What do mothers like

Mothers - we love them
and we curse them

Almost half of all parent-child relationships are perceived as problematic. This is the result of an extensive study by the generation researcher Dieter Ferring. Relationships with mothers are particularly difficult. The Viennese psychologist Sabine Standenat even assumes that this relationship is more or less conflictual in nine out of ten cases. This is often only recognized late, sometimes never mentioned.

Laura was a dear child. Polite and reserved, well-behaved and adaptable. Sometimes she was a bit closed and often there was a worried look on her light brown eyes. She couldn't have said what it was that wasn't going smoothly in her life. She didn't realize this until she was 25. That was when she broke off contact with her mother for the first time.

For a long time it didn't occur to Laura to critically question her relationship with her mother. “I used to think she was my best friend, my advisor, my closest confidante.” She never thought of open criticism of the beloved mother. “Only now do I know how much she manipulated me back then. I was addicted to their love and approval. Every time I was not who she wanted me to be, if I didn't recite a poem, wanted to choose the wrong friends or choose the wrong subject, she threatened to withdraw love. So I felt. If I wasn't 'good', she often didn't speak to me for days, and later, when I had already moved out, she just didn't get in touch until I crawled back, ”says Laura. Today she is 37 years old and a lawyer - a job that she hates and that she owes to her mother, who at the time said her talent was wasted on a teacher training course.

The reason why problematic feelings between mothers and children are often tacitly accepted for years are the inviolable myths that still surround the topic of motherly love, says the psychologist Standenat.

The myth of motherly love

The fact that father and mother are to be honored is one of the indisputable foundations of occidental tradition. Hardly anyone dares to publicly shake the image of selfless, self-sacrificing motherly love. "Maternal love is a shoreless sea of ​​infinite depth" is the Russian proverb that sums up this ideal. A mother, according to the norm, loves her child before she knows it, and she loves every child equally. She is patient and ready to steadfastly affirm the child's path in life. She provides security without constriction and is there when she is needed.

The Austrian writer Adalbert Stifter put it more than 150 years ago: "The mother's heart is the most beautiful and most inalienable place of the son, even if he already has gray hair - and everyone has only one heart like this in the whole of space." The idea To lose this special place is almost unthinkable to this day. Anyone who has serious problems with their mother or even breaks off contact is as good as lost in this logic and failed as a child. A broken mother-child relationship violates a kind of law of life - it is rarely discussed.

The myth of motherly love is fueled by the fact that sooner or later many bonds break today. The divorce rate is high and mobility undermines long-term friendships. "The relationship between mother and child is often the last to suggest stability," says Ulrike Zartler, sociologist at the University of Vienna.

"The image of the selflessly loving mother is an invention of the 18th century"

The social requirement that there should be an emotionally stable bond between mothers and children only emerged in modern times, says Zartler. The image of the selflessly loving mother, which we are so familiar with today that we consider it to be the only natural thing, is an invention of the 18th century. "With this new image of the caring mother as the main person responsible for the happiness and development of her children, the basis for a sense of guilt not to conform to this ideal was created," says Zartler. Of course there was motherly love before, but it was not at all times , not present in all strata and certainly not as an innate constant.

In the past, intensive care of the children by the mothers did not take place as standard. In the rural population, the offspring were left to their own devices for long stretches of the day or ran alongside their parents' work. Older siblings, in large households also servants or maids, were jointly responsible for bringing up the children, and children were included in the workforce as early as toddlers.

In higher social classes, the contact between mothers and their children was mostly limited to daily short visits, during which polite phrases were exchanged. A loving bond would have been condemned as pampering, too much care as pedantry. Upbringing was done by wet nurses, governesses and tutors. One consequence of the widespread nursing system, however, was the high infant mortality rate.

Madonna and Child

When the value of human life - for the productivity and defense of a state - was recognized in the course of the 18th century, it was important to ensure the survival of small children. You needed mothers for that. From now on, your understanding of your role should change from the hard-working work companion of your husband to a caring mother and housewife.

"The man has to go out into hostile life (...) and inside the chaste housewife, the mother of the children, rules and rules wisely in the domestic circle", Friedrich Schiller described the new family ideal in 1799 in the "Song of the Bell". National Socialism contributed to a further glorification of motherhood, while women were reduced to their role as “guarantors of steely, combat-ready descendants.” The 50s and 60s finally stylized the family as an untouchable place of love, happiness and despair The role of women was that of a caring, altruistic mother, symbolized by the Madonna and Child, an ideal that is firmly anchored in people's minds to this day.

Disappointment hurts

It often has little to do with reality. Like all human relationships, the one between mother and child knows disappointments, contradictions, lies and unacknowledged feelings of anger, envy and guilt, says psychologist Standenat and demands: "We have to dispel these myths." The behavioral standards not only put pressure on mothers, they also disturb children whose mothers deviate from this unquestioned norm.

"It was incredibly difficult to realize that I was only lovable to my mother when I was who she wanted me to be," says Laura. "Even more difficult was the realization that I will never have the mother that I am I wish that everyone wants. That was the most painful moment for me. And it is still difficult to bear to this day. "

"Children feel like being loved and recognized by mom or dad"

"Basically, children always long to be loved and recognized by mom or dad," says Standenat. "Conversely, parents don't always love their children." Sometimes the worlds simply separate. You develop different interests and values ​​and move away emotionally over the years. "Just because you're blood relatives doesn't mean you have to love someone forever," says 80-year-old Viennese Mathilde F. When her 57-year-old son Friedrich drives from the Waldviertel to the federal capital once a year and visits his mother for an hour For Mathilde it is, "as if the caretaker were ringing the doorbell from the side staircase. There is no conversation, no emotion. ”And when he says goodbye with the reference to the expiring parking ticket, Mathilde wonders why he came in the first place.

The old lady cannot explain how it got to this point. She sees a complicity in Friedrich's wife, with whom he has been married for almost 40 years, who "nothing was ever good enough" and with whom Mathilde could never find a connection. The daughter-in-law probably sensed that too, and so the visits decreased , until the contact at some point ran out. There were also years in which Friedrich didn't even get in touch - and neither did Mathilde. But she doesn't let that offend her anymore, she says. "I'm a sober person. Who does not want it, already has it. Sometimes I imagine that they would have emigrated to America, then I wouldn't see them either. "

"Breaking contact can help break out of old patterns"

Mothers are people

Mothers are only human too. "Everyone carries their own rucksack of unresolved conflicts, worries, fears and emotions with them. If they don't try to resolve them for themselves, they unconsciously pass them on to their children," says psychologist Standenat Katja B. feared that could happen to her own children. She herself was a difficult child, as her parents assured her all her life. Rebellious, bitchy and defiant. Her mother tried to counter with strict rules, controls and devaluations. "I couldn't please her “, Remembers the 35-year-old woman. "I had the wrong clothes, the wrong hair, the wrong friends."

"I couldn't please her"

When Katja B. had difficulties at school, the mother felt confirmed and just said: "If you are too stupid, stop." When Katja became pregnant with her son in her early 30s, the mother said snipingly: "You will look at you when you think it will be so easy. You have no idea. ”No“ We can do it ”or“ I'll help you ”. When Katja became pregnant with her daughter shortly afterwards, the mother just laughed and said that it was right for her that she was now getting such a complicated "girl".

Katja, who now lives in Vienna and for whom every stay with her parents in Tyrol ended in tears and bitterness, thought about breaking off contact. “The thought felt good.” What stopped her were her children. “I didn't want to put them in a situation where they couldn't see their grandmother, and I didn't want to apply the whole thing to them. Also out of fear that I might feel the same way with them one day. ”So Katja decided instead for therapy in which she worked through her relationship with her mother. With professional help, Katja learned to find her way out of her child role and to meet her mother at eye level.

Most of all, she learned to see her mother for who she is and to recognize what she is ready and able to give. Katja B. is getting confirmation and recognition from her partner, friends and colleagues today. "I used to have so many demands on my mother. She should be loving and empathetic, think I am great and, best of all, understand everything. Today I know that she is not that simple. I try to concentrate on her positive sides. Some I just don't address things that used to be so conflict-laden. And if I am upset or a conflict threatens to escalate, then I say: 'Let's change the subject, or we'll argue.' “, Katja doesn't always understand her mother. "Sometimes she reacts snuggly, defiantly, and then it's almost as if she were the child, but more and more often she actually gives in."

Exit lost contact

A common problem is that the relationship between mothers and adult children is not on an equal footing. Mothers often miss the leap from underage to adulthood, from education to relationship, and want to hold onto old hierarchical levels, says Standenat. Paternalism, a lack of recognition and devaluations are the result.

It was the same with Laura, the lawyer. When she realized with the help of her therapist how much had gone wrong in her relationship with her mother, she wanted to share her insights. Her mother didn't want to hear it. She reacted with bitter attacks against her and the therapist, who talked her into nonsense. Laura tried a letter, the mother replied on 20 pages, peppered with angry accusations about the "ingratitude" of the "self-centered daughter".

"I'm working on realizing that I'm lovable, even if my mother doesn't see it that way."

Laura gave up. She no longer wanted and could no longer take on the role of the adjusted, sad daughter in which she was lovable to the mother. So she stopped answering. Neither did your mother. That was twelve years ago. Laura is not doing well with this, but she has learned to live with the situation and to detach herself emotionally from her mother. "I'm working on realizing that I'm lovable, even if my mother doesn't see it that way."

The relationship between mothers and children is not a sure-fire success. Neither gratitude nor motherhood alone are the main pillars in the long run. As with all relationships, the willingness to recognize and accept the other with their strengths and weaknesses is also required here - in constant relationship work. If that is not possible at all, sometimes separating is the more bearable way.

Read here for tips from the expert on how to keep the relationship harmonious!

Book tips

A guide for abandoned parents from the point of view of an affected mother: "When children break off contact. Help and strategies" * by Angelika Kindt, Südwest, € 17.50

Polemic pamphlet for motherhood and against the pressure of having to perform equally in family and at work. Alina Bronsky and Denise Wilk: "The Abolition of the Mother" *, DVA, € 18.50

Tina Soliman investigates the background to the phenomenon of broken contacts in a sensitive way: "Radio silence. When people break off contact" *, Klett-Cotta, € 18.50

How the biographies of the mothers influence the life, the ability to bond and love of daughters: "Mothers are also people" * by Claudia Haarmann, Orlanda, € 20, -

Christina Mundlos traces the reasons for the phenomenon "Regretting Motherhood" and gives advice for those affected: "If being a mother doesn't make you happy" *, MVG-Verlag, € 15.50

A volume with texts on maternity myths in the light of their historical, psychological and sociological dimensions: "Mutterbilder" *, Psychosozial-Verlag, € 25.60

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