You and me against the world

The mother-daughter bond is always a complex one, but in the emotional aftermath of divorce or bereavement, the females of the family often forge a new intimacy with all the passion - and the pitfalls - of a love affair. Hettie Judah reports

FORGET Urban Decay and the slim-line bag; the girl about town's only must-have accessory this season is her mum. Women's magazines have endorsed the joys of friendship and equality with the one woman who will always be there for you. Faith In The Future (the television soap in which Linda Bellingham and Julia Sawalha play a mother and daughter who are flatmates, rivals and mutual irritants) is well into its second series, and any celebrity worth her salt has had mummy dearest clamped to her arm for all the parties that really count. Honorary queen and crown princess of the maternal vogue are Emma Thompson and Phylida Law, who made a film together, A Winter's Guest, earlier this year. "Motherhood," says Thompson, "is a very umbilical issue that's extremely complicated and often very dark, which a lot of people don't want to talk about at all. They either demonise the relationship or whitewash it completely. But it isn't really as simple as that and all hell can break loose if that ever comes out."

"Difficult" fathers are commonplace and the relationship between mothers and sons an Oedipal cliche, but we are accustomed to think of the bond between mother and daughter as unproblematic. Passionate, turbulent and profound are not words we associate with cosy sorority. In fact, as Emma Thompson remarks, the mother/daughter bond is as fraught as any other - even more so if the mother is also the sole parent. In Thompson's case, mother and sisters became intensely close because of her father's long illness. But there other kinds of absence, caused by death, divorce or a father's emotional remoteness.

Hanna's parents divorced when she left school, and she and her mum moved out together. Now in her mid-twenties, bright and extremely beautiful, Hanna has realised that every relationship she has, whether with friends or boyfriends, has ended in disappointment for her because nothing can equal the intense relationship she has with her mother. "She is too indulgent," Hanna admits. "She spoils me; not materialistically, but with time and effort. I just think that's what a loving relationship is like, but no boyfriend could ever live up to it, not a chance."

The fierce love we like to think exists between a divorced or widowed mother and her daughter can conceal more complicated feelings and sometimes holds problems all of its own. With the bulk of the parental bond compressed into a single parent, the fear of jeopardising that relationship may prevent either party from voicing anger or discontent.

Rosie's parents split up when she was a young child. The oldest of three, she says that she was always aware of how well her mother was coping in a very difficult situation. "Instead of allowing myself to be a child, throwing tantrums and being spoilt, we got to be more like a partnership. Bad feelings had to be repressed and buried. When I was growing up we were very, very intimately linked; it felt kind of suffocating. The irony is that you would think such a powerful relationship would be able to withstand knocks and rows but because it is so important in your life you don't dare put it under those sorts of strains." According to Maggie McKenzie of the Spectrum counselling practice, this kind of scenario is the classic development of a co-dependent relationship. The daughter grows up trying to maintain familial harmony and learns to automatically repress her own feelings and be adaptive to those around her. In her twenties Rosie went through a kind of late teenage rebellion and made the essential split from her mother; their relationship has remained very loving but is less loaded.

In some cases, however, this strength from adversity seems to go horribly wrong, and the resulting acrimony can be as powerful as the love that it mirrors. Adolescents are particularly vulnerable to damaged relationships during divorce. "Teenage or early adult mother/daughter relationships are difficult because the young woman is trying to assert herself as a separate individual and so she misinterprets everything her mother says to her as trying to maintain the old control," says psychologist Dr Elizabeth Mapstone, author of War of Words; men and women in argument, a chapter of which is titled simply "Hating Mother". "If you don't make a rupture at some stage, you can't actually separate yourself, and then come back. Something major like divorce would be very disruptive this normal development."

When a family splits, children are often privy to information and bursts of emotion which would otherwise have remained concealed. Sometimes older children almost step into the place of the absent parent in providing emotional support and making decisions for the family. This can cause problems when their prematurely adult responsibility is removed from them upon the arrival of a step parent or new lover.

Anna's father left her family when she was nine and her sister Lisa was eleven; Pippa, their mother, remarried five years later. "Lisa did kind of step into my dad's role," remembers Anna. "She got very close to mum and had a very mature relationship with her, maybe before her time. It made it difficult for her when she had to reassume a little daughter role." Pippa agrees that Lisa developed an adult role in the family. "I depended on Lisa from when she was eleven until she was about fifteen for things like coming shopping with me and deciding which house we were going to buy. I put a lot of responsibility on her." She describes the effect that her new marriage had on Lisa as "reasonably disastrous" but admits that she probably handled the situation in "a very shoddy way" because she was so besotted at the time. Lisa was constantly unpleasant to her step- father and would scream at him proprietorially "This is my family; what do you think you are doing here?"

Pippa and Anna now have what they regard as a mature and open relationship with one another, but Pippa refers to her relationship with Lisa, now nearly thirty, as "strained - not argumentative but very distant; there are all kinds of things that I am aware she feels, that she can't seem to communicate to me." Anna feels that Lisa may have missed out on the traditional stroppy adolescence; while she herself was behaving "like a little shit", Lisa had already been flung straight into adulthood.

These extremes of intense love and rejection between mother and daughter can switch back and forth during the changes of their relationship in the times of turbulence after a divorce. After years of considering one's parents as stable and invincible, the shock of suddenly seeing them break down can be too much to cope with. Marie admits that she pretty much abandoned her mother when her marriage broke up; "in her eyes absolutely everybody left her at the same time." She went away to university, but even then could not bear to speak with her on the `phone; "in the beginning it was too upsetting, then in the last few years it just became boring." Marie was busy having a great time and getting on with her new life; this new, needy, emotionally raw, mother was an impediment to her creating a life for herself away from her family.

At university, Marie was able to create a new self, and afterwards she had the strength to return to her home town and move back in with her mother to forge a new relationship with her. She feels that their relationship now is pretty strong, but admits; "every time we have a row it's still about the same thing; `you all left me, everybody left me on my own, I don't have a family anymore," As far as she can see, her mother has become more emotionally stable in the last few years and she thinks that this is partly due to her moving back into the home; her main concern now is what will happen if she wants to move out.

The bond between mother and daughter during adolescence and young adulthood is a peculiarly complicated one, as the daughter attempts to break off and create her own identity as a grown woman. It is a process fragile to childhood trauma, and the failure to make the rupture away from the mother can be as damaging to the relationship as the most violent break. What seems impossible is for either party to actually let go; mother and daughter are left in thrall to one another and their passion is as strong whether loving and supportive or infused with unhappiness and betrayal. Fashionable she may be, but the mum as best friend is not necessarily as wholesome as she seems.

News
Destructive discourse: Jewish boys look at anti-Semitic graffiti sprayed on to the walls of the synagogue in March 2006, near Tel Aviv
news

As anti-Semitic attacks rise, Grant Feller re-evaluates his identity

Life and Style
food and drink

Savoury patisserie is a thing now

News
news

Meet the primary school where every day is National Poetry Day

News
people Biographer says cinema’s enduring sex symbol led a secret troubled life
PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Life and Style
ebooksA superb mix of recipes serving up the freshest of local produce in a delicious range of styles
Life and Style
ebooksFrom the lifespan of a slug to the distance to the Sun: answers to 500 questions from readers
News
newsGlobal index has ranked the quality of life for OAPs - but the UK didn't even make it into the top 10
News
people

Kirstie Allsopp has waded into the female fertility debate again

News
In 2006, Pluto was reclassified as a 'dwarf planet'
scienceBut will it be reinstated?
News
The moon observed in visible light, topography and the GRAIL gravity gradients
science

...and it wasn't caused by an asteroid crash, as first thought

News
people
News
Researchers say a diet of fatty foods could impede smell abilities
scienceMeasuring the sense may predict a person's lifespan
Sport
footballArsenal 4 Galatasaray 1: Wenger celebrates 18th anniversary in style
News
peopleStella McCartney apologises over controversial Instagram picture
News
Gillian Anderson was paid less than her male co-star David Duchovny for three years while she was in the The X-Files until she protested and was given the same salary
people

Gillian Anderson lays into gender disparity in Hollywood

Life and Style
Laid bare: the Good2Go app ensures people have a chance to make their intentions clear about having sex
techCould Good2Go end disputes about sexual consent - without being a passion-killer?
Arts and Entertainment
Richard Burr remains the baker to beat on the Great British Bake Off
tvRichard remains the baker to beat as Chetna begins to flake
Life and Style
fashionThe Secret Angels all take home huge sums - but who earns the most?
Sport
football

Striker ignored Brendan Rodger's request to applaud audience

News
i100
Arts and Entertainment
Amazon has added a cautionary warning to Tom and Jerry cartoons on its streaming service
tv
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

ES Rentals

    iJobs Job Widget
    iJobs General

    SEN Teaching Assistant

    £45 - £50 per day: Randstad Education Group: Job opportunities for SEN Teachin...

    Secondary teachers required in King's Lynn

    £21000 - £35000 per annum: Randstad Education Cambridge: Secondary teachers re...

    Nursery Nurse

    Negotiable: Randstad Education Manchester: Room Leader PositionI am currently ...

    Nursery Nurse

    Negotiable: Randstad Education Manchester: Level 3 Nursery NurseI am currently...

    Day In a Page

    Italian couples fake UK divorce scam on an ‘industrial scale’

    Welcome to Maidenhead, the divorce capital of... Italy

    A look at the the legal tourists who exploited our liberal dissolution rules
    Tom and Jerry cartoons now carry a 'racial prejudice' warning on Amazon

    Tom and Jerry cartoons now carry a 'racial prejudice' warning on Amazon

    The vintage series has often been criticised for racial stereotyping
    An app for the amorous: Could Good2Go end disputes about sexual consent - without being a passion-killer?

    An app for the amorous

    Could Good2Go end disputes about sexual consent - without being a passion-killer?
    Llansanffraid is now Llansantffraid. Welsh town changes its name, but can you spot the difference?

    Llansanffraid is now Llansantffraid

    Welsh town changes its name, but can you spot the difference?
    Charlotte Riley: At the peak of her powers

    Charlotte Riley: At the peak of her powers

    After a few early missteps with Chekhov, her acting career has taken her to Hollywood. Next up is a role in the BBC’s gangster drama ‘Peaky Blinders’
    She's having a laugh: Britain's female comedians have never had it so good

    She's having a laugh

    Britain's female comedians have never had it so good, says stand-up Natalie Haynes
    Sistine Chapel to ‘sing’ with new LED lights designed to bring Michelangelo’s masterpiece out of the shadows

    Let there be light

    Sistine Chapel to ‘sing’ with new LEDs designed to bring Michelangelo’s masterpiece out of the shadows
    Great British Bake Off, semi-final, review: Richard remains the baker to beat

    Tensions rise in Bake Off's pastry week

    Richard remains the baker to beat as Chetna begins to flake
    Paris Fashion Week, spring/summer 2015: Time travel fashion at Louis Vuitton in Paris

    A look to the future

    It's time travel fashion at Louis Vuitton in Paris
    The 10 best bedspreads

    The 10 best bedspreads

    Before you up the tog count on your duvet, add an extra layer and a room-changing piece to your bed this autumn
    Arsenal vs Galatasaray: Five things we learnt from the Emirates

    Arsenal vs Galatasaray

    Five things we learnt from the Gunners' Champions League victory at the Emirates
    Stuart Lancaster’s long-term deal makes sense – a rarity for a decision taken by the RFU

    Lancaster’s long-term deal makes sense – a rarity for a decision taken by the RFU

    This deal gives England a head-start to prepare for 2019 World Cup, says Chris Hewett
    Ebola outbreak: The children orphaned by the virus – then rejected by surviving relatives over fear of infection

    The children orphaned by Ebola...

    ... then rejected by surviving relatives over fear of infection
    Pride: Are censors pandering to homophobia?

    Are censors pandering to homophobia?

    US film censors have ruled 'Pride' unfit for under-16s, though it contains no sex or violence
    The magic of roundabouts

    Lords of the rings

    Just who are the Roundabout Appreciation Society?