I adore my son but there"s nothing as magical (or maddening) as a daughter: This week Winifred Robinson argued boys are more loveable than girls…

I adore my son but there's nothing as magical (or maddening) as a daughter: This week Winifred Robinson argued boys are more loveable than girls BEL MOONEY begs to differ

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UPDATED:

20:56 GMT, 1 June 2012

A couple of days ago I was in the audience at a Salisbury Festival event. On the platform were two chairs, a table, water. My mouth was dry and my heart thumped, as I waited for a certain Kitty Dimbleby to be interviewed about her first book, Daffodil Girls.

Over a long career as a writer I’ve done countless literary events of my own — but never have I felt so involved, so nervous. Because this was my daughter’s gig.

It seems like only yesterday that I first held her — a premature and very sick baby — in my arms. Yet there she was, a sophisticated, charming, pretty, knowledgeable, entertaining adult taking ‘my’ habitual place at the centre of the stage.

Special bond: Bel Mooney with her beloved daughter Kitty

Special bond: Bel Mooney with her beloved daughter Kitty

When it was over I clapped energetically, my eyes damp — and my own mother was at my side, feeling just the same.

Then I realised that this is probably the most important relationship in my life — the powerful bond that cuts across the generations. Yes, I love my husband, father and (of course) son. But for me, the mother-daughter closeness is most precious of all.

Earlier this week, the broadcaster Winifred Robinson wrote a terrific piece in the Mail in defence of teenage boys. The mother of a 13-year-old son and aunt to four beloved nephews, she believes that lads get a bad press, so praised their openness, energy, loyalty and lack of spite.

She contrasted them with girls who
won’t do this or that because they don’t want to ruin hairstyles and
make-up, and who turn themselves all too easily into Queens of Mean.

For
good measure, Robinson added: ‘The mothers of teenage girls I know
endure endless strops and rows at home about small upsets.’ All true!

Its hard to admit

Since I’ve been lucky enough to have one of each, I acknowledge that boys can be much easier. My son Dan (now a steady 38) was a wild, bad, lazy creature and behaved appallingly at one time, yet somehow or other he’d deliver that enormous grin and careless but winning apology, and be forgiven.

As the mothers of East End gangsters might say: ‘My boy was always good to ’is muvver.’ I adored him and still do. Simple.

Oh, but the complications involved with loving my girl! When she reached the same stage, sulky, po-faced Kitty (six years younger) would treat me as if I was several words short of a complete sentence, while employing her own sharp vocabulary to reduce me to tears at the kitchen table.

Once she made me so angry that, after several warnings, I snapped and threw a pile of books at her as she tried to beat a hasty retreat down the stairs. They were hardbacks.

Of course (as many readers responding to Winifred Robinson’s article pointed out), there are always exceptions. We’ve all known moody, aggressive teenage boys who grunt about the place, smelling slightly and expecting their mums and sisters to clear up after them.

Though her praise of lads was a refreshing balance to the oikish stereotype, I still think it’s time to celebrate the other truth.

Teenage daughters can be the sweetest, kindest, most caring friends, not just to their mates, but to their mums as well.

Observe any High Street or shopping
mall on a Saturday and you’ll see them — mothers and daughters
arm-in-arm, chatting, giggling, carrying bags, rushing home to look at
what they’ve bought and have a good talk over a cup of tea.

When
it works, the bond between the two females is a unique link that might
owe its deep power to the womb itself. After all, we have them, but men
don’t — and that’s at once  their blessing (all those tedious periods!)
and their lack. At their best, mothers and daughters — yes — recognise
each other. At their worst . . . well, run for cover.

In
2006 I edited (and contributed to) a volume of stories, Like Mother,
Like Daughter for the English and American young teen market. I was
fascinated to see how writers from both sides of the Atlantic
interpreted the relationship.

Bel with Kitty aged 6: 'when I hear my daughter gasping

Bel with Kitty aged 6: 'when I hear my daughter gasping “I cant believe it, Mum, Im turning into you”, Im proud'

The American publishers chose a different title, You Never Did Learn To Knock — picking up that querulous daughterly demand for privacy most mothers know well.

In fact, it was all instantly recognisable: the quarrels, embarrassment, resentment, sisterhood, love. Naturally I dedicated the book ‘To my Kitty and all daughters’.

In the introduction I wrote: ‘. . . all over the world, the ups and downs of family relationships are similar, no matter what language is used for those quarrels.

‘Because you can be sure of this, in a tribal village or a mighty city, right now, there is a girl thinking her mother doesn’t understand her and a mother wishing her girl wouldn’t be so mean.

‘There’s a mother-daughter team making up and linking arms and walking out to the shops as if they were going out to conquer the world.

‘And others are wandering down to the village market to buy food for the meal they will make together. And others are sitting down to whisper about husbands and boyfriends . . . ’

The mothers I know who are blessed with daughters see their girl children as allies from birth. We’re so lucky. Of course I realise others are not so fortunate, and that countless mothers and daughters face each other across a gulf of disappointment and incomprehension — suffering a range of conflicting emotions, from bewilderment to outright hostility.

Bel with Kitty in Faliraki: 'Teenage daughters can be the sweetest, kindest, most caring friends, not just to their mates, but to their mums as well'

Bel with Kitty in Faliraki: 'Teenage daughters can be the sweetest, kindest, most caring friends, not just to their mates, but to their mums as well'

The last thing I want to do is sentimentalise this, or any relationship.

But I do honour the bond that I — and countless women — know so well. This isn’t an unattainable ideal, but the sometimes painful, often sublime, always visceral emotional tie that links us to the women who gave us birth.

It would take the most amateur shrink ten minutes to discover I am inextricably bound up with my own mother, and my life has been given impetus by my need for her pride and my wish to do all the things she never had the chance to do.

I longed for a baby girl because I wanted to replicate the mother-daughter love I knew.

No coincidence that when I sat down to write my first novel it should  pivot on an adult mother-daughter relationship. The year it was published, I was invited to present a TV series called Mothers /06/01/article-0-0A7F4507000005DC-495_306x365.jpg” width=”306″ height=”365″ alt=”'I adored him and still do. Simple': Bel with son Dan in 1977″ class=”blkBorder” />

'I adored him and still do. Simple': Bel with son Dan in 1977

All my interviewees were still so deeply involved with their mothers, for better for worse. It was intensely moving, as well as funny.

The series had a tremendous response, because so many female viewers identified with the stories they saw on screen — and it was the same when it was shown in the U.S. Letters came from American women telling me the programmes had made them ‘cry over Mom’.

These were universal truths. And by the way, when we followed up with Fathers /06/01/article-0-0041E65500000258-266_634x587.jpg” width=”634″ height=”587″ alt=”Three generations: Bel with her mother Gladys and Kitty in 1984″ class=”blkBorder” />

Three generations: Bel with her mother Gladys and Kitty in 1984

Do I think of my daughter as a mini-me Yes. I sometimes joke that when her husband asked her to marry him, he didn’t realise he was getting me in the package.

The old saying goes ‘Your son is your son until he takes a wife/Your daughter’s your daughter the rest of her life’ — and I’m sure it’s true.

Kitty and I may smile about her tempestuous teenage days, but the truth is that we have much more powerful memories of love, companionship and mutual support.

We were — and we still are — a team. When she was in hospital (which was unfortunately the pattern of her life, since she was born with a congenital disease) we used to say it was just her and me together ‘against the world’. But it wasn’t. Her best friends would gather at her bedside and I’d sit at a distance and watch the lovely teenage girls gossip and giggle, cheering Kitty through bad times.

The gang loved to hang out at our house, always including me in their talk, their merriment.

Those schoolfriends, Zoe, Cara and Emma (all grown-up and married now), are still an important part of my life — other women’s lovely daughters with their bright faces, their sense of fun, their kindness, intelligence and understanding. Those are the qualities my Kitty has in bucketloads, too.

So never mind saying that all daughters become their mothers in  the end. Surely the learning process can cut two ways

My daughter is the arrow I fire into the future, and as I get older I want to become more like her, borrowing just some of her light.