Do you ever wonder about the people who will walk through life with your children? Their peers, friends, lovers? Have you considered the fact that one day there may be a ‘significant other’ that they will love more than you?
I thought such events were a long way off. About the closest I have ever come to considering it is in my whimsical contemplation of the day my son brings home his first love. What I didn’t expect was that I would feel jealous of my nine-year-old daughter’s girlfriends.
When Indy started school I was concerned. She was quiet and fragile in social situations and I had been a full-time SAHM for most of her first five years – how would she cope without me? As expected it was a major transition. She cried every day for the first term and a half.
A friend of mine had a daughter starting at the same school. This little one was also a quiet girl, similar in temperament to my daughter. Each morning as the bell rang for assembly they would reluctantly peel themselves away from us and dawdle to their classroom, hand in hand – not in friendship but in fear. As the weeks went on they became closer and even exchanged a word or two, but I think they were allies and security blankets for one another rather than ‘friends’. Nevertheless I was cautiously optimistic about this blossoming relationship and hoped it would become something more. In fact I hoped they would become BFFs – because Best Friends have a special place in my heart.
When I was a teenager I had a ‘Very Best Friend’ and our friendship has been one of the most defining relationships of my life. Sick of the usual teenage nastiness we separated ourselves from the others at our girls-only school. During lunch we talked earnestly about life with all the innocent pretension only fourteen-year-olds can pull off. We imagined a future where we moved to the city and shared a flat while pursuing our career dreams. In the afternoons we would return home (this being the pre-MSN age) and write long letters to exchange at school the next day. Throughout those years the expression ‘you never forget your first love’ made no sense to me as I fumbled with sweaty boys whose names I can’t remember.
And then I realised that my best friend was my first love. I could never forget her.
Of course I want that love for my daughter. I want her to adore someone the way I adored my BFF. I want her to have someone to dream with. I want her to have an ally, protector and loyal confidante. Someone who will ‘have her back’ in the fraught world of adolescence. I hoped that this friendship might begin in primary school so that there would be the additional strength that a shared history can provide.
But I didn’t anticipate another player in my daughter’s story. During those first school days Indy was befriended by a girl in her class. Bella was a late starter and older than my daughter. Confident, outgoing, with a popular big sister in a higher grade, she gravitated towards Indy and determined that they would be friends. However, as time went on it appeared that Indy was playing the role of follower to Bella’s more dominant personality. And, to be perfectly honest, she wasn’t the kind of girl I had imagined as my daughter’s best friend, despite the fact that my head tells me you can’t choose your kids’ friends.
I tussled with the issue for that first year – vacillating between almost banning her from playing with Bella and trying to trust her. I never thought I would be the kind of mum who vetoed her children’s friends. The fact that I was surprised me.
As did some of the other emotions I felt – and still feel.
Recently Indy brought home a cuddly toy. I asked her whose it was. “It’s Bella’s,” she said, her voice full of happiness. I got a pang of what can only be described as jealousy – immediately followed by guilt. Isn’t this what I want for my daughter? A girlfriend she can love?
That evening Bella phoned her. I watched as Indy cradled the receiver between her shoulder and ear, hugged the toy in her arms and assured Bella that it was safe. Later, as I was putting her to bed she pulled away from me distractedly. “What are you looking for sweetheart?” I asked. “Bella’s cuddly,’ she said, frantic. When she located it she tucked it into the sweet zone next to her heart – the place where I used to live. The green-eyed sting was intense. I kissed her and said goodnight, trying to maintain a semblance of my normal self. I had never heard other mums talk about feeling jealous of their child’s friends. What was wrong with me?
Some days I feel as if I’m walking through a Greek tragedy – or at the very least a Freudian psychotherapy session. It was Freud who appropriated Sophocles’ play Oedipus the King – the epic tragedy where an inescapable prophecy sees the title character kill his father and marry his mother, arousing age old taboos about parenting and children. Freud used the term The Oedipus Complex to explain the origin of certain neuroses in childhood. The complex is often defined as a male child’s unconscious desire for the exclusive love of his mother.
But where do I fit in this as the mother who feels misplaced when her daughter falls in love – as she must - with females who are not me?
Sometimes I feel that I will always be the ‘winner’. I am, after all, ‘The Mother’. As such I occupy a cultural position which is often exalted across space and time.
Paradoxically, I will always be ‘the mother’, which means I can never be my daughter’s best friend – not really, not in the way a peer will be.
I just hope that the girl who gets chosen for that honour realises how lucky she is.