Cathy Madavan encourages us to remember that we won’t simply repeat what our mothers did – but nor should we expect our daughters to be just like us

Whether you are a mother or not, as women we have something in common: we are daughters of our own mothers. Whether we have a biological mum, a step-mum or an adoptive mum, all of us can look back to the female role models in our lives and understand the extraordinary impact these relationships have had on us. We all bring to our adult lives our own experiences of being mothered, for better or for worse. If we are now mothers ourselves, some of us will naturally want to replicate the warm, loving and supportive parenting our own mother represents, and that is wonderful. But for others, things were not as easy, and we may even want to hit the reset button, perhaps aiming to be what we wish we’d had. 

But whether our childhood was glorious or grim (or a mixture of good and bad), no past experience automatically determines our destiny as women or mothers. Yes, we are prone to replicate what we have experienced unless we embark on some self-reflection and yes, it is indeed possible that we model certain traits or habits we have learned almost subconsciously – why else would I like sardine paste sandwiches apart from the experience of my formative years?! As a mother of daughters, especially then, it is wise to think about what we want to pass on – and crucially what we don’t – sandwich fillings included! Our history doesn’t automatically determine our legacy, after all.

You are not your mother

Newsflash – you are not your mother! So, your mum loved baking. It doesn’t mean you will. Your mum brilliantly juggled a full-time job with parenting small children. You might decide a different choice would be good for your family. Perhaps your mum was distant, critical or she micromanaged everything in your life. Do not panic – you are not automatically going to be that way. 

When we become mothers, it does bring into focus those unwritten assumptions, character traits or expectations passed down generationally about how we will set boundaries, our traditions, whether we will work, how we will share parenting with our partner or spouse if we have one etc. For many women, there is nothing worse than feeling judged by our own mother or feeling the weight of her disappointment if our choices are different to hers. But you are different. You are a different person in different circumstances at a different time with different children. Forging your own path therefore inevitably means learning from your mum’s wisdom but also making your own decisions and even your own mistakes if necessary. 

Just as we will find our own path as adult women, we also must accept that our children will do the same. Just as we are not our mothers, our daughters are not us! Yes, our children learn so much about the world, relationships and values from us, and there is much that we hope they will want to pass on, but our girls will also grow, adapt and learn to do things in their own way. They are not rejecting us; they are simply becoming their own people.

Recognise your reactions

No parent is perfect and most of us will have had at least a few difficult moments in our relationship with our own mother. But whatever our own maternal relationship, it is worth noticing when our own experience shapes our responses with our children. For example, I can clearly recall a time when one of my daughters said something to me that immediately reminded me of an exchange between my mum and my rather angry teenage self, triggering painful memories and prompting reactions based in fear and regret as a result. Of course, we need to notice why we act and react as we do, but also be reassured that each generation gets to write its own story and to create its own relationships. Just as there are never any guarantees in parenting, neither are there any foregone conclusions and we can all learn and grow. Even the most challenging moments are opportunities to be honest together about how we want to do better and become closer as a family. 

Dare them to dream new dreams

Of course, we don’t want to raise children who feel entitled to be the next global superstar or viral brand, but we do we want this rising generation of girls to explore their many opportunities and to dream new dreams. Looking back, my grandmother didn’t have career aspirations despite her intellect and ability with languages. My own mother wasn’t really expected to work when she had children. As the only university-educated female in my family, I have tried to juggle both work and parenting, but there wasn’t a lot of provision, adjustment or childcare available when I became a mother. My daughters, however, have had much clearer goals and a more focused education offered to them. Alongside that, they have aspirations about the kind of life they want to live, which is not defined solely by their work or their marital status. I admire them and appreciate the shift that has taken place that enables them to make such positive choices. 

No generation has it all easy, however. With spiralling housing costs, hefty student loan repayments, social media comparisons and often unachievable ideals and expectations about what is possible for women, the rising generation of girls and young women may have more opportunities than many women in our history, but they certainly need our prayer and support. Times may have changed across a few generations, but the world is still changing fast and the challenges are real. As a mother of daughters, I know I can’t make their choices for them as they dream dreams and navigate so much for themselves. But what I do want to pass down is the consistent knowledge that they are loved and that I will always believe in them. That is the legacy every daughter needs, in every generation.