My way of using interviews as research material is that the analysis is presented using the context of data gathering as an interpretive resource (Holstein and Gubrium 2007, 269), and the self-constructions are understood as created in certain situations of interaction (Antaki and Widdicombe 1998). I use discursive methods as the tools to study identity construction and meaning categorization in my interviewees (see also Wood and Kroger 2000, 143−59; Benwell and Stokoe 2010) instead of searching for one 'true' mother–daughter relationship. I do this by analyzing the variation of identities and categories that the interviewees produced as daughters in relation to their accounts of their own mothers.
I began my study by assembling a file (83 A4 sheets at 1.5 spacing) in which I selected all of the episodes concerning childhood experiences and parent relationships from the larger body of the interview material (about 500 A4 sheets). I noticed that talk about mothers was a dominant feature in this data and that it was present in every interview. I then divided the talk concerning mothers into different categories by analyzing each selected episode in terms of what was being done in the episode and how the discourse was structured to perform various functions and achieve various results (see Wood and Kroger 2000, 95). Thus, the different categories contained diverse ways of depicting mother–daughter relationships. I first created a number of categories. Some of them had only slight differences between them. I then compared the categories and connected similar features until I ended up with four main categories. I have selected six different extracts from the larger body of the interview material to illustrate the main categories as follows. I call the interviewed women daughters, even though they were also mothers, to make my perspective more clear.
The Childhood Backgrounds of the Interviewed Women
According to my interviewees, their mothers had had many difficulties with substance misuse, mental health problems such as depression, anorexia and suicidal behaviour, and treatment periods in mental health hospitals. Husbands and male partners had used violence against the mothers and the interviewed women when they were children. Furthermore, most of them had suffered from a lack of environmental and financial resources. Several of the mothers had since recovered, settled down and participated in the lives of their daughters and grandchildren, while some had continued their heavy drinking.
The interviewees mentioned many problems in their mother–daughter relationships, both in the present and the past. Väyrynen (2009, 181) has perceived in her study of drug abusing women that her interviewees defined their low selfesteem and depression as being due to their childhood experiences and parents' heavy alcohol drinking. In my data, the past experiences were connected to depression and suicidal behaviour as well.
The fathers of the women were mostly violent, abusive, passive, distant or totally absent or dead (see also Nätkin 2006, 46). Still, the father–daughter relationships were not discussed in as many and as diversified ways as the mother– daughter relationships.
Disconnection between Mother and Daughter
Daughter 1 (D1) (2) is a 42-year-old mother of one teenage boy who had been living for nine years in two different foster families but had returned home after D1 had been sober for two years. D1 began to use alcohol as a 12-year-old and cannabis as a 17-year-old. Later on, she used both stimulants such as amphetamines and depressants such as heroin. She had had several treatment periods in different institutions. In the following extract, she describes her childhood with an absent father and helpless mother, who was dependent on her husband's financial support and who, after her divorce, loses her way with her young teenage daughter.
I I would like to hear about your family background. What kind of family did you come from?
D1 Well, I am the only child / and / my father was dead. He died in the spring of 86 / I am jumping here [a bit.
I [It doesn't matter.
D1 My parents divorced when I was 12 / and my father was a sailor. Mother was a nurse at a day-care centre. And then for a while she was at home because my father made so much money at sea. // I think my father was an alcoholic, or I mean he drank and used violence and / was very strict and. // I have been beaten by him and I have seen my parents fighting once () Father was taken to jail and mother to the hospital, and I was left alone with my cat.
(A few lines of description about her parents' divorce have been removed here.)
D1 When my father's authority was gone from the home, you know, I exploded / everything inside me, and my mother could not discipline me. I began to drink alcohol when I was 12 / I mean very heavily.
D1's description of her childhood is quite similar to those of the interviewed women in general. Her father used alcohol and was violent, her parents divorced, and D1 stayed with her mother. Later in the interview, D1 told me that her mother began to drink and date several male partners after the divorce. Both her environmental and emotional conditions can be described as potentially harmful to a young girl, and moreover, D1 connects her parents' behaviour directly to her own behaviour as she 'exploded' and began to use alcohol.
In D1's case, the mother–daughter relationship was shaped by the obvious disconnection between a helpless mother and a vulnerable daughter who was left alone, was mistreated by her parents and who no longer had boundaries after her strict father left. The question asked before D1's account did not include any references to her substance use. Nevertheless, the incompetency of her mother to deal with her daughter's emotional problems is given as a reason for her substance use. Even if the father was the one who used violence and mistreated both D1 and her mother, the failure of the mother is more prominent in D1's description.
Hiihtola (2011) has studied violence perpetrated by parents in the documents of out-of-home placements provided by the Finnish administrative courts in 2008. She pointed to several discourses that were used to explain violence, which was mostly done by the fathers. The mothers' failure to protect the child was one of the categories. In that category, the violent behaviour of the fathers remains insignificant, while the mothers are held responsible for their child's abuse due to their inability to control their husbands. The same kind of explanation was seen above in D1's description and in some of the other women's accounts as well.
D2 is a 49-year-old mother of two children. She has a history of 30 years of using a number of drugs, starting from alcohol, cannabis and prescribed drugs as a young teenager and moving to amphetamine, morphine and intravenous
heroin. In spite of her drug addiction, the children had always lived with her. At the time of the interview, she had been sober for several years and was studying to be an artisan. D2's father was not present in her childhood, and her mother had several partners. D2 lived sometimes with her mother and sometimes with her grandparents. The next episode illustrates her chaotic relationship with her mother.
D2 I have / never got beaten.
My mother did once / grabbed my hair when I was fifteen because she caught me smoking cannabis for the first time and // let me go at once when I just said to her I mean / just told her to let me go or I'll hit her.
I mean my mother was pregnant with my little brother then / or stepbrother // and I just told her that the only thing that is stopping me from striking you is that you are pregnant.
On the next day then / my mother and her at that time partner disappeared / for a week or two to the country-side, and I was left alone at home, I mean that was sort of /
I [Solution / yeah.
D2 [Solution I mean hhhh (laughs) I don't know // mm she did mess around, my mother, whatever, so stupid things like she would send me / to a mental hospital, that was the place she was sending me and I laughed at her straight in her face that you will look like an idiot if you go there to explain that getting high is a reason to shut anyone up in a mental hospital, and she never did.
D2's illustration of her life with her mother as a teenage girl is reminiscent of a cruel playground where toddlers compete with each other for the best shovels to throw sand into the other's eyes. The mother of D2 found out that her daughter had used cannabis, which led to a chain of events in which the mother acted violently, the daughter fought back, and eventually the mother left her teenage daughter alone. Furthermore, both sides threatened and insulted each other and called each other names. There was no connection between the mother and her daughter.
Just like in the case of D1, the mother of D2 is shown as helpless to deal with her daughter, or at least her attempts to deal with her are seen as limited and morally questionable: violence and rejection are not the tools that 'good mothers' are expected to use as their upbringing methods or which will lead their daughters to become skilled caretakers of their own children (see Chodorow 1978).
D2 does not describe herself as vulnerable as D1 was. She defines herself more as a victor after battle. She also shows sensitiveness as she restrained herself from using violence against her pregnant mother. Later on in her interview she mentioned her desire for a strong and stable mother who would have helped and loved her in hard times. She also underlined that she has always tried to be available to her own kids and support them, unlike her own mother.