“You act like my mother.”
Oh, p-please. Give me a break!
Every time I hear something like that from a close friend or a significant other, even on the threshold of Mother’s Day that’s coming up in Europe this Sunday, I get visibly annoyed. Mothers vitally mattered when we were five and younger and parent-dependent. Come on, let it go, grow up.
Yet it turns out to be not so easy. Throughout our lives, the most intense, rewarding, intoxicating, painful and learning relationship we’ve got happens to be with our parents, mothers in the first place. No matter if they are dead or alive, in peace with us or at war, leaving across the continent or next door, our parents are always there. We continue interacting with them through every important relationship we get into, let it be our second halves, bosses, close friends, etc.
Personally, I find women’s bonds with their mothers especially complicated and intriguing. I spent last weekend in Berlin with a very close girlfriend of mine, who now lives in Israel. It’s our sweet sacred tradition: about once a year we do this girls-only long-weekend get-together in a European city, just the two of us catching up. Out of all people, excluding my parents, this person knows me the longest. Our tiny apartments stood right next to each other in that shabby Khrushevka building on the edge of Moscow where we both grew up. We did everything together, almost like sisters. I used to hide in her house in the evenings, fleeing from anticipated punishment for my numerous misdeeds and begging her mother to be a negotiator with mine, and my friend often took refuge at my place to escape her mother’s excessive control.
Oddly, the main subject we discussed this past weekend was neither men, nor work, nor kids or other stuff. It was our moms. And as my friend and I shared with each other our endless mother-daughter relationship sagas, I couldn’t help but trace some obvious similarities in our upbringing which are also quite typical for our generation as a whole. Our moms are the same age, they were even born on the same day, far outside Moscow. Products of a challenging wartime childhood, they came to conquer Moscow after having finished high school. They graduated from good universities, married, had kids and eventually got divorced. Their careers fell apart right along with the Soviet Union and the Soviet system falling apart, and after that their only daughters became their sole sense of existence as well a as a window into the outside world.
Some might say I’m overly generalizing here, but I insist the following are the typical traits of the way many kids of my generation have been raised: overprotection, overwhelmingly neurotic expression of love often verging with various kinds of abuse and extreme emotional neediness later. Years into covering family issues for women’s magazines, I also see the striking differences in the ways by which the Russian and Western parenting cultures abide. My Israeli girlfriend, a psychologist, fully agreed with me. At her new home, she said, kids get much more trust and freedom, and, more important, a great deal more unconditional love.
“And with my mother, it seems like I am never good enough for her,” she complained.
Oh, how familiar this sounds. But I’ve witnessed so many other types of mother-daughter dramas, too, ranging from the daughters’ compulsive desire to compete with their parent, to outperform, to get revenge, to please, to set herself free, to self-assert, to constantly rebel and dismantle…
Curiously, when I look around I can find hardly any instances of what I could even remotely call healthy or adult relationship with parents, the one that, in my opinion, involves mutual respect, trust and a proper share of emotional independence. I’ve often heard of our parents’ generation being referred to as lost, taking into consideration all the hardship and trauma both they and their own parents had to go through during their lifetimes. The load of issues almost every mother-daughter connection involves today suggests this could really be the case.
“I’d say it’s several generations of Russian women, starting from the great-grandmothers and grandmothers who, having lived through the 1917 revolution, the Civil War, the hunger and the repressions, have been extremely traumatized,” said Olga Danilina, a Moscow-based psychotherapist with more than 15 years of practice. “What I see is the chronic deprivation (of love). And it’s the daughters in the first place who end up suffering from this in an especially acute way.”
While the father figure is extremely important as well, I am convinced it’s indeed the mother who teaches us the primal language of love. If later in life we stumble, we could retrain ourselves and master a different language, using our parents’ mistakes as great learning material. In fact, psychologists say females boast a much greater potential for change. But I also tend to agree with the Tibetan Buddhists who believe that our souls always choose the parents at the moment of conception in order to learn a certain lesson.
I just wish we could get over that lesson sooner rather than later.
Russia has always been referred to as feminine and Russian women have been one of the most popular stereotypes of this nation, both positive and negative. But is this an all-male fantasy? Here is a hip, modern, professional and increasingly globalized Russian woman looking at the trends around her, both about her gender and the society at large. She talks and lets other women talk.
Svetlana Kolchik, 33, is deputy editor-in-chief of the Russian edition of Marie Claire magazine. She holds degrees from the Moscow State University Journalism Department and Columbia University Graduate School of Journalism. She has worked for Argumenty i Fakty weekly in Moscow and USA Today in Washington, D.C., and contributed to RussiaProfile.org, Russian editions of Vogue, Forbes and other publications.