Life with magical, maddening daughters

KEEPING MUM: Ellen and her mother

KEEPING MUM: Ellen and her mother - Credit: Archant

Ellen Widdup’s escape to the country

AS A teenager I believed my mother was hell-bent on ruining my life.

I reciprocated by making her as frustrated and unhappy as humanly possible.

I huffed and puffed, slammed doors and screamed “it’s so unfair” and she sighed, cried and tried again and again to get through to me.

This was our reality. And then, one day, I grew up.

It is utterly astonishing to me that the person I loathed most as a teenager is now my best friend.

Yet according to a recent study, this is not actually a surprise.

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Each year, the average British teenage girl has 183 rows with their mother, slams 164 doors and sheds 123 bouts of tears.

Fights with mum are started over tidiness, answering back, sibling squabbles, relationships with boys, staying out late, dressing inappropriately and bad manners.

The research discovered that it is only when a woman reaches the age of 23 that she learns to appreciate everything her mother does. Three quarters of those questioned said they were grateful to mum for the way they were raised, even if they failed to realise it at the time.

I was about 14 when I declared war against my mum and our house became a battle zone.

My friends were my priority, school an irritant and I was hopelessly in love with my pimply, gormless boyfriend and quite sure he was the man I was going to marry.

My parents got in my way. They were always offering advice, wanting to know where I was going, who I was with, when I would be home. It all seemed so desperately unreasonable.

However hard they tried, they couldn’t do anything right. If my mum even spoke to my friends or my dad offered me a lift anywhere I would recoil with embarrassment.

If they tried to involve me in any fun family activity I would sneer or roll my eyes. My mum even tried to relax her approach, offering to take me on shopping excursions or on a girly trip to the cinema – but I looked at her like she was mad.

This method of “friendship parenting” is quite a common one now however – championed by the likes of Madonna with her daughter Lourdes.

They are among many mothers and teenage children seen trading dating advice, plundering each other’s wardrobes and partying together.

But experts warn that this shift has more to do with mothers wanting to look and feel as young as their kids than it does in forging closeness with their offspring.

Some psychologists go as far as to suggest that such a relationship can actually smother the child and inhibit social development.

I can see why. After all, if you consider yourselves equals, that suggests the daughter is either way too grown up or the mother embarrassingly immature.

Besides which I think depriving a child of their years of defiance is tantamount to cruelty.

As a parent, you owe it to your kids to play the part of boring, middle-aged conformist in order for them to take on the role of cool, young rebel.

And rejecting your parents, safe in the knowledge that they will love you anyway, is a necessary stage in becoming an adult.

Strops and sulks teach you about boundaries, compromise and commonsense. You also come to realise that your parents really do know best.

You see my hair really did look awful when I dyed it pink. And they were right when they said I would always have a scar on my nose from the piercing. Smoking does give you wrinkles, drinking until you vomit is not attractive and wearing a boob tube in winter does result in a bout of pneumonia.

Really the only agenda they ever had was wanting the best for me.

I probably only fully appreciated this when I became a parent myself.

I remember holding my newborn baby girl in my arms in the hospital as my mother leant over me to admire her.

“There is nothing as magical – or maddening – as a daughter,” she whispered. “You’ll see.”

I’m sure she is right. The relationship between mothers and daughters is likely to be the most fruitful and the most fraught a woman ever has.

No doubt one day I shall be on the receiving end of teenage hostility from my own little girl and it’s bound to be painful.

However by then I might have an advantage thanks to a study by Cambridge University.

Scientists at the college have just started a £5.4 million investigation into the working of the teenage brain which they hope will provide further clues to the mood swings and the reasons why youngsters act impulsively.

If no cure can be found, I shall just have to console myself with the knowledge that my daughter will eventually come out of the fog of frightfulness a much nicer person. I certainly did.

According to Oscar Wilde this is because: “All women become like their mothers.”

At age 15 I would have been horrified at such a prospect. Now, I embrace it with open arms.

Please email me at EllenWiddup@journalist.com or find me on Twitter @EllenWiddup.