Life is seldom simple, and neither are mother-daughter relationships; as much as we may love our mothers, and they love us, it always seems complicated. At least in our family.
For many years you fail to understand why it is so. You try, you try hard. And then one day, suddenly it all becomes so clear, and you finally grasp it, and it becomes so much easier to understand – and forgive.
Take Granny, for instance. Mom says she was a harsh mother, who rarely had a gesture of tenderness towards her only daughter. From an early age Mom knew she was a disappointment to her, as Granny had wanted a boy, so this must have been a huge blow to Mom’s self-esteem as a child, and in fact I believe this scarred her for life. Granny treated her like a general treats her troops – demanding strict obedience and exercising discipline at all times. I wonder why, and how, since years later, as a grandmother, she was kind and affectionate, the person I loved most in the world – but people change, of course, and sometimes are mellowed by age. Or happiness. I believe Granny was not a happy woman in her youth and early married years. After all, she was a bright, intelligent young woman who dreamt of becoming a doctor. Sadly, for her, back then (the thirties, in Mozambique) studying at university was no option for a girl, so she had to settle for marriage and being a housewife – and knowing her, how she must have seen this as a terrible limitation for her ambitions! No wonder she was dissatisfied with life, even if she had a husband who absolutely worshipped her…
The result was that Mom always felt inadequate beside her mother, who in addition was a beautiful human being, strikingly blonde and blue eyed, while Mom, although very attractive, was the typical Portuguese brunette. But in the end, there was one thing she achieved in her life, that Granny would have had but did not: a career and, with that, independence, freedom.
Granny and Mom are as different as two women can be. Apart from physical features, Granny was always serene, poised, even cold at times; the perfect wife and mother – and grandmother – who put her family before all things; who in fact devoted her life to her family; who was the perfect cook, who knew how to sew clothes and make exquisite embroideries; who ran her household with an iron fist making sure everything was in perfect order…whereas Mom, impulsive and vibrant, had the opportunity to study a career and never took any interest in household chores. She married, yes, and had children, but when Dad wanted her to quit her job and dedicate herself to her family, she bluntly told him no! She needed her freedom, her independence, and it ultimately cost her her marriage, but she never wavered. As for motherhood, Mom was a kind, even if somewhat absentminded mother; after her separation from Dad she went to London to take her master’s degree and my brother and I never really lived with her again. When she got a job back in Portugal it was in distant Braga, a city 400 kilometres from Lisbon, where she went to live for good, while we stayed in Lisbon with our grandparents. She had a brilliant career and she was free to live her life as she wished to. She had her own money and took her own decision. As for love, she had several relationships, but none gave her the love she craved for. In fact, she always says Dad was the great love of her life, period.
Them me. Like Mom, I was raised to be a career woman, independent. Granddad used to say I should study, so that I might be financially independent. I listened to him and did just that, and independence, to be mistress of my own life, became my ultimate goal. I did marry, but there were concessions I was not prepared to make, and, in the end, it didn’t work out. Like Mom, I think, although these concessions were totally different. In my time it would be unthinkable for a man to tell his wife not to work, but in a marriage, there are always different views on life and at a certain point ours simply did not match.
Regarding our children, I always felt Mom and I were worlds apart. Maybe because I always had this feeling she had somewhat “abandoned us” (although our grandparents cared for us with the utmost love and devotion and for that I am so grateful) for her career, I always knew that I would conciliate both – motherhood and career. And that I did, and I have been there every day in my children’s life. As years went by and I raised my boys, I could not help drifting further apart from my mother; each day that went by made me more conscious about the role a mother should play with her children, and I simply could not understand the reason why she had never taken on her role seriously. I did question her about it and she simply told me she had always tried to do the best for us, her children. And at the time she thought the best was for us to be raised by our grandparents. Even if in my teens my relationship with them had more downs than ups, the generation gap being too wide and their concept of what a teenagers’ freedom should be having frozen back in the fifties, the time of Mom’s youth.
I have tried very hard to understand Mom’s motives, for no other reason than to erase this bitterness I sometimes feel towards her. I have listened to many opinions, meditated, tried Family Constellations…and then the other day, suddenly it was there, the answer to what I believe has been one of the question marks in my life.
Everything has always been about freedom, from Granny to Mom and me.
Granny, in spite of her seemingly idyllic life, retained the bitterness for not having been free to choose her own destiny; to study and become a doctor. No matter how loved she was by her husband, in spite of having a happy marriage when so many foundered, her life was not the result of a free choice, but only a plan B that never entirely fulfilled her. As for Mom, she was free to choose and so she did; she sacrificed all for freedom – the marriage with the love of her life and raising her children. After having her parents raise us for a few years after her separation and the post-revolution troubled times, she could not bring herself to take us away from our grandparents after all they had suffered, losing their homeland and mostly everything, so to be with us she would have to come and live near her parents; however, that would mean losing her freedom for they were too interfering and she was not capable of making a stand against them. So, she chose distance – justifying herself with the fact that the only available job at the time was far away – and renounced a family life for her independence. Now I can she had no other choice and I believe it must have hurt, but her freedom was simply something she could not give up. Not even for her children.
If I cannot agree with her, as I in my case my children will always come first – because I wouldn’t know how to do it differently, they are too much a part of me – I can now understand and even sympathise. After all, to keep my freedom I have also renounced what was once probably my greatest dream – that of having true love in my life, a happy marriage. Mine was not happy, partly because I could not renounce my choices and the freedom to make them. I would not renounce them even to keep our family together, simply because I could not. In a way like Mom; even if our choices were different, at the end of the day the reason was the same. The need to live according to our own choices, beliefs. The need to be free.
So, there we are. Three women, three destinies. Most probably the three of us wanted to have it all: a happy marriage and a career, to be free and independent. For Granny there was no choice. She was much loved, but never free. Mom and I had all the choices and made them. In the process, we lost love. In my case, I know I have only lost one kind of love, while gaining another, the greatest love of my life: my two boys. As for Mom, I wonder why she feels about this. I won’t ask her. Of one thing I’m sure, though: whatever her regrets may be, she has, in fact, been free to make her own choices. Some, right, some wrong, they have been hers. And that, is the greatest privilege a woman may have, in this crazy world where so many of our sisters are still denied their most basic right – to live their life as they see fit. The right to have freedom of choice.