1. Mallory
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    Mallory Mallegory. Contributor

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    How can I correctly portray this type of mother-daughter tension?

    Discussion in 'Character Development' started by Mallory, Jul 5, 2011.

    Hi guys,

    I'm writing a YA fantasy novel where the MC is a misfit (to everyone except her equally quirky great-aunt) among both her family and her peers. I want to create mother-daugher tension where the mom is overbearing in the sense that she follows trends and rules to heart, cares too much what the neighbors think, adheres to all the stupid rules like not wearing white after Labor Day, etc, and the daughter is the polar opposite (tomboy, shunned by the "cool girls" at junior high school, still likes doing kid things and doesn't have interest in teenager things etc).

    What I'm going for is the type of mom who makes the mistake of envisioning what she wants her daughter to be like, and trying to force it on her and/or guilt trip her about it. It's kind of important to the story, because 1) my MC needs to be visibly insecure at the beginning so she can grow as she story goes on, and 2) I want the mom to change by the end of the story, too, and learn to respect her daughter's creativity and individualism.

    I'm struggling with this a lot, because my own mom was never overbearing or intrusive at all, and her and I are pretty much best friends. So I don't know anything about bad mother-daughter dynamics. In my original draft, I had the mom picking at her because she's 14 and shows no interest in fashion/makeup the way "normal" girls do, but then a couple reviewers said it seemed off for a mom to push makeup, even if she was the overly conforming type. And...they're totally right.

    So...what are some ways I can accurately show their relationship for what it is?

    It's only for part of the chapter, when the mom is driving the daugher to stay with the great-aunt for the summer. So I can't have long, full scenes or anything, just references like body language and dialogue.

    Thanks! (I give +rep to helpers)
     
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  2. Laura Mae.
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    Laura Mae. Member

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    When the daughter talks about things the mother dislikes e.g. her being childish have her ignore what her daughter is saying, possibly make this really obvious by having the mother talk about stuff she thinks her daughter should be interested in rather than replying to what she is saying. Or, you could have tension between the great aunt and mother as a way of showing the tension the mother has with her daughter, who is similar to the great aunt.

    The mother sounds quite critical, have her nit-picking at aspects of her daughter, and being insecure, the girl may reflect on these criticisms at a later date.

    A conversation between the great aunt and daughter about the mother and her rigid, narrow minded views on their differences? Sort of like sharing their experiences.

    In terms of body language, have a lack of affection, say she doesn't hug her daughter goodbye or her tone is quite harsh or even indifferent towards her. That's all I can think of atm, good luck with your story.
     
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  3. dizzyspell
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    dizzyspell Active Member

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    My mother and I used to have a relationship kind of like this, even though we're good friends now, so I'll try and help you out.

    You could have the daughter go to the mother to talk about something that is important to her, and have the mother be totally dismissive of it for a trivial reason.

    Like, you said that they were in the car together? How about having the daughter try to say something while the mother constantly dismisses her as the phone rings with unimportant calls from friends and neighbours.

    Or you could have the mother, for example, asking the daughter about her own appearance, ("Does my makeup look good?" or something like that). This could make the daughter feel anxious and not know what to say because it's so out of her comfort zone. The way the mother words it could make the daughter feel like she should know these things.

    For example: "I was looking forward to having a daughter so that we could share fashion and makeup tips." Or something along those lines, anyway. It'd definitely make your MC squirm and feel inadequate.
     
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  4. ChickenFreak
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    ChickenFreak Contributing Member Contributor

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    My first thought is about the Mom changing to respect her daughter. Sadly, I find that pretty unrealistic. I think that the story would be far more realistic if the daughter learned to stand up for herself, to refuse to tolerate her mother's negative behavior, and to stop caring if her mother approves of her. A dysfunctional mother who makes a fundamental change like this just seems incredibly rare.

    My second thought is that the mother's behavior is likely to be passive-aggressive, rather than direct. She'll try to communicate her negative opinions or suggestions indirectly, so that she can deny ever saying them at all, if she's called on them. For example, she won't say, "You can't wear that; it's much too masculine", she'd say... well, an example, if a slightly overblown one:

    "You're wearing that?"
    "Yes, Mom, I'm wearing this."
    (Silence)
    "Is there a problem?"
    "Well, dear, I know that you want to express yourself, but I just don't know how your aunt is going to feel about that sort of thing."
    "What sort of thing?"
    (Silence)
    "_What_ sort of thing?!"
    "Dear, don't raise your voice; it's very unattractive. Well, don't you think that it's a little bit _masculine_?"
    "It's shorts and a T shirt. Just how feminine do you want that to get?"
    "Well, maybe that's the problem, then."
    "Maybe what's the problem?"
    (Silence)
    "Fine, forget it, then."
    "Well, dear, I know that these days it's just the end of the world to wear a skirt, but you might just want to consider it, once in a while."
    "Mom, you're picking me up after softball practice. A skirt isn't going to work."
    "Well, dear, the world might not _end_ if you skipped softball practice, just once."
    "For God's _sake_, Mom!"
    "For heaven's sake, I don't know why I can't seem to say _anything_ any more! I didn't say a word, after all - it was you that asked me if there was a problem!"


    (I think that at least a couple of my things in the Review Room are about a dysfunctional mother/daughter relationship. (Yes, Treasures and Festivity.) I'm not trolling for reviews here, just saying that there'd be more examples there.)

    Editing to add: Doing some research on "mean girls" might also lead to more ideas. A dysfunctional mother is likely to use a more sophisticated variant of the same emotional games that junior high school girl-bullies use, with the added weapon that she has authority over her target.

    ChickenFreak
     
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  5. Trish
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    Trish I've been deleted.. again Contributor

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    Well Mallory, I think you've gotten some pretty good advice, but to be perfectly honest I didn't see anything wrong with the way you portrayed her to begin with. Would it be odd for SOME mothers to push make-up? Sure. Do you watch tv? They have tv shows about mothers who push their 2 year olds to be beauty queens and airbrush them with fake tans, more make-up than I would ever THINK of wearing, and make them get extensions for their hair. Those are the extremes of course, but what you wrote was pretty normal, for a LOT of tomboys. There wasn't anything wrong with it.

    You'll never be able to please everyone though, and you should write what makes you happy and comfortable. Just my two cents.
     
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  6. EdFromNY
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    EdFromNY Hope to improve with age Supporter Contributor

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    My mother-in-law was like that toward my wife when she was growing up, and in a way never really stopped. She was extremely controlling and manipulative. Example: when my wife was 15, she was asked to a prom by a boy my mother-in-law liked, and so they went all out on a prom gown - bought it at Lord and Taylor, I think. A year later she started going with another guy, who was out of high school and hadn't gone to college. There was a different boy she had met, whom my mother-in-law liked but my wife didn't, and she actually went so far as to meet him one day to plot how she could contrive to bring them together. Meanwhile, the older guy took my wife to her senior prom, and the gown my mother-in-law bought for that was a bargain-basement special.

    That what you had in mind?
     
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  7. Kio
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    Kio Contributing Member

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    I wouldn't go as far as to say that it's unrealistic. It does happen, quite a bit I may add, but it just takes time. Even then, there will always be that wanting there for their daughter to be a little more like they were when they were younger. They might make an occasional jab such as "I always wanted a daughter that I could dress up" or something less forward like, "I'd always play with dolls and comb their hair when I was younger." However, that takes years.

    My mom would do that a lot, though she wasn't overbearing about it. She just liked to point out that she wished she had someone to talk about (insert feminine thing here). However, she'd be quick to say, "But I love you just the way you are" which, if said sincerely, would soften the blow. She was always quick to point out when I wasn't wearing earrings or if what I went out with was too outdated or too plain. Again, she wouldn't push it.

    The little skit was pretty on-par, though the words "masculine" and "feminine", personally, wouldn't quite make it into the conversation. Rather, the mother would say, "Don't you have anything else you can wear?" If you don't want anything too direct, that is. My two cents.

    I imagine an overbearing mother to be going into her daughter's things, picking out outfits for her, making suggestions for what she could wear, making multiple shopping trips, slipping in unwanted, critical advice, constantly bringing up the subject of make-up/girly stuff, even in the middle of a conversation that has nothing to do with such. It would typically take years for a woman as wound-up as you describe to finally accept her daughter, albeit grudgingly. Then again, any scenario is possible.
     
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  8. hiddennovelist
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    hiddennovelist Contributing Member Contributor

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    Mal, have you seen Whip It? If not, I would suggest watching it. Bliss and her mom were the first thing I thought of when I read through the first bit of your story--I think seeing the way they interact might help.
     
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  9. Mallory
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    Mallory Mallegory. Contributor

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    Laura Mae - Thanks! Your points are spot-on. I actually do have a scene that contrasts the mom and the great-aunt, but I'm not sure the best way to do it. In one version, the mom is saying stuff like "make sure to give her a strict bed-time," "don't let her think she can get away with not having structure" etc and the great-aunt basically tells her to chill out. The mom is pissed, but the great-aunt is older, so she can't exactly drop snark in front of her kids. In the second version, the aunt pretends to be all strict and fuddy-duddy in front of the mom, but the girl is struggling not to crack up because she can see straight through the act (the great-aunt is really wacky and theatrical, btw). The nitpicking aspect is also a great point. I'll go back and make sure I have enough.

    Dizzyspell - I'm glad you and your mom get along better now. The trivialization point was great, and the "I was looking forward to.." quote rocks. Thanks.

    ChickenFreak - I think you're probably right about the ending. It is unrealistic to expect a 180-degree turnaround on the mom's part. Thanks for pointing that out. But if Adalyn (my MC) stands up to her mom, and her mom takes some kind of small step toward the end, I think it'd take things in a more positive direction: to show that at least the mom is trying. And the passive-aggressive stuff and mean girl strategies is spot-on, thank you.

    Trish - Thanks! I'm glad you liked what I've got currently. But it does feel a little off to me...I know I can do better. And yeah, I hate people who try and force stuff like that on their little kids when it's the parent's goal but the child's burden.

    Ed - I think that's the personality I have in mind, yes. But my MC is too young for prom and isn't interested in dating yet. Should the mom try and push her toward dating? Or would that be too weird? (Again, usually it's the opposite way around)

    Kio - I like the "I always wanted a daughter who..." quotes. i'll definitely use more of that. That and the unwanted, critical advice.

    Hidden - I haven't! I'll look it up on Imdb or Redbox sometime. Thanks!

    If having this extra info helps.....Adalyn has a little sister named Olivia, who is exactly like the mom, and there's pretty stark favoritism.
    + rep to all.
     
  10. EdFromNY
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    EdFromNY Hope to improve with age Supporter Contributor

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    Mal, I realize that my examples were not an exact fit, but at 14, a pushy mom would very likely be pushing certain aspects of growing up without accepting that there are other aspects that go with it. So, she might push her daughter to wear makeup, dress stylishly and generally embrace gender stereotypes, including an interest in boys. But then if the girl did show an interest in boys, mom would suddenly not think it was so great.

    I remember when my sister was 13, she had a friend in 8th grade who was the prettiest/most popular girl. She had a boyfriend in high school (15 or 16, iirc) and her mom thought that was just sensational. I thought she was nuts (from the advanced age of 18 at the time). So, yes, they do sometimes run that way.
     
  11. Gigi_GNR
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    Gigi_GNR Guys, come on. WAFFLE-O. Contributor

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    My mom and I don't have the greatest relationship, and it's because she refuses to consider anything from my point of view. Have the mom ignore or treat the daughter like she doesn't know anything, or not nearly ad much as the mom. Have her give off the attitude that mom's always right even when she's not.
     
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  12. Mallory
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    Mallory Mallegory. Contributor

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    Sorry - I hope she comes around. Things will be better in a couple years, if not sooner. I'm almost certain.

    Can you give a brief example? As I've said, my MC is kind of a misfit/recluse, so she won't have the problem of not being allowed to go to a party with the cool girls or anything...
     
  13. marina
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    marina Contributing Member Contributor

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    The best advice I can give you is to go read The Truth About Forever by Sarah Dessen. The mother is an overbearing perfectionist, and the daughter is struggling to meet her mother's expectations all the while seeing a new way of handling life when she begins to work with a catering firm whose owner lives much more haphazardly. Such a good book.
     
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  14. Mallory
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    Mallory Mallegory. Contributor

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    I've read it! It's an awesome book. Couldn't stand the mom though.
     
  15. marina
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    marina Contributing Member Contributor

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    Ah, so glad you've read it. Is that basically the kind of tension you were trying for?
     
  16. Mallory
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    Mallory Mallegory. Contributor

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    Yeah kind of...but it's been like 5 years since I read it...and my MC is pretty different, I think...but the moms' personalities are similar.
     
  17. ChickenFreak
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    ChickenFreak Contributing Member Contributor

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    I think that another thing to consider is why the mother is like this. I can think of a variety of motivations:

    - The mother really believes that these rules matter, and that her daughter will fail in life if she doesn't follow them to the letter.

    - The mother feels that _she_ will fail in life if people don't see her daughter following these rules to the letter. "There's Mrs. Smith - her daughter _never_ wears a skirt. What kind of mother must she be?"

    - The mother has accomplished little in life, and she looks at her children as her primary accomplishment. For them to fill that role, they have to be what she wants them to be.

    - The mother made certain choices in life, and when other people make different choices, she takes that as a criticism of her own choices. She makes it all about her. ("Why do you insist on using that car seat? I never used car sets when you were little, and you made it through childhood alive. I guess I was a lousy parent, huh? Is that what you're saying?" "Oh, she's getting a _drama_ degree. I guess engineering is good enough job to pay her tuition but not good enough for her to want for herself. I hope she doesn't mind that her arty friends see us at her graduation.")

    - The mother needs to see others fail, or paint them as failing even if they don't fail, in order to feel that she has succeeded. Shared success is not an option for her.

    - The mother feels that praising children will "spoil" them and constantly criticizing them will make them work harder and succeed in life.

    - The mother sees her daughter succeeding in areas where the mother has little to no talent. The daughter might get attention and praise. That's less attention and praise for the mother. That can't be permitted, so the daughter's pursuits must be suppressed.

    - The mother is an angry, unhappy person and lashing out at her daughter eases some of that feeling.

    - The mother actually enjoys hurting other people, and her daughter is a handy target.

    - The mother has a favorite child, and what fun is that without also having a less favored child? Love from one, pain and desperate ploys for love from the other, Mom at the center of a whirlwind of emotion at all times; what fun!

    Come to think of it, Googling on the phrase "toxic parents" could produce a wealth of material.

    It sounds like you want your fictional mother's motivations to be some of the less toxic ones, but remember that it is _possible_ for a mother to be a bad person - it's not always "Of course she loves you; it's just a misunderstanding." Selfish people exist, and some of them have children.

    ChickenFreak
     
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  18. Mallory
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    Mallory Mallegory. Contributor

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    Thanks, CF! Wonderful points to think about. You're right. I don't want her to be dysfunctional to the point of being overly disturbingly abusive (not that the current dynamic is not disturbing or abusive, but you know what I mean), and I do want her to take some small step at the end to indicate that she learned a lesson or things will get better.

    Your bullet points #2 and #4 are her mindset, I think. There's also the favorite child, but that's just because Olivia (Adalyn's little sis) is closer to what the mom envisions. The mom doesn't get a kick out of putting one daughter before the other for psychological toying, she just wishes Adalyn were more like Olivia.
     
  19. spklvr
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    spklvr Contributing Member Contributor

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    This has possibly been mention before, but you could have the mother comparing her to others constantly. That's how my mother and grandmother's relationship went sour. My grandmother always talked about all of her nieces and nephews, and how well they were doing in school and how great they were and used to wonder why my mother didn't spend more time with them and did like they did. Then when my mom decided to not start college right away after high school, but instead travel with a group of friends, the two of them didn't speak at all until mom came back home and did start school.
    Grandma explained to me that she was terrified something would happen to my mother, or that she would decide not to go to school. She really wanted my mother to become more than just a nurse like she was.
     
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  20. FictionAddict
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    FictionAddict Senior Member

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    Maybe you're already set with suggestions and advices, Mallory. I don't know when you started the thread, but my two cents may be of value.

    -Mother and daughter talking about something trivial, say, watching TV. Mother reaches out and straightens her daughter's hair. Not in a caress way, but in a 'adjusting' way. (she could do this a lot, always adjusting but never saying nothing)

    - Daughter goes to give her mother a kiss goodbye (going out to school, for example). Mother straightens her shirt, looks at her shorts and says 'where's that skirt I gave you on your b-day?'

    - Daughter is scorching down some lasagna. Mother looks at her from across the table and says 'These jeans are tighter on you, aren't they?' (Meaning she's fat without actually saying it)

    - The mother may have the habit of going through her stuff, reading her diary without her daughter knowing it and then make comments about things she'd never know if she hadn't read her daughter's journal.

    - Mother aswering phone calls meant for her daughter and asking embarrassing questions to her friends with the excuse she wants to know who's her daughter is with when she's not at home

    I have lots and lots of other examples for you if you like. I have an overbearing mother myself. Been dealing with the issue all my life. Now that I'm married and have my own home, I'm able to put some limits and we get along better. Being an adult, I can talk to her face to face, like an equal and she hears what I have to say (sometimes, hehe) and have learned to respect me and the way I am. If you have more questions or any other help, just drop me a line. I'll be happy to help.

    Good luck with the story.
     
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  21. Mallory
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    Mallory Mallegory. Contributor

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    Thanks! I started it yesterday. And some of those would definitely work, esp the skirt thing. My MC is very tomboy and non-mainstream, and she's considered the misfit type, so the mom intruding on her social life doesn't apply as much because Adalyn doesn't really have one to begin with. The mom has always been very traditional, conforming, and "with it," constantly adhering to what the fashion is and what others think, and she wants Adalyn to be that way too.
     
  22. FictionAddict
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    FictionAddict Senior Member

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    She's a tomboy... Are you writing about me? LOL

    I have another one about skirts...

    We (my mom and I) were going to a 'party' at school. It was a social event with games for the kids and other activities for the parents, meant to bring the parents closer to school.
    My mom insisted that I went in a jeans skirt. I wanted to go in shorts, as usual. She insisted and insisted 'Why don't you want to go pretty? All the other girls will be dressed up, and you will be the only one in worn out shorts! Don't you want to be pretty like your friends?'
    So there went the younger version of me to school in a hideous pink tee and jeans skirt. There, the kids were playing a game where one of us had to catch the others. If you were in higher ground, you couldn't be caught.
    Of course I played, and of course my panties were showing most of the time with me going up and down benches and chairs. And when she wasn't caught in conversation with other parents, my mom was after me, adjusting my clothes and reminding me to be a lady, to be careful not to show my undergarments. Haha

    Later, was time for all the kids to take a picture together. I still have the photo where I appear sweaty, hair rearranged by my mother in a tight pointy tail, shoulders hunched (I still have terrible posture) and knees closed (but you can still see my panties because I didn't put my hands over my lap), sided by two boys making horns with their fingers behind my head.

    This memory is really funny to me now. Not that at the time it was traumatic or something. My mother's interferences were just... annoying. And funny too, hehe.

    It's rare that I use skirts to this day. LOL...
     
  23. Mallory
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    Mallory Mallegory. Contributor

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    Bahahaha, wow. That's kind of hilarious now (not at the time, of course)
     
  24. FictionAddict
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    FictionAddict Senior Member

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    It was hilarious to the other kids at the time. Haha... For me, it was just annoying.

    Later I learned how to deal with her. I said 'Do you prefer that I go wearing that dress and show my panties, or do you prefer that I go in jeans with a pretty blouse? You know I'm going to be playing with my friends either way.'
    So she released me of the skirts and dresses and I wore the pink shirts and blouses she chose for me. We learned to compromise. ;)

    Hope my story will inspire you writing yours :) Best of luck, always.
     
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  25. Mckk
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    Mckk Moderator Staff Supporter Contributor

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    Yeh, same here! That's pretty much Mallory's story to the T :D

    Depends on how evil you want the mother to seem at the beginning. And pushing make-up isn't so unusual I think.

    My mum is a wonderful mother who has no idea when she's pushing too hard - basically if she knew what she was doing, she'd stop, and knowing that means I don't get hurt by her comments usually lol.

    But I remember when I finally started having my own sense of fashion (colourful, full of prints, usually floral stuff - summer dress sorta stuff, nothing exactly unique) - my mum disapproved of it constantly. She hated the colours, she hated the flowers, and she would stare at what I was wearing critically and tell me exactly how horrible it looks. She wasn't one who hid her opinions so she'd just say, "Why are you wearing that? Why do you like these designs? I mean, there're just so many... flowers!"

    Or she'd say, "Oh that's for little girls - you look so... baby-ish! Like you haven't grown up yet! Yeh, it looks good, if you wanna look like a baby girl."

    It's no wonder I've always found it hard to talk to her :D We have a good relationship though, because I understand her now - she means no harm by it. She just genuinely isn't aware of how her words affect people.

    Thankfully I was born with the same stubbornness so I just blindly ignored her :rolleyes: She stopped commenting too after I got pissed off with her several times (she was angry with me in return and I had to patiently explain just why - I think she sorta got it after several months)

    Oh and the first time I told her I was thinking of moving to from England to the Czech Republic, my mother's response was, "Oh don't be ridiculous, you'd never get a job there." :rolleyes: (she said it mostly because she was afraid of me leaving, rather than actually looking down on me - with my mum you reeeally have to read between the lines, a LOT)

    I never really went through the insecure phase though. With comments like those that my mum made, you can go 2 ways. Insecure, or you just stop caring what people think 'cause nothing pleases anyway! I was the latter.
     
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