‘I’m not your bloody friend, I’m your mother’ and other things I’m glad Mum told me
As Mother’s Day nears, Brianna Parkins reveals some home truths about her mother
Brianna Parkins: one of the most significant milestones in a mother-daughter relationship is the day we turn on you and tell you we hate you for the first time. Photograph: Kirk Gilmour
It’s Mother’s Day on Sunday. To mark this important and not at all commercially opportunistic occasion, I have been charged with the task of writing honestly about my relationship with my mother who lives in Australia where I am from. I moved to Ireland last year.
To be honest I am a bit scared about the repercussions of this tell-all article. My mum, Lorraine, is not the kind of woman to let a 24-hour flight and a less than perfect ability to read maps stop her from coming to Ireland to box my ears.
So before you start reading this please light a candle for me. Now, here are some home truths about my mother:
She’s not my bloody friend, she’s my mother
Other than wedding days and graduations, one of the most significant milestones in a mother-daughter relationship is the day we turn on you and tell you we hate you for the first time.
I can’t remember exactly the specifics in my case but it was probably about a 16-year-old named Adam and Mum’s refusal to let me stay out all night with a bloke who painted his nails black and collected animal skulls. My friends with proper Aussie mums were all allowed out with their boyfriends and some had even gotten matching belly button rings with their mums. Life was so unfair. Their mums were cool. They were their best friends. They were chill.
“You’re ruining my lifffee, You should be my frienndddd. I hate you,” I wailed.
Now, Lorraine is from inner city Dublin tenement stock and she moved halfway across the world to spend the rest of her life in the roughest parts of western Sydney.
So you better believe she doesn’t take a single lick of s**t off anyone, especially not a 14-year-old semi-goth who thinks she’s the first person to experience teen angst.
She turned on her heel, “I’m not your bloody friend. I’m your mother.”
And years later I can finally admit she was right.
Crying over boys wasn’t tolerated: “You’ve got your whole life to be upset by men, don’t start too early.”
Neither were dramatic statements like the time my best friend and I threatened to run away from home to get jobs at the newly opened Hooters restaurant down the road.
“Yeah, working out the back, washing dishes,” she replied with an arched eye at our flat chests.
She was loving but not indulgent. All these years later I’m glad she chose “cop on” over “coddle”. I needed a mum, not a friend.
And all those friends of mine whose mothers let them over-wax their eyebrows? They’ve had to get them tattooed back on at age 28.
And as for Adam the teenage Robert Smith? Well he’s my best friend and Mum still invites him to Christmas every year.
She made some serious sacrifices for me, including lying to a priest
I didn’t realise that we were working class until I went to the posho sandstone Sydney University. That’s how good my parents were at sacrifice. Neither had finished high school but here I was doing clarinet lessons and being driven to representative netball tournaments around the state. Even if I did have to wait until I was 24 to eat a mango and worked two jobs through my Leaving Cert, I had a good run.
But the ultimate sacrifice goes to Mum. I was destined to go to the local school which contained not great academic outcomes and all the girls who bullied me. So Mum intervened to get me into the local Catholic school. (My father is a Protestant but the Protestant school is more expensive and my dad is a religious tight-arse more than he is religious.)
To get in I had to: a) have gone to a Catholic primary school (too expensive), b) had a sibling attend (sorry Cheyne but Mum and Dad only had enough money to send one kid and you hated school) or c) be baptised Catholic and have a letter from your local parish priest. The last was our only option despite the inconvenient fact that Lorraine had never bothered to baptise me and we only ever went to church for the Christmas carols (and it was the Baptist one because they had fireworks).
So she went into the church and lied to a priest. Yes, of course we had habitually gone to church but we had just moved here, didn’t he recognise us? Her baptism certificate? Oh that got lost when we moved house. She might be going to hell for swindling a man of God but she got that letter and off to the Sisters of Mercy I went.
Having your ma take you to the spa for a girls’ day is lovely. Having your ma risk eternal damnation of her soul for you? Well that’s love.
She never, ever shows weakness
Lorraine has an expert game face. It was tested once when I was about eight and had just discovered my brother has a different father to my own and no one had bothered to tell me (Cheyne and I never call each other “half siblings”, this is how we secretly show love, well this and giving each other the finger).
I asked Mum why she had kept it from me. “I didn’t,” she replied simply, “you just never asked”. My next question was sensibly, “Is there anything else . . . am I adopted?” “No, and for God’s sake whatever made you ask that stupid question!” And all without batting a single eyelid.
This resolve has got us through many family crises and I’m seeing it in action now as my baby nephew battles heart failure while waiting on a transplant list. Lorraine doesn’t crack easy and we’ve all benefited from that.
She treats the boys of the family like dopey Labradors
There’s no point complaining about the different relationship Irish mothers have with their sons compared to their daughters. I have nicknamed it Mammy Syndrome. The boys of the family are treated the same as the family’s lovable but ultimately dopey Labrador.
They drop a dead bird on the back door or s**t on the mat and it will be met with “Awww he’s trying his best, it’s not his fault, so cute!” I could win a Pulitzer and still be met with “are you wearing that?” from Lorraine.
She always does her own thing
My mum did not do what a good Irish Catholic girl did. For example she never bothered to get married to Dad. They’ve been together for more than 30-something years and even more rare, their relationship has survived multiple months-long camping trips in the Australian desert. If you ask why they never made it up the aisle, Mum says she’s still reviewing her options while Dad once said he “doesn’t want to get too serious just yet”.
She knows how the ‘Irish biddy’ culture works
My mum first warned me against entering the Sydney Rose of Tralee competition. “You don’t understand how Irish biddy culture works”, the way Ireland can be a small place, where things are remembered and gossip (particularly targeted at women) can be weaponised.
Looking back Lorraine did not have it easy: she was a single mum in her late teens to a young son with Aboriginal heritage. She might have been warning me from experience. But she didn’t have to. Her ability to tell people where to go has been passed down to me. When people make me feel inferior, I just have to remind myself whose daughter I am.
So Lorraine if you’re reading this (sorry for putting in the priest story), I’m sorry for being an awful teenager. Mothers have to make do with the broken instructions they inherit from their own parents. We fill in the gaps the best we can for the next generation.
Mams and mums are not infallible institutions – they’re just doing the best with what they have. That’s all we’re allowed to expect.
When I was home recently over a few Cardonnays (in western Sydney the “h” is silent) Lorraine had a rare moment of self-reflection.
“Sometimes I worry if I scarred you for life,” she said.
I replied, “Don’t worry, it’s given me loads to write about.”