopes to move into making change at a policy level when she graduates. But she admits that her academic career had a halting start. After discovering she was pregnant at 15, she sat her Junior Cert when she was seven months pregnant, and left school not long after.

pregnant

"I was working in a factory when I found out I was pregnant," she admits. "I was bright, but I thought school was a pointless exercise.

"My parents wanted me to stay in school, but I was really okay with being a mum," she adds. "At the time there was a lot of teenage pregnancy so it didn't seem extremely abnormal."

Luckily, Lynn's own mother proved to be a tower of support as Lynn raised her daughters. The three of them currently live at the family home before their move on-campus.

"I wouldn't promote getting pregnant at 15, as I don't want to let any teenager think it's an easy life to get a ticket out of. If Jordanne, who turns 15 this year, became pregnant, I think I'd lose my life," she smiles. "But maybe because the generation gap is smaller between us, Jordanne and I have a very open relationship. We basically grew up together."

Still, Lynn's kids can see more than a touch of the typical Irish Mammy in her: "I was walking through campus with the girls and we were talking about Jaelynn going to confession," she recalls. "She was misbehaving and I said something like, 'If you keep it up you'll not get to make your communion'. Jordanne turned to me and said, 'I think you've finally become your mammy'."

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