Behind Every Lie Author Christina McDonald on Shifting Mother-Daughter Relationships

Christina McDonald
February 12 2020
Share Behind Every Lie Author Christina McDonald on Shifting Mother-Daughter Relationships

Behind Every Lie is a pulse-pounding thriller, but it’s also
a fascinating story about the complicated nature of mother-daughter
relationships. The novel centers on Eva Hansen, whose world is turned upside down
when she awakens in a hospital room to learn that she was struck by lightning
and that her mother, Kat, has been murdered. Since Eva is suffering memory loss
and can’t convince the police she’s innocent of the crime, she embarks on a
quest to learn who killed her mother. She finds much more than she expected,
however, including secrets her mother kept for years.

In the essay below, author Christina McDonald reflects on the way her own views of her mother have changed over time, something many of us will find highly relatable. Read on for a deeper understanding of the inspiration for Behind Every Lie.

Mother-daughter relationships are
the most complex and powerful ones out there. When you’re a child you adore
her, when you’re a teenager you deplore her, when you’re in college you ignore
her, then you grow up and have children of your own, and suddenly she’s your
best friend. That is, until she says something critical of you that blows the
conversation to pieces. The smallest comment, or lack of one, can wound you
with its shrapnel.

So when I was 19 and returned home
to visit my mom, only to find all the walls completely bare of my childhood
pictures, it was a hard lesson that the most important relationships are often
the most complicated, with the potential to cause the most heartache. All I saw
when I looked at those bare walls was an entire shared history suddenly scrubbed
out. It took me a long time to untangle some of the knots behind why she did

For as long as I can remember, my
mother and I had a complicated relationship. There were eye rolls, tears, hugs,
shouts, silences, power struggles, and heartfelt declarations of love.
Seemingly daily, I ricocheted between extreme anger and extreme love. These
emotions were powerful and confusing and wondrous and incredible, full of highs
and lows pulling us in opposite directions: my need to develop autonomy and her
need to keep me close.

It turns out there’s scientific evidence to back up the strength of these emotions. According to the Journal of Neuroscience, our relationships with our mothers are deeper, with stronger emotions, both positive and negative, than fathers have with sons. Personally, I think this is because words bond mothers and daughters together more intimately than other relationships do.

In You’re Wearing That? Understanding Mothers and Daughters in
, Deborah Tannen says: “Women are healed by, or ache
for, satisfying conversations with their mothers and adult daughters; in some
cases, to build on already excellent relationships, in others to break out of
cycles of misunderstanding that can turn amiable conversations into painful or
angry ones in the blink of an eye. Both want to maximize the gifts of rapport
and closeness while minimizing the inevitable hurts that come along with any
close relationship but can be especially intense in this one.”

From early childhood, mothers and
daughters tend to be close, with much of their identity and self-worth wrapped
around each other. As the daughter gets older, moving into the teenage years
and then adulthood, both mothers and daughters may struggle with the daughter
developing her own, separate identity. Some mothers experience this as
rejection, which drives daughters to pull even further away in an effort to not
hurt their mother and to avoid feeling like she herself is being criticized.

It’s a cycle as
old as time.

My parents divorced when I was an
adolescent, so this cycle was particularly challenging for us. Compounding the
issue, my mom’s mother died when my mom was an adolescent, so when she herself
became a mom—and after her divorce—she was a single mother raising three young
girls alone without the benefit of a role model to look up to. She couldn’t
work because she had three small children to look after, and she couldn’t
afford day care. My sisters and I were all that she had, and she was all that we

My mom was a mom—that was her
identity. She’d spent years being a mother who knew what was best for me, but
suddenly I became my own person, an individual, and I didn’t need, or want, her
telling me what to do. And that threatened her identity as a “good” mom. For my
part, I was just beginning to need more privacy, locking myself in my room and
keeping things to myself, a necessary but difficult part of growing up and away
from my mother.

For mothers and daughters, the
process of separating can be an incredibly painful one. Mothers need to give
daughters just the right amount of space so they can attach in a new way, while
letting their daughters know they still have their back. And daughters need to
learn to fully separate in order to gain a healthy perspective, and to
recognize that sometimes what appears to be criticism might actually be

It’s a difficult line to balance,
but only in this separation can daughters find a new self-esteem apart from
their mothers. Once they’ve established themselves as separate individuals,
they can find the space to reattach to each other. Being a mother is a series
of steps in letting go, and being a daughter is a lesson in leaving and
learning to find your way back home.

As the wonderful poet and author
Maya Angelou said, “Love liberates. It doesn’t
just hold—that’s ego. Love liberates. It doesn’t bind. Love says, ‘I love you.
I love you if you’re in China. I love you if you’re across town. I love you if
you’re in Harlem. I love you. I would like to be near you. I’d like to have
your arms around me. I’d like to hear your voice in my ear. But that’s not
possible now, so I love you. Go.”

Years later, when I thought about
those empty living room walls, I realized my mom was instigating the necessary
individuation that mothers and daughters should have, as well as protecting
herself from the pain she knew would come. Maybe she did it in a clumsy,
roundabout way, but now that I see why she did it, I understand her better.

Looking back now with two children
of my own, I see my mom as a selfless superhero, even if she’s not a perfect
human. But that didn’t happen overnight. I grew up, I went to university, I
moved away. There were huge tracts of time during which we didn’t speak. But I
always found my way back to her because deep inside of me I knew that no matter
what mistakes she’d made, she loved me as truly and instinctively as the air
she breathed.

These days I look at my mom and I
think I’m incredibly blessed, and I couldn’t be more grateful. Because I’m a
mother, but I’m also a daughter. I am both. Like ripples that widen across the
water, separate but gradually becoming one. And when I visit my mom, she might
not have those pictures of my sisters and me up on the wall anymore, but she
has pictures of my children up there. And for me, that’s enough.

This post was originally published on

Behind Every Lie
Christina McDonald

From the USA TODAY bestselling author of The Night Olivia Fell—an “emotionally charged mystery” (Mary Kubica, New York Times bestselling author)comes a thrilling new suspense novel about the insidious nature of family secrets…and their deadly potential.

If you can’t remember it, how do you prove you didn’t do it?

Eva Hansen wakes in the hospital after being struck by lightning and discovers her mother, Kat, has been murdered. Eva was found unconscious down the street. She can’t remember what happened but the police are highly suspicious of her.

Determined to clear her name, Eva heads from Seattle to London—Kat’s former home—for answers. But as she unravels her mother’s carefully held secrets, Eva soon realizes that someone doesn’t want her to know the truth. And with violent memories beginning to emerge, Eva doesn’t know who to trust. Least of all herself.

Told in alternating perspectives from Eva’s search for answers and Kat’s mysterious past, Christina McDonald has crafted another “complex, emotionally intense” (Publishers Weekly) domestic thriller. Perfect for fans of Lisa Jewell’s I Found You and Karin Slaughter’s Pieces of Her, Behind Every Lie explores the complicated nature of mother-daughter relationships, family trauma, and the danger behind long-held secrets.

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