I’ve always thought of myself as a ‘good daughter’ without ever exploring what a good daughter is. However, I realised a couple of weeks ago, around my twenty-first birthday, what it takes to be a good daughter. I’ll tell you that later.
In a lot of ways, despite being considered weird by many of my peers, I was a fairly normal teenage girl. I fought with my younger brother, sneaked out of the house to get drunk with friends, played truant from school and fed table scraps to the dog. The living room was always full of my clutter, I kept secrets from my parents, I hated doing chores and I nagged and whined to get bought sweets, clothes and other things.
Nothing particular there that makes me a good daughter, right? In fact, when I look back on my teen years, I can see that I really wasn’t very helpful at all. There are so many small things I could have done and should have done – the smallest things really would have made a huge difference to my mother. The only way she got through the last eleven years is by being a secret superhero.
About a year (at an estimate – the timeframe is very skewed in my head and I can’t be certain) after we moved to Ferryside as a family of four, we became a family of three when my mum ended her relationship with my dad. I remember walking the dog with mum along the cliff in the summer, and she asked me what I thought of the possibility. I was eleven, but understood one small thing about adult-types. They needed to be happy just as much as us kids did. I told mum that if she wasn’t happy then she needed to make moves towards becoming happy. Nonetheless, when I got home from school on a Wednesday afternoon and my dad was gone, I was shocked – I couldn’t fathom why he’d left so suddenly, without waiting to say ‘bye to my brother and me.
After that, my Mum had to take care of two preteens, a happy-grumpy old dog, a small business that often needed her to be in several places at once, and herself, without any support aside from what her parents could provide (which was a lot, don’t get me wrong, but mum needed more than a lot). Over the next ten years, my mum would face many challenges. The business that she worked so hard to bring back from the ashes started to flutter out, her children hit their teens, she had relationships with men ranging from a bit flakey to full-blown violent alcoholic (the guy in question was eventually removed from our lives when my mum discovered his profiles on some very questionable dating sites). As well as the business, the house started to fall apart, too – holes in the kitchen roof, leaky plumbing, decrepid chimney and all kinds of other things. In the winter, we were always cold and there was never enough money. Eventually, our happy-grumpy dog died – he was fourteen, and too arthritic to get out of the way of the vehicle that hit him.
Despite all those problems – despite everything that could go wrong doing just that, we never went hungry. None of the men that my mum was trying to make a life for herself with ever laid a finger on my brother or me, and I’m sure that if one had tried, they’d have been out the door (or window, I don’t think mum would have been too picky) quicker than blinking. Our clothes were always clean. I doubt either of us triggered any warning signs in the eyes of our teachers as kids coming from anything other than standard home lives.
Things have settled down considerably in the years since I turned sixteen. My mum met and fell for Julian and before long he moved in with us. They’ve been married two years now, and while being far from perfect, Julian does seem to make my mum happy. Both my brother and I have moved away from home now and they live together with little dog and the cats (of which there are three), making the house my mum bought with my dad into their own place. My mum even has a regular 9-5 day job.
The thing that made it all bearable was my mum’s ability to hold it all together. Through every scrap of chaos she has had one eye on me and one eye on my brother. Even now, living hundreds of miles away, I can feel it when I’m at my worst – I want my mum to give me a hug and pick up the pieces I’ve dropped along the way, because she has that look in her eye that tells me that there’s no path I could take so far from the right one that will lead me away from her. Even when I leave the path to walk in the trees, she’s never far away.
Obviously I can’t say for sure yet, but I think I learned from my mum that the three most important things to give your kids are love, trust and time. Even though I did plenty of teenaged things to make the first two things hard for mum to provide (did I mention sneaking out the window?), the third thing has always been available, even when it hasn’t. Being in a hurry to get the shopping done never stopped my mum from taking me to lunch when possible. The cost of a phone call from landline to mobile never stopped us talking for hours. The delay between sending and receiving never stopped us writing letter to each other.
The crux of this post is meant to be what being a ‘good daughter’ entails, and the most astute among you might have noticed that I’ve said nothing on the subject at hand. That’s because the day-to-day stuff really matters very little in the end. The important thing in the mother-daughter relationship is that the daughter learns to see and appreciate every inch the mother gives. Every time she carries your jumper, every time she gives you an extra piece of chocolate, every time she drives you to college, every tissue she gives you when you cry.
When I was sixteen, I was selfish and really did focus on myself more than my family (as sixteen year olds often do). Now I’m twenty-one and the thought of spending any prolonged period of time thinking of myself is abhorrent due to my anxiety and depression, I find myself thinking for hours at a time about the other people who play a part in my life. Through this I realised everything that it takes to raise children and really did genuinely puzzle over how my mum managed it all.She is superhuman.
What it all comes down to in the end is that there are no good daughters. There are good mothers, with daughters who will eventually look back and want to apply their own lessons to their daughters.
Then sometimes, there are great mothers.