Here to Help: “I blame my mother for my dad leaving when I was younger”

Here to help: I have been angry with my mother since I was 10-years-old. When my father left us for another woman I spent most of the rest of my childhood blaming her for him walking out. My mother has since raised us by herself and even retrained at night to provide for us. I rebelled against her big time in my teens, not coming home at night, drinking at a young age and always testing her.

I’m now 36-years-old and our relationship has improved since my teens, but I’m still angry at her for not trying harder to make things work with my father. I rarely see him and know that he should bare the brunt of my anger, but I find myself craving his approval. It’s difficult for me to spend more than a few hours with my mother because she makes me irritable and at times passive-aggressive. I’d just like to know if it’s normal to to carry this anger into middle age and how I can direct less of this frustration towards my mother?

- Anonymous

Frances replies: Firstly, I would like to say that all feelings are “normal”, even really awful ones. We must remember that we are more than what we feel. (I’m sure we will be looking at this as we explore the many facets of the mother/daughter relationship in this forum.)  That said, they are a gateway into our way of being in the world and how we relate to those around us.

Answering your question, if it is normal to carry these feelings from childhood into middle age, it can be if we haven’t dealt with them from our “inner child’s” perspective. You mention that your father left when you were 10-years-old and that essentially is when the hurt occurred. This may be the case for so many children. At the time, it is possible that you were unable to fully express how you felt. The experience and your feelings around it may have gone underground, leading them to surface and be expressed in an indirect way, for example in the rebellious behaviour in your teenage years and the passive-aggressive behaviour you are aware of as an adult.

It’s clear from your email that you recognise how well your mother coped with this upheavel, by single handedly raising you, going back to retrain and providing for you. This would suggest a great deal of will and determination, as well as genuine care for her children, which is a wonderful platform for you both to work through some issues you feel are in the way of a good relationship.  In a world where people walk out of other people’s lives and trust can take a hit, your mother has remained. Maybe allow yourself to trust her now and talk to her about how you’re feeling. This can clear space for both of you to spend whatever time you have left together in a healthier way.

Frances Macken (Professional Diploma in Counselling & Psychotherapy) is The Daughterhood’s resident psychotherapist and is Here To Help with all of your mother-daughter relationship dilemmas in a sympathetic and practical manner. If you have a question for Frances about your relationship with your mother, send it to ask@thedaughterhood.com