Nothing makes you more aware of your relationship with your mother than the moment you become engaged. My relationship with my mother would no doubt be considered unusual to many – but surprisingly, I have met several women in my life in exactly the same position as me, and so, I approached Annabel to ask about writing about it. Now I have to be careful what I say as she often reads my articles, but in true Love My Dress spirit, I also have to be honest. So here goes…
My parents divorced when I was nine years old, and I lived with my mum for the first year. She wasn't financially comfortable back then, in fact it would be fair to say she struggled with four children as a single mother. Looking back, I could see she was tired, stressed and a little bit anti-men after dad left – so as you can imagine, not a whole lot of fun to be around. But at 9 years old you don't understand any of that – you just feel sorry for yourself because you aren't allowed sleepovers or coca cola and because mum had 4 of us including a small baby, it was hard to get her attention with everyone vying for it at the same time.
By contrast, dad had a peaceful life with his new wife and had all the time in the world to hear what we had to say. We were sent in pairs so the boys then the girls alternate weekends and so I had a much better ratio when it came to his attention. It was with dad that I had friends to stay, Gladiator posters on my wall and Coca-Cola. We would watch telly on Saturday evenings: Barrymore then Blind Date and play Monopoly, staying up late to watch Ready Steady Go – I used to love singing with him to the sound of the sixties. So when Dad asked me to live with him I accepted and told my mother I would be 'better off'. I'm not quite sure where I learnt that phrase but I don't think in her heart she ever forgave me for it.
I lost touch with my mum over the years that followed, and began to see her again in my late teens. Of course by then, our relationship was different to most mother/daughter relationships, because mum had missed out on 10 years or so of my life. I had never spoken to her about periods or boys, about my dreams or my worries for instance, so in rekindling things, she became more of a 'mate' than a mum; we'd have a few cigarettes together and talk about the men I was seeing and have a bit of a laugh, but it was all very light. I was aware at this point I needed her in my life but unsure to what extent.
Over the next 10 years, I invested in building a mother-daughter relationship. My little sister who never moved to be with my dad was much closer to mum and they had something natural that I just didn't possess – but wanted badly. They found the same things funny, shared the same beliefs, looked the same and acted the same. I am the polar opposite to both of them: whereas they are pale and redhead I am fairly dark and brunette. They are both fiesty (fighters they call themselves) and I joke that I'm a lover – though my sister has been known to call me a hippy! Therefore creating a bond with mum was harder than I thought and certainly didn't come naturally.
I had it in my head that a mum should be and do certain things, but through the process of planning my wedding, I've learnt that it's simply not true. For example, I thought that a mum should be more excited than ever when you get engaged. In reality, my mum laughed and asked if the ring was from Claire’s Accessories! (it isn't by the way, I don't think!). When I wanted to go dress shopping, mum wasn't really fussed. I took bridal magazines to look at with her and she would flick through and comment on how extortionate everything was and what a waste of money. I started to feel upset reading Mother of the Bride stories when I felt like I was missing out. Around this time a friend of mine was getting married and kept complaining that her mum was beginning to take over the planning, choosing colour schemes and acting like it was her own wedding. Even though it sounded pretty frustrating for my friend, and not what I wanted at all, I remember feeling envious of her having a relationship with her Mum – and wishing I connected with my mum like that.
I've talked to my mum about the way I feel, but obviously, she is who she is, and to a large extent I've had to come to terms with that. It doesn't help that her and her own mother were never close, in fact they have a fragmented and fragile relationship at best. I was aware that if I hugged mum, she would pull away a bit and act uncomfortable – and she doesn't remember things the way that I do either so in her mind, she agreed to go dress shopping (true) but from where I'm standing I asked her four times and her responses ranged from being hesitant, to not at all interested. In her defense, she was recovering from a pretty intense operation at this time and was concerned about mobility but I would have been more than happy to ferry her from shop to shop – and she knew that – all she really had to do was sip champagne and join in!
I need to get across that I'm not blaming my mum for anything that has happened and she is the way she is due to her own upbringing and life experiences, plus it didn't help that I left her as a child to be 'better off', but in a way, I feel that the little girl desperate for some love and attention from her mum is still in there.
During the course of planning my wedding, I tried to get a bond with mum, asking her opinion, inviting her to wedding fayres and talking to her as much as I could but I realised quite quickly that she just wasn't keen – she just did't get it. In contrast, my Stepmum was the opposite – very excited and keen to be involved.
And then, something happened.
Suddenly, my mum’s husband walked out on her. It was awful and really unexpected, and for the first time ever I saw a vulnerable side to her. Surprisingly, in response to this, it was me she turned to for support.
I decided to spend some time making sure she was ok and found an amazing spa: Fistral Spa in Newquay where they specialise in Mother-Daughter breaks. Spending some time in their relaxation room, eating delicious meals and enjoying treatments from head to toe was just what we both needed. We both had a lovely pedicure in the spa which it turns out is something we have in common – the love of foot massage, and spent an evening in one of their best rooms – really talking to each other. These past few months I've really got to know her on a different level as a person and not just as a mother. I accept that she is flawed (who isn't?) – many of her decisions I shake my head at as I would never even contemplate them but I see now that she isn't such a tough cookie after all, that there is love and vulnerability behind the facade that I never saw before. She still isn't going to be that mum (she's recently bowed out of doing a reading during the ceremony for example), but at least I'm finally getting a relationship with her where we talk about things that matter and we can both work on strengthening our relationship.
I wish the magazines would talk more about the truth rather than the ideal. I know I'm rare (how many 9 year olds leave their own mothers then spend 20 years trying to mend the cracks?!), but surely, I'm not the only one who doesn't have a picture-perfect size 10 Ian Stuart model as a mum? I have a real mum; she is blunt, often tactless actually, hedonistic and also impulsive. She's tone deaf, extremely opinionated, strong willed and stubborn. She's not as smart or imperial as I thought she was when I was a little girl, because I've learnt that parents are just people, not deities. But she has a good sense of humour, she's courageous and honest and really quite a lot of fun – she's a real person and not a fantasy.
I guess the point of my post is that, the experience of planning a wedding, whilst joyous and exciting, can also be an emotional rollercoaster at times, with issues like difficult family relationships suddenly thrust under the spotlight and demanding you deal with them – when all you really want to be doing is enjoying the moment. Learning to plan your wedding whilst keeping the peace between family members and staying sane yourself can be hugely challenging at times, but we shouldn't feel alone, or inadequate, or let these experiences throw us off track from our ultimate goal – that is, planning the union of two people who love one another.
I know that for now, I have to put away my Osmond obsession for the perfect all singing, all dancing family and learn to be grateful for what I have. Some of my friends don't even have the chance to have their mum with them on their wedding day which is tragic. And for all her flaws, my mum is one of the strongest most incredible women I know.
Thanks for sticking with me on this one and reading this far. I'd love your thoughts on how planning your wedding has led you to examine your own relationships with your parents.