• My relationship with my mother was formed because of necessity, while the dynamic of my relationship with my daughter is formed by choice. (Westend61)Source: Westend61
I know that as my daughter gets older she will keep more of herself private, our relationship will transform and change, but the foundation of trust and transparency that I am establishing will hopefully bind us for a lifetime.
By
Amra Pajalic

16 Aug 2021 - 9:12 AM  UPDATED 19 Aug 2021 - 1:32 PM

My daughter brought home a poster that she created for school about someone she admired. It was titled ‘Mummy’ and she’d drawn a sketch of me, quite a good one too, a tasteful upgrade from real life. On it she wrote descriptors of me including “wise”, “feisty”, “funny” and “basically my sister.”

I didn’t set out to be “like a sister” to my 12-year-old daughter. In fact when I was pregnant with her I had a discussion with a family friend about the fact that I was not going to be her friend - I was going to be her mother. 

My conflict stemmed from my own childhood and the unorthodox relationship I had with my mother. Growing up, I was my mother’s confidante. As a bipolar sufferer, her world shrunk as she got older. The Bosnian friends she made in her youth had either moved away or died, leaving me to fill the void in her life. 

One of the symptoms of my mother’s illness was lowered inhibitions, and when she was in a manic state she had no filter. As a result, she shared everything with me: her sexual escapades, relationship issues and troubled memories. As a teenager I felt burdened by the weight of my mother’s confidences and I promised myself I wouldn’t do the same to my daughter. Instead, I would establish boundaries and be the mother I never had.  

As a teenager I felt burdened by the weight of my mother’s confidences and I promised myself I wouldn’t do the same to my daughter. Instead, I would establish boundaries and be the mother I never had.  

But circumstances have moulded my relationship with my daughter into one of best friends. 

I had always dreamt of having two children. I fell pregnant twice, but only one of those resulted in a full term pregnancy. My daughter ends up being an only child, and while she revels in the perks she receives from this, there are negatives. I fill the role of companion and friend. We watch movies together, go on outings together, have daily 'deep and meaningfuls', wrestle and tease. This has bonded us in a way that I had not expected.

Because of my mother’s bipolar, I learnt early on that our life was public. My mother was not able to keep a secret or a confidence, so I learnt to preempt my embarrassing moments by telling people. This tendency toward too much information has followed me into adulthood and made me pathologically honest and open, even as a parent. I answer all questions my daughter asks and no topics are censored, and because of my openness she reciprocates and tells me about everything that’s going on in her life.

When she started year 7, she found out a boy liked her. After one brief conversation and acceptance on social media accounts, he asked her out. Later, she called me to her room in a panic.

When she started year 7, she found out a boy liked her. After one brief conversation and acceptance on social media accounts, he asked her out. Later, she called me to her room in a panic.

“He asked me out and I said yes,” she said tearily.

“Okay,” I said cautiously.

“But I don’t want to have a boyfriend. It’s too much pressure.”

“Why didn’t you wait to speak to me?” I asked.

“You weren’t home,” she snapped.

We discussed a few scenarios about how to let him down gently. The next morning she sent him a message saying that her mother had found out about the relationship and that she wasn’t allowed to date.

“Can you please tell me that you’ll take my phone away for a month if I go out with someone else?” she said.

“But I don’t want to do that. If I do you won’t tell me things and get help when you’re in trouble.”

And that’s why I want remain my daughter’s friend. As a teenager I was in many dangerous situations and didn’t have anyone to turn to for help. I want my daughter to know that I am the first port of call when’s she’s in trouble.

My relationship with my mother was formed because of necessity, while the dynamic of my relationship with my daughter is formed by choice.

My relationship with my mother was formed because of necessity, while the dynamic of my relationship with my daughter is formed by choice. I know that as my daughter gets older she will keep more of herself private, our relationship will transform and change, but the foundation of trust and transparency that I am establishing will hopefully bind us for a lifetime.

It would be too easy to slip into making my daughter my companion and confidante, but I don’t want her to be burdened the way I was with my mother’s neediness. Instead, I have a strong brood of female friends that represent all the facets of my life: my high school friends, my uni friends, my work friends, my writing friends, my study friends, and my parenting friends. And this is what I want for her. So far I am reaping the rewards of both worlds — I am giving my daughter the childhood I never had, while also creating a basis of a lifelong bond. Only time will tell how my parenting style pans out.

If you need immediate assistance or support contact Lifeline on 13 11 14. For further information about depression and bipolar disorders contact Beyond Blue on 1300 22 4636 or talk to a medical professional or someone you trust.

Embrace Multicultural Mental Health also supports people from culturally and linguistically diverse backgrounds.

Amra Pajalic is a high school teacher and author of memoir Things Nobody Knows But Me. You can visit her website here.

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Kind regards

SBS Emerging Writers’ Competition

 

The official anthology of the 2020 SBS Emerging Writers' Competition, Roots: Home is Who We Are, published by Hardie Grant is available now at all good bookstores.

 

Want to hear from this year’s judges, and get advice from last year’s winner? Listen to the SBS Emerging Writers' Competition podcast, The New Writer’s Room, in the SBS Radio appApple PodcastsSpotifyGoogle Podcasts, or wherever you listen to podcasts.