something wrong in my relationship with my mother. But it is only since her death seven years ago that I have begun to understand why I was so unhappy: because she preferred my brother to me.
It was never conscious, of course, and she would be devastated to hear me say it. She would find this article unforgivable. 'There are no favourites in this family,' I remember her saying. 'I love you both equally.'
I have few memories of my early childhood and little evidence to back up my intuitions. I even feel guilty for writing it down, as though I may be doing her a great wrong. But from as far back as I can remember, I feel as though I have always been trying desperately to attract her attention - away from my brother and on to me. He always seemed to be in the way; if not in fact, then in her consciousness.
My brother was born the year after the war was over, when my father had returned from national service. I came along two years later. In the family photos we all look happy enough: two dark-haired, chubby children in the foreground, handsome parents standing proudly behind.
I believe that she was always harder on me than on him: on what I wore, how I behaved, what I believed. I always seemed to disappoint her; he never did. He was neat and tidy; I was the scatterbrain. He was sexually above reproach; somehow, I was suspect. After a brief attempt to live with friends in his late teens he came dutifully home and stayed there; I went to art college (a mistake to let me go, she always said) and never came back.
He seemed able to get away with anything: shouting, swearing, stomping out of the house. He couldn't help it: that was the phrase she used. Yet if I ever raised my voice to my mother, or tried to argue back about anything - politics, religion - the response was always the same: 'How dare you talk
to me like that. My own daughter, talking to me like that.'
Was it because I was a girl that she had
this need to criticise and control me more than she did him? Because she hadn't come to terms with her own childhood? Was it her own pain as a woman that she revisited on her daughter?
Certainly, I suspect that she was not favoured: the eldest of seven children, in a family where there was little money, she was always expected to look after the others. My grandmother lived a few streets away when I was a child. I don't recall her showing much affection to my mother: there was always tension between them.
My brother didn't benefit from being more favoured. She and he had a terrible, binding, destructive relationship: she couldn't give him up and he couldn't, or wouldn't, escape. My mother was a powerful woman and I think he was stifled by her love and her anxiety - afraid to make his own way in the world.
There were a few times with my mother when we managed to be happy together:
always when my brother wasn't around. A summer's day in the country when I cooked her lunch, and she sat in the garden and seemed more relaxed than I had seen her for years. It was a day that she actually allowed me to give her some pleasure: a day which other families might regard as normal, but after which I was overjoyed.Reuse content