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Don't Tell Mama

By Hayley Doyle

I have to start by saying, I hope my mum doesn’t read this.

And woah! Before you get excited, no, I’m not about to spill some sordid secrets.

Sorry. This ain’t the place…

But the other day, I read an article that touched upon the subject of our parents ageing, beautifully written by a friend of mine. I told her how much I loved the piece, so full of honesty and heart. Her reply was short and sweet; “I hope my mum doesn’t read it.” We shared a laugh, but then, no. Seriously. She was worried. She’d put it out there for the world to see, but didn’t want - arguably - the most important person to read it. And I fully understood.

I have written lots of things that I hope my mum doesn’t read. Sometimes it’s just a one-liner, an opinion that I think she might be shocked to realise I have. Or in my novels, there might be a bit of Intimate tension or humour. For one reason and one reason only; Oh-god-I-hope-my-mum-doesn’t-read-that! I recently wrote a piece about having big breasts, and as much as my mum is fiercely proud of what I do and would wholeheartedly agree with everything I said, I worry that she would have rather somebody else had written it, splashing a lot of breast-talk across the page.

So when I spoke with my friend about her article, we had to laugh. We’re both women in our 40s. We’ve made bold decisions with our lives and careers. We fight for change and speak our minds, often. And yet, we’re still little girls at heart, aren’t we? Okay, we can’t get grounded or banned from using the landline for a week if we do something “wrong”, but we still seek our mother’s approval. No matter what kind of complex relationship we have with her, on some level, we fear her saying, “I’m disappointed in you”. There are parts of ourselves that we’re more than willing to share with others, from close friends to strangers, but we cannot cope with Mum knowing that detail. Is it a common scar from our teen era, toying with rebellion and soul-searching to find our true self outside of the parental-bubble? Something that’s just impossible to grow out of? Or is it a natural barrier that exists to protect one another?

It seems to be a bit of a crazy cycle. As a parent, I’m desperate to know every single detail of my children’s lives. I know that I will love them and support them no matter what. Already, my five year old son has in-jokes with his pals, and if I try to mimic the silly voices, he’s like, “No, Mummy.” Secrets are coming, there’s no escaping it. I will be kept in the dark and most likely, if I find out what they are, I won’t like them. I’ll be worried sick. Offended. Baffled at how he thinks that way, when I’ve raised him to think this way. As much as I say, oh, I’ll be different, I’ll be the mum who “gets it”, let’s face it; I’ll be no different to any other mother. Even my mum keeps things from her mum, and they’re in their 60s and 90s respectively. Like I said, a crazy cycle. We know it’s gonna happen.

When I speak to friends who have lost their mothers, every situation is unique. But there is always a spectrum of regret. Many wish for one more hug, or to tell them the simple things that mothers just want to hear; I’m okay; I need you; thank you; I love you. However, most felt grateful that she never knew about “that time when I…”, relieved she was saved of unnecessary stress. And even after loss, I know people who still worry about what their mum might think, maybe as they light up a cigarette or use a crass word. Is she looking down, judging from the sky?

So if you’re feeling guilty about keeping shtum from mum, you’re not alone. I asked a bunch of friends in their 30s and 40s what they don’t tell mama. They pretty much screamed, Intimate Life! And I know, I know - it’s fabulous that some mothers and daughters are total BFFs and tell each other literally everything. But most women I know, whether they’re 14 or 54, won’t discuss what happens beneath the sheets over a cuppa with the woman who once changed their diapers.

One friend said that she never told her mum she got a loan; even though it’s paid off now! Her choice came from a place of protection. The same can be said for always telling your mum that you’re okay, when really, you’re not. And this is a difficult one. It will break my heart if my children can’t confide in me when things get tough, but I’m as guilty of this as the next person. You want your mum to think you’re independent, loving life and that essentially, you’re okay because she did an amazing job. All of her blood, sweat and tears paid off. To admit that you’re struggling to her, of all people, can really bring a situation crashing down to earth… Although, it can help.

We keep secrets to protect either our parents feelings, or our own. We panic. Assume what their reaction will be. I’ll often message my sister, worried about how to tell our mum about this-that-or-the-other, and her instinct is to say, “Don’t tell her.” However, we’re still learning that our mum - like all - is full of surprises. She can be super-chill about the big, scary stuff. She can freak out about me skipping breakfast. A mother’s reaction is often not what we’re anticipating.

Author of The Tattoo Thief, Alison Belsham, didn’t get a tattoo until she was 50, but was too scared to tell her 80 year-old mother. It was her intention to wear long sleeves whenever she saw her to prevent any disdain and disappointment. She said, “I was certain that revealing the tattoo to her would make me persona non grata in her eyes. Or something worse.” But when Alison’s book was released, she knew there would be photos of her tattoo published and the truth would inevitably find its way to her mum. So she confessed…

Alison’s mother wanted to know what the tattoo was; an octopus.


She laughed.

Yes, she laughed and laughed until tears rolled down her cheeks.

“Did it hurt?” She managed.

“Yes,” Alison said.

“I don’t think I’ll be getting one then,” she replied.

And that was that.

Maybe we should try to break down that barrier and give Mum the credit she deserves. Let her in. Stop keeping her in the dark. Confess. Keep the opinions coming and the conversation rolling without a hiccup.

Or, are we just too worried about what she’ll think of that?


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