Being the daughter of the perfect woman sucks.
What sucks even more, is the invalidation that tags along. After all, it can’t be considered childhood trauma if your mother was the epitome of perfect so you end up blaming yourself for feeling anger towards the woman who treated you like her personal project. All those years of trying to be perfect like her: wasted.
I thought it was only my issue. I was ashamed of talking about my frustrations with my mum because I could never comprehend why I had them. It made me think that maybe I was just jealous and, if that was the case, then it would be too embarrassing to confess that the only reason I didn’t answer phone calls from the woman that gave birth to me, was simply because I was insecure about not being her. So, I swallowed up my shame and ignored my emotions with the hope that one day they will disappear.
That did not happen.
First, my emotions manifested themselves in disordered eating.
Then came the constant pressure to achieve the best grades.
Always say the right thing.
Never stop to rest.
I was continuing the generational legacy of perfectionism. My only problem was that, (surprise, surprise) I was never actually going to be perfect. But,I wasn’t going to stop striving for the minimal chance that maybe, someday, I’ll come home and will finally be crowned as the daughter with no faults.
That day never came. What did come, however, was a family drama TV series that I started watching – ‘This is Us’. I’m aware this might be a seemingly unrelated change of topic to the gloomy introduction, but no simple words can explain the healing powers the show has had on me over the past few years. I am not going to waste your time explaining the plot, but all you need to know is that somewhere, in one of the episodes or characters, you will see yourself; and, let me warn you now, it won’t be an easy watch.
If you opened a new tab whilst reading this and searched for any information about what this show is actually about (since this article is doing quite a poor job at describing it so far), you probably found photos of a happy family and phrases like “heart-warming”, “emotional” and “family drama.” ‘This is Us’ is much more than what Google wants you to believe. After the first episode, you quickly realise that watching this show is similar to walking into your therapist’s office, but instead of receiving professional advice and maybe some lukewarm tea, you’re left with unanswered questions about yourself and a puffy face from all the sobbing. It’s a real and raw depiction of what it means to be a human navigating life.
Now, I’ve only been to therapy once, so I can’t say I know everything about the post-therapy ‘hangover’, but I think staring at a blank screen in my bed after watching Season 2 Episode 2 of ‘This is Us’ felt almost identical. Remember my perfect mother complex? The main female character in the series, Kate, has the same problem. Her mother, Rebecca, is an ideal woman: beautiful, smart, and talented. Kate envisions herself as everything other than that.
Like me, she struggles with her weight, unfulfilled career, and inability to ever be like her mother. And in the same way I have for the last 20 years, she hides her anger. Until an innocent comment about her “almost amazing” singing becomes Kate’s trigger to finally say all the thoughts she kept bottled up inside.
“It’s everything about you mom, it’s not just that you’re beautiful or thin or that you have perfect pitch, even when you talk. It’s everything. You wanted a daughter like you and I was never going to be you.”
It would be an understatement to say that I felt the power of these words. On the day I watched the episode, I was having an objectively great day a perfect day.
So why was I so caught off guard by an ordinary scene in a stupid TV series?
Why did I stop myself from vocally crying so that my flatmates wouldn’t ask questions?
Why did I instantly want to say the same thing to my mum?
That night I lay in bed, unable to sleep and I contemplated all the ‘whys.’ To any outsider my ‘objectively great day’ may have looked like ideal, Instagram-worthy “she’s got her shit together” content; the type of content where you light candles, cat a low carb high protein TikTok diet and namaste all day. In some ways, I often watched myself from the outside too and thought that nothing was wrong. But Kate’s powerful words on the show uncovered the tragic reality that if I had to go on one more day trying to have my “shit together” I would forever be stuck in a cycle of trying to be someone I’m not: my perfect mother.
“I was never going to be you.” Seems so easy to understand. I’m not a duplicate version of either of my parents because that would just not be scientifically correct (and that is a fact I know even though I’m not a woman in STEM, so it must be very clear to most people.) Yet, when I finally confessed to my mum that I wasn’t going to live my life the same way as she did, it felt both like stating the obvious and like dumping atrocious blame on her that she didn’t deserve. But it was worth it. She took my words to heart, reflected on them and apologised for all the times that she made me feel like I was not enough.
What’s more, my non-stop working mother also started watching ‘This is Us’, after I told her what inspired me to start our conversation. So, like the social scientists we both are, we can now psychoanalyse our mother-daughter relationship together, which is much less daunting than it sounds (honestly, try FaceTiming your mum and complaining about each other’s childhoods, it’s a game changer.)
By Wiki Gucia