When I found out I was having a daughter, my initial feeling was a strong urge to correct the mistakes of the past. I was filled with idealism and promised my little girl we would have the mother-daughter relationship I never had. This was quickly followed by feelings of debilitating anxiety. What if I ended up being abusive like my own mother? What if my daughter grew up resenting me? What if she stopped talking to me one day?
I began struggling with mental health issues during my pregnancy. I had no idea having a baby would trigger memories of my own childhood trauma. And having a daughter seemed to be more triggering. The track record for mother-daughter relationships in my family is poor. Every daughter grew into a mother who repeated the cycle with their own daughters.
When I held my daughter in my arms for the first time, I was overwhelmed with unconditional love. Surely this love meant I would never hurt her in the way my mother hurt me? But I still worried about repeating the cycle. Maybe my mother felt like this when she held me in her arms for the first time. Maybe her own mother felt that way when she held her. Yet they both went on to abuse their daughters. Would I be the same? Was in inevitable?
For the first year of my daughter’s life, we were inseparable. She was very much a “mommy’s girl” and I was thrilled. Our bond was extremely close and she was pretty much my shadow.
Then she started to prefer her dad.
It hurt because at this stage she had more of a personality and clear preferences. It felt like he was truly her favourite, and maybe we were close because she depended on me at the time or didn’t have the clear preferences to know any better. I began to have irrational fears. Maybe she had worked out I’m not good enough for her. Maybe this was her way of telling me I am just like my mother.
I affectionately refer to her as daddy’s girl and I am really happy they have such a good relationship. They are truly best friends and this means so much to my husband. He has cerebral palsy and was extremely nervous about parenthood as he is different from other fathers. Although I feel a surge of affection when I see them together or when she goes to her daddy instead of me, I can’t help but feel a little sad. This is quickly followed by shame and guilt. “I shouldn’t feel this way,” I scold myself.
I pinned all of my hopes of correcting the past on my daughter. I know now this was wrong. There is no way I can correct the past and even if there was, it’s not okay to pin all of that on my little girl. I am responsible for healing my inner child. Not her. I wanted the mother-daughter relationship I missed out on with my own mother, rather than the mother-daughter relationship my little girl needs.
I have spoken to my husband about my feelings as we worked out that even if I was my daughter’s favourite, I would still worry about our relationship. It’s true. If we had the exact relationship I missed out on with my own mother, I’d be terrified of ruining it. I would have anxiety about it being too good to be true or not deserving of it. The reality is I am afraid regardless of the relationship I have with my daughter.
I am finding it more helpful to focus on what I do have, rather than what I don’t have. Although my daughter prefers her dad, that’s because she feels safe to express her preferences. I never had that as a child, so I must be doing something right if she feels that sense of freedom to act on her preferences. I know she loves me and she knows I love her, as we express this every day. That wasn’t my experience as a child, but thankfully my daughter will never have to wonder whether I love her.
We may not have the mother-daughter relationship I had idealised in my head when I was pregnant. And it’s understandable that I feel sad about this. But the relationship we do have is lovely. It’s a relationship where we can openly express our affection without fear of rejection or inconsistency. It is based on respect and seeing her as an individual with agency and autonomy.
In worrying that we didn’t have the mother-daughter relationship I never had as a child, I didn’t notice all the ways in which I am giving her what I never had. This may not be the relationship I personally wished for with my own mother when I was a little girl. And that’s okay. Because this one is more beautiful than any mother-daughter relationship I craved or imagined. Because it’s the one my daughter needs.