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The Mothers as Objects of Caring and Understanding
In spite of the troubles and complexities in the mother–daughter relationships described so far, empathy and understanding were one of the most prominent features when women talked about their mothers. Several women described how they had taken care of their vulnerable, drunk mother, driven away their mother's drunk male dates, mothered their younger siblings and kept up with the everyday routines. However, quite a few of them expressed feelings of deep love and forgiveness.
D6 has one two-year-old child. She has been sober since she found out that she was pregnant at the age of 27. She had previously undergone a few treatment periods, which had failed. Her parents divorced when she was two. She reflected deeply on her mother–daughter relationship during the interview. Her mother has been a constant help to her, but she feels that she has paid dearly for that help. The mother of D6 is an exception in my data as she has never been an alcoholic. Instead, D6 defined her mother as a workaholic and depressed, which remarkably influenced her childhood.
D6 And certainly / I mean that my mother had an extremely hard time, and you know she is very proud and could not ask for help from anywhere. And she had a bad mother-relationship herself / I mean her own mother is really strict / I mean grandmother was / and I mean mmm (breathing deeply). / [ ] She comes from a very, I mean middle class, or you know, from a bourgeois / family, I mean really. You have to manage by yourself, you do not ask for help.
[A few lines are removed here].
I Have you talked about it recently with your mother?
D6 Yes we have but hhh (breathing deeply) no. It is terribly hard for her, I mean, yeah she admits it today that she was depressed and perhaps still is, who knows. / But, you know, sure because she is over 60 and during her whole her / upheld the mask somehow and [/
D6 In a way. / I mean ///. We haven't / you know actually, really so well /
D6 provides several reasons to explain her mother's behaviour in her childhood. Her mother's relationship to her grandmother has been problematic, and the middle-class ethos of living did not allow asking for help if needed. Her mother's life was hard and lonely when D6 was a small child, and she is even now struggling with depression. The relationship has improved as the mother has admitted her problems, but they are still hard to discuss.
The ability to understand and conceptualize traumatic childhood events and experiences of being abandoned can be seen to increase with treatment and therapy. Some of the interviewed women, especially those who were in the inpatient treatment programme at the time of the interviews, did not show any empathy towards their mothers. On the other hand, those who had been sober for several years and lived with their own children were able to reflect on their mother–daughter relationship in a more complex way.
Conflicting Relationships between Generations and the Negotiation of
Feminist researchers have changed the idea of motherhood as rooted in biology and nature, and the concept of motherhood has been defined as a product of culture (Kitzinger 1978), situated in time and place (Woertman 1993) and socially constructed (Glenn, Chang and Focet 1994; Silva 1996; Smart 1996). The concept of reproduction has been understood as being as societal and cultural as it is biological (Vuori 2010). However, 'women's mothering' has remained predominant and the concept of the 'parents' responsibility' typically indicates the mother's responsibility (Campbell 2000, 140; Nätkin 2006; Vuori 2010, 109). This is often also the case in families with drug-addicted parents (see also Barnard 2007, 60).
In Western societies, parenthood has traditionally been a private and intimate issue, which has been supposed to be dealt with inside of the family. During the development of the welfare society, the authority given to professionals to define and watch over proper parenthood has increased, and the private has become more public (for example, Vuori 2001). To go even further, the mothering skills of the interviewed women have been under the review and judgment of social workers, and they have been constructed definitively as clients of professional services due to their failures as parents (see also Hall et al. 2003). In addition, the research interview comprised a situation in which the women's experiences as mothers were handled openly. As the intimacy of parenthood has been lost, means of justification have become essential. The interview situation might be seen as one interactional context for reflecting on mother–daughter relationships, negotiating motherhood identities and legitimating morally questionable behaviour as drug-addicted mothers (see also Holstein and Gubrium 2007).
Some kind of conflict and lack of support was common in all the categories of the mother–daughter relationships described above. At the same time, there was a desire to understand and reflect on the grounds for the mothers' inability to act like proper caretakers. The link between their experiences of their own mothers when the daughters were children, and the ability to be a mother to their own children as an adult was considered meaningful too. One's mother could be seen as a 'bad model' (Pryce and Samuels 2010), against which the daughter can create a better, normal model. Or it could have been seen as an inevitable path to failure as a mother.
The collision between generations is not a phenomenon exclusive to women with a history of drug use. Several elements of the mother–daughter categories that I have illustrated could be found more or less from any family. The differences are composed of the deepness of the gap, the violence of the quarrels and the totality of the disconnection and rejection. According to the stories, the mothers of the interviewed women had not just been helpless, but had completely lost control. The daughters had not just been misunderstood but abused. In the light of Chodorow's (1978) object relations theory, the interviewed women never had a chance to become successful caretakers.
However, several of the interviewed women had managed, with the help of therapy and periods of treatment, to improve their life situation and own wellbeing enough to take care of their children. In some cases, the social workers are defined as significant allies when constructing a more helpful self-understanding. In the research interview context, it was characteristic of the talk about the mother– daughter relationship to revalue and rearrange the motherhood and womanhood identities of the women. It would be essential to have time, space and willingness for reflection that allows clients to revise their own motherhood identities in the social welfare services too.
Combined with learning social and life skills, supporting social and family networks and long-term therapy or after-care, studying and revaluing relationships over generations could be helpful, especially for mothers (or fathers) who are supposed to be responsible for their own offspring. At the base of my study, sensitivity toward gender, motherhood as well as relations between generations should be encouraged when social workers or any other professionals meet in institutional settings.
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