Liubov Yakymchuk is a writer, poet, and screenwriter. In 2015, she brought her parents from the town of Pervomaisk, Donbas, to the village of Kybyntsi, where a famous Ukrainian poet Mykhaylo Semenko was born. She arranged a festival Metro to Kybyntsi there to help her parents adapt to a new home, involve them in the festival processes, “During the period of their adaptation, I played the role of the head of the family. With all the consequences….”
When life goes normal, Liubov doesn’t play the role of the head of the family. We talked to the writer about her relationship with her mother, how this relationship influences the behaviour of a daughter in life – with different people and under different circumstances – what way this influence can be changed.
Not like mother
Do you know why it’s difficult to speak about mother? Mother is the only one while you can have many partners during your life. People are less reluctant to speak about their sexual life, although it is also a taboo topic. We can generalise or speak about someone not telling their names. But when you talk about your mother, it is clear who exactly you mean. When someone dares to speak about it, they do it the way not to insult, so mother won’t read anything wrong. I am not “like mother, like daughter” situation.
My relationship with mother is one of the impotent types of relationships with different people. We have much in common, but I often feel lonely when it comes to what I am doing. I mean I feel the one who isn’t understood. When I was 10 years old, my mother told me about sex, period and love. When my friends didn’t have such information, they didn’t know where to take it from, they weren’t involved in such conversations, I had a progressive mother. She could speak about intimate issues with my sister and me, she shared her views and even secrets. But it wasn’t dialogue, an exchange, it was a one-way transmission of information.
There were periods when we became equal in our biographies and then we could speak freely for several hours, like equal. Sometimes I happened to become the head of the family and organise my parents. First, I was persuading them. Second, I brought them from the occupied Donbas. Third, I was looking for and even found a house for them. Fourth, I helped them to adapt to a new home.
A new house
In 2015, my mother, father, and granny moved to Kyiv from Pervomaisk, but the war didn’t seem to finish. I had to make something up to encourage them to stay so they didn’t return home. Yet after two weeks living in Kyiv, parents started to pack their bags, and I tried to occupy them with any work. My granny mended all the clothes which could be mended. For example, socks I used to throw away – she used to work a seamstress and loved her job. My parents planted a garden, they started to work there and wait for the harvest. I had time before autumn to find a new house for them.
When my parents left, we started to look for a house in a village because we didn’t have much money. We wanted to settle down somewhere in the central or western Ukraine to be sure the Russian Army wouldn’t get there. I took them to the Poltava region. The village of Kybyntsi, Mikhaylo Semenko was born there. Since 2007, I have been studying his biography, working in archives, I found different facts and stories, told my parents about them. So I got contacts of the head of the village council, phoned him and said we wanted to buy a house in Kybyntsi. My parents liked one at once – the one which has the garden near a lake and forest. Actually, as they knew much about Kybyntsi, they weren’t afraid or uncomfortable about this village not far from the town of Myrhorod. They agreed to buy the house.
Then, I decided to make a project in the village. I wanted to mark this place, to make it our own. Not only my parents lost their house. Even though I left Pervomaisk as soon as I started to study in a grammar school in Luhansk, I wanted to have space where I could come back from Kyiv. One of the Semenko’s verses The Subway tells that one day there will be a metro joining Paris and Kybyntsi. I arranged the project Metro to Kybyntsi – a series of literary events during the year and the festival. During this time my parents learnt to deal with organising processes and logistics. Now, everybody from the village knows who they are and don’t take them as foreigners.
In the period, when my parents were moving and adapting, I played the role of the head of the family. With all the consequences. At first, I told them the information I had got from my friend who worked in the army about shellings and escalation. Pervomaisk is situated on the delimitation line on the other side. There were heavy shellings. I shared this information with my parents so they could trust me, not only they could protect themselves. But they weren’t scared of things I was scared. My parents got used to living in shootings. As they didn’t die there, they behaved like they were immortal. And because I had arranged their moving, when something went wrong, they blamed me because it was me who made them move.
The first experience
I came to a therapist when the war was on. It was spring 2016, and I was in an awful condition. I realised I wanted to change something. I saw what was happening with other people. I looked at my friends who were experiencing all these. I looked at other writers who left Donbas and couldn’t cope with the emotions they brought with themselves. I thought: enough of this pain. I started to really want to be happy.
It took me more than a year to find a specialist I wanted to come to. I needed a person that’s not form Kyiv, but the one who also had left Donbas. I was lying on the bed and didn’t want anything. When I found a phone number of the specialist I needed, I didn’t dare to call for some months. But then I called. We were working for three months. I produced many new thoughts and was reconsidering my life all the time. Everything happened very quickly. In private and professional regards, I shaped and realised things I would have understood only in some years.
Only not to be like the mother
Behavioural models are easily followed, but you can work with your behaviour. When I was 20, I thought that I would never be like my mother. Then I gave birth to my child who is gradually growing up and then I noticed I talked to my child with my mother’s words. I spent a certain part of my life arguing with my parents, showing them who I am, declaring my identity and independence. And then it suddenly turned out I was becoming like them.
Mother and granny spoke about everything. My granny was her friend. They had different views on life, but my mother shared intimate things with her. She didn’t share with her friends, didn’t have a friend she gossiped with. I believe you should have either a friend or a therapist. Granny died in autumn. It might be difficult for her not to have the one to talk about her private issues. She tries to speak with me, but it is also difficult for me. Such conversations require a mutual exchange and when it happens, the mother’s position becomes the dominant one. Her position becomes the position of an adult towards a child, but I am not a child.
I never came to my mother to talk about a boy I liked. I talked to my friends. Then, I soon got disappointed at them: they gave away my secrets. Such friends disappeared in a meanwhile, only me and my writing stayed. This is where my loneliness lies – I can’t find the one to talk to, to tell everything. Except for a therapist. He, as a professional, won’t give away my personal information.
My mother asked me and my sister how it was going on with our boyfriends, but we weren’t fast to tell her. Once, when I was studying at university, a man from another city came to me. He was to come back home, but his bag was stolen so he had to stay in. My parents got angry about that. They didn’t like I showed them my boyfriend and brought him home.
Thus, on the one hand, my mother was open for intimate conversations, she started to talk about it by herself. On the other hand, I never discussed it with her; also, when I showed someone, she took it negatively.
A constant change of roles
My relationship with mother is complicated transformations. At first, you are daughter, then you become mother, then you become granny, A constant change of roles. When I was a teenager, my mother seemed to be reluctant to let me go, give me to someone else. This was her reaction to all my relationships with others. Now, I have a feeling that mothers compare themselves with their daughters. First of all, they compare their success and achievements in family life.
Even now when I am an adult, it is still difficult for me to speak about certain things, especially, when I feel we are not equal. The mother seems to want to help her child but competes with them at the same time. The mother may even become jealous of family or intimate relationships of her daughter.
When I was a child, I spent time with my mother while painting or gardening. My mom could come and say, “Cucumbers are blooming, let’s go and have a look”. In the evenings, she brought stories of people from her work or somewhere else. She told us them in roles. She was telling us – we were analysing. We were discussing real situations of parents and children, ours or remote acquaintances. We were thinking who was right and who was wrong in a situation. Then I had such practice only at the university, at psychology classes. We were learning how interactions between people work.
Now I realise that our interaction is a standard situation. Mother became the eldest woman in the family. Now she is mother and granny, and no one’s daughter. When mother takes on the granny’s function and partially her behaviour, I don’t want to take on my mother’s function and behaviour. I don’t want to turn into her. I don’t want a situation when my mom is my granny and I am my mother.
I was working on myself with a therapist to get a chance to be another person. There are always several ways to react to a nuisance. What concerns working on my behaviour, I try different variants of reactions, not just follow one model of my mother, father or granny I have seen during all my life. You can try to learn to discern all the colours of your emotions, realise them and control. You can train, scan yourself every day: think of what emotion exactly I am feeling now, what is the main one, what isn’t, what I am concerned of against the background. Perhaps, some member of the family is ill or dying or something like that. When the war started, I was always worrying about it. Even when I took parents from there, I was trembling inside: people are being killed there. Some separatist is sleeping on my parents’ bed – the emotion of jealousy – we had information that a fighter lives in our house. These worries were constantly lying in consciousness, even when I was feeling other emotions.
According to the concept of so-called emotional intelligence, a person can learn to realise themselves to help themselves, use life situations and adapt to new life conditions more effectively. It again concerns adaptability and the level of it you have managed to gain. My son can better explain his emotions, better talk about them than I used to. Because I ask him to explain. I work with him, I cheer him to explain.
On equal terms
When I have a problem, I try to solve it fully, not only with mother but in general, with everybody. But for that, I have to realise what is happening, take a pause and think about it. Words we say in a fit of anger are not always right, they don’t always lead to a good result. I have to realise what result I strive for, how I imagine a further model of my relationships, where my own boundaries begin. Whether I want to establish them close or far, how actively I am ready to protect them. I have to provide the understanding for the other side why I am acting like this. When I am not comfortable, I should speak about it. We have to feel on equal terms.
You can ask, “Why, when we had that problem at school, did you behave like that?” You should try realising the answer. Then I can stop feeling insulted – it can be achieved only via conversations.
On equal terms is when we become equal in our biographies or misfortunes. Then, there is no tension that I am better than mother. Then, everything is normal, OK. I guess mother and daughter are often competitors and they don’t even realise that. I don’t have a daughter yet.
By Marta Konyk