There are many types of mothers, as mothers are not always what they are depicted as being in advertising, etc. Is your mother a Mommy Dearest?
Mothers mostly claim the stereotype of caring, nurturing, selfless individuals. This warm, fuzzy image is promoted on Mother’s Day and inside in the verses of the cards featuring hearts and roses. This has long conflicted with the reality of my own mother, but I thought perhaps she is just an anomaly.
Fascinated by Wendy Tendys’ article on Joli Gabor the mother of the famous Gabor sisters, I researched the subject of mothers. Stunned, I read that many mothers do not display kindness, empathy or even interest towards their children and especially their daughters. Susan Forward, PhD psychologist, has devoted a whole book to the subject. I am definitely buying this one to read and maybe her one on toxic parents, too.
Not only does Susan Forward explain the phenomenon of disappointing mothers, but she gives advice, a way forward (excuse the pun) with this, the closest of all relationships. However, it may be a bit late for me, as my mum is now 99 and in a nursing home.
But Mum still gives me the evil eye as she peers over the sheets. When I presented her with a copy of my first book, which is based on the life of my (nice) grandmother, her mother, I realized she will never change. Creeping dementia has made her worse. My darling grey-haired mother seized my freshly published novel, grabbed a pen and scribbled all over numerous pages, ripped even more pages out, then threw it at me. I didn’t bother showing her my next book.
Our relationship goes way back to infancy where something went wrong. Later, I was too scared to ask her why she rarely came to my speech days, even though I was always dux of the form. I studied hard to get approval, but it didn’t work. Then I developed anorexia at 12 that swallowed up my teen years. Later she questioned why I would use the scholarship to Sydney University. What good will it do? she asked. I did go, did well but she refused to come to my graduation ceremony.
It would have been better though, if she had stayed away from my wedding as she didn’t like my dress, my hair, the food and venue and especially did not approve of my husband. All this is very puzzling to me still. Why the rejection? Why the criticism of your own child? Did it make her feel good about herself? Give her power?
The Eight Types of Mummy Dearest
Now, moving on from my own experience, enough said, let’s look at the types of bad mothers. This is interesting stuff. According to a site called Psychology Today, featuring Eight Toxic Patterns of Mother-daughter Relationships, mothers are not hard-wired to love their children, but children are hard-wired to want their love. That explains why having a non-loving mother screws you up, sometimes for life. If only I had read Susan’s book earlier!
Peg Streep, the author of the article has also written a book on the subject called Daughter Detox and 12 others with equally fascinating titles. She claims half of us have ‘unattuned’ mothers of varying degrees of toxicity. This is amazing news. I always thought everyone but me had nice mothers. Peg slots these dysfunctional mothers into eight categories, but they can overlap. Some very bad mothers tick all the boxes.
These mothers virtually ignore their children who crave their love. Dismissal ranges from passive withdrawal to outright combative rejection where a child is abandoned or, as a teen, is thrown out of the house. The child feels unloved, unworthy and longing for that love all the more. If another adult steps in to fill the gap, it is not so bad. Often fathers, big sisters and grandparents can compensate.
This may seem the opposite, but is really the same, just expressed differently. Controlling mothers still do not acknowledge, or care for their child but instead, organise them, pretending they know best and that all is for the good of the child. This is really lazy, selfish parenting all about the mother not the child. The child is left with no ability to self-manage and has no confidence.
Whether they are physically or emotionally distant, these mothers are just not there for their kids, sometimes all the way through to adulthood. There is little physical affection and no mother-daughter comradery going on here. Unless another adult steps in, the child is destined to be overly clingy in later relationships. Neediness is acute. This one ticks my mother’s box and explains my multiple marriages and anorexia nervosa. It also addresses why Karen Carpenter engaged in self harm. She also had a difficult time with her mother who doted on her brother Richard but was critical of beautiful Karen.
Now, this type is really the opposite. This is smothering, not mothering, and now referred to as helicopter parenting. These mothers are just so overly there, that the kid is suffocated. There is no freedom to grow into oneself and explore the boundaries that constitutes a healthy childhood. Instead, the child is fenced in and overly controlled by the mother.
Many child stars like Judy Garland had mothers like this and teachers complain of ‘stage mothers’ or helicopter parents who want to take over their children’s lives. Joli Gabor may have been this sort of mother. Her girls were told to find rich Mr. Right, but they all found a succession of Mr. Wrongs. Though, for the most, they got the ‘rich’ part right.
As my mother again ticks this box, I fear for you if you have this type of parent. These women are hypercritical, jealous and like to belittle and shame their daughters. There is no joy with them. When my father died and I was the last one to be with him, my mother was so enraged. She was more upset about this, than the passing of her husband. I was not allowed to love him. That was her right alone.
Christina Crawford claims her adoptive mother, Joan Crawford was such a mother though others disagree. She wrote a book called Mommy Dearest, a scathing account of her childhood.
This category seems to overlap with the unavailable mother type. The child is left bereft of attention feeling unimportant and unloved. I could see this happening to some career women. Juggling work and motherhood is difficult and a recent phenomenon.
These types are a worry too. One minute they are nice, then next minute, horrid. The child is left feeling anxious and insecure in the home environment. Who is their Mummy, they wonder? Maybe it is related to bipolar, the author does not specify.
This is a hard one for children, especially daughters. This relationship features the mother as relying on the daughter. She maybe a drug addict, unwell or an alcoholic but whichever, she can’t mother, she needs to be mothered herself. Eldest, or only daughters, suffer with this sort of parent. They are denied a childhood themselves. This happened more so in previous times when unmarried women were dependent still on their parents as they couldn’t work. Beatrix Potter was in this position but managed to escape.
Years ago, we all knew a maiden aunt who had stayed at home to mind her parents. There were many as the two wars of the twentieth century had left a shortage of marriageable men and many widows who had to return to their families for support.
My older sister reports this role reversal phenomenon. She stepped up to mother me and missed out more than me, due to the absence of mothering. When our mother contracted Multiple Sclerosis at a young age, my sister had to care for her and me, at the loss of her own young years. Her childhood ended at eight.
Be a Good Mother
Well, after wading through this list of bad mothering, I hope you don’t recognize your own mother, but instead realize she is a gem, a nurturing, loving parent. Whatever our mothers are like, we as mothers ourselves, must endeavor to be that precious mother, the one a child deserves. Daughters, especially, need good mothers. Good fathers, too, but that’s a subject for another day. Remember, your voice and who you are is far more important than you realize. You can stand strong against injustice and unfairness.
You might also enjoy Wendy’s article on the Ideal Mother.
Joni Scott is an Australian author with two published novels: Whispers through Time and The Last Hotel. Joni also co-hosts a women’s blog; https://whisperingencouragement.com/ and has her own website; https://joniscottauthor.com.