Lessons from three generations of mothers


It’s Mothering Sunday here in the UK so I thought I’d write an over-emotional blog post about what I’ve learnt from the women in my family.  My family is pretty unique in the sense that we are essentially a matriarchy; aside from partners and husbands, there hasn’t been any men born into my family for what, four generations?  We’re a close knit bunch of gals.

The women in my family are as hard as nails, they’re as tough as old boots.  Seriously.  I cannot overestimate how amazingly resilient the women in my family are.  I think it’s probably fifty percent genetic and fifty percent lesson passed on from mother to daughter.  The women in my family live a long time, and I think that’s why we’re tough on the inside.  You have to become tough to cope with the loss around you – because if we’re tough, it’s through personal tragedy damn it.  We’re the women who could look at the world being destroyed around them and weep on the inside, closing in all the hurt, while rolling up our sleeves and getting the job that we have to do done.  We’re women who can bake a cake, nurse a sick child, have a fight with a bureaucrat or two, and carry a pig around under one arm.  When things are hard, that’s what you become inside.

We’re not the type of women who ever back down.

I’ll start my talk with my great-grandmother, Nan, the one girl born to the (last so far!) family of boys.  My family at this point lived out in the sticks of Lincolnshire, and were incredibly poor.  My great-grandmother’s toy as a child was a brick wrapped up in a shawl.  I cannot imagine being that poor; sure, my parents didn’t have that much money, but I always got everything I needed, and a lot more.  I cannot imagine how she must have felt, living in a small conservative village, with a father descended from Sicilian gypsies, and the comments she must have gotten for that.  She rose from this to be a fine lady’s maid in Nottingham for a while, before the Second World War, where she worked on the Iron Way.  The Iron Way, to the best of my half remembered knowledge, was the road that took iron from the mines, and carried it, and cleaned it, for the war effort.  It would have been back-breaking labour, and she did it without complaint.  She then went on to work in catering at an Air Base in the grounds of Belton House, where she met my great-grandfather.  Who was already married and had a daughter.  Yup, my Nan was a bit of a minx, and ended up having a child with a married man.  She had my grandmother in an unmarried mother’s home, a place that would have carried a hefty amount of social stigma, and married her lover after the war, after his divorce.  My great-grandfather died young, in the nineteen seventies, and left my Nan on her own.  She carried it with her, and never dropped face.  She was always proper and neatly turned out, and was a tremendously strong and loving woman.  I’m sorry to say that I have few memories of this side of her; she began to develop Alzheimer’s when I was eight, and I regret that I only seem to have memories of this side of her.  I cannot write how much we all loved her, and how much I admire her as a person.

My grandmother, Mumar, was brought up as the apple of her father’s eye; she was adored, truly and utterly, which I can relate to, as we’re pretty much exactly the same in that respect (beloved only child and all that).  This didn’t stop her from working hard however; she was a talented skater until a serious injury permanently stopped her potential athletic career (a skate cut through the nerves of her leg, and she was one of the first in Britain to have her nerves grown back inside her leg) but she began to work in the fashion industry, as a pattern cutter and then as a pattern designer for Vogue.  Then she got married and gave up her career for my grandfather.  They had two children, The Mother, and My Aunt.  Then my grandfather divorced her for his girlfriend.  She was left, jobless with two small children, and with the considerable social stigma of being a divorcee.  Bless my Mumar; she’s not as strong as some of the other women in my family, but she got on with what she had to do.  She worked her arse off to support her children.  She made some bad decisions along the way, and they continue to affect my family in ways you cannot imagine, but I have an infinite amount of respect for the fact she managed to stay the person she was, and to not be damaged in spirit.  I am so glad she’s happy now.  I love her so much.

The Mother comes next.  You cannot imagine how her childhood was.  I don’t want to imagine it.  I know how difficult it was and I find it remarkable that she isn’t more fucked up, that she is balanced and grounded.  I don’t want to go into great detail about her childhood, only that she was escaped from it in her late teens.  She didn’t do too well at school or college; not from unintelligence, but from following bands around the country!  (Nan told her that was what happened from not doing work, some of the best words of advice The Mother has ever gotten she says!) She repeated college, and got the grades she needed to get into university, all the while working her arse off to get the money she needed for her car and to pay for student life.  She met The Father at work, and they were getting on great together, until her second year of university.  When she made a rather big mistake by getting pregnant with me.  The best mistake she ever made, she tells me.  When I was a child, I always wanted to live my life exactly the same as The Mother.  I wanted to go to university, I wanted to get engaged at nineteen, I wanted to have a baby at twenty two.  Now I am in university, and only two years younger than she was when she had me, I really can’t imagine how she did it!  Essay work, research, bringing up a baby, working… I’d never be able to do that! I couldn’t cope.  But The Mother did cope, and did more than that.  She brought me up with no money, working twelve hour days, moving from house to house to house… she has fought depression and heartbreak to raise me up and raise me up well.  She has suffered personal tragedy, but never stopped or failed in her duties as a mother.  She is my best friend, and one of the most admirable women I know.

Honourable mention goes out to The Aunt, who is fierce, strong and tenacious – as well as being a little scary.

What have I learnt from these women?  That nothing can stop you from achieving anything in life – and you should let nothing stop you.  That being a woman is a hard, life long job, but that as a woman, you’re strong and proud and nothing can stand in your way.  The bad times hurt, really hurt, but you use the pain of it to power yourself – use the pain as a driving agent towards happiness again.  I know there is nothing I can’t do because of these women.  There is nothing more important than the value of hard work.  No one is going to let you swim by on credit.  If you want something, you damn well go out and do it yourself.  If you are determined to do it, let nothing stand in your way until you get your goals.  Cherish those around you and love your family.  Never let someone else dictate your life to you, and certainly never let them destroy you.  Smile, be polite, and turn the tables on them when you have the chance.

I can only hope to be as strong as the women in my family some day.  I want to have a daughter that is as proud of me as I am of them.

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2 thoughts on “Lessons from three generations of mothers

  1. Great post! It’s good that you know their stories so well and how much they inspire you. The women in my family were strong but self-indulgent and spoiled. Not great role models. We need them!

    • The media (in general) talk so much about ‘role models’ and how there are so few good ones, but you don’t need to look far to find them – I’m just lucky that my family have a trend for strong, independant women.

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