Despite being one of Bella’s parents, Renee only has a small role in Twilight and only a handful of appearances in the series as a whole. Despite this, what we do have is very telling.
When Bella describes her mother she almost always uses negative adjectives like “harebrained, erratic, unreliable, forgetful” so on and so forth. Bella feels panic at the prospect of leaving her mother in the care of her new husband, despite the fact that Phil is quite capable.
To me this screams how blurred the relationship between parent and child is. At times the relationship even seems to stray into the territory of emotional incest.
I’m going to use the terms “forging the friendship” and “emotional incest” and “parentification” a lot in this review. So for those of you who don’t know what these terms are, I’ll give a brief explanation.
“Forging the friendship” is a term coined by Dr. David Swanson. It refers to a manipulative technique used by children to try and achieve their goals. Of course children are not forward thinking, and will use manipulation to get what they want. It is the job of the parent to maintain appropriate boundaries with their child.
When a parent gives into the pressure to “be friends” with their child, they relinquish their role as parent. Parent is an authoritative role, which places the adult in a position directly over their child and gives them a certain amount of power over that individual until they are legally an adult.
When a parent becomes their child’s friend, it breaks down that authority. Children do not have to listen to their friends. It undermines the authority of the parent, and children then feel like they can go against a parent’s authority with little to no consequences. Once this structure is in place, it becomes a lot harder for a parent to reclaim the authority of their position.
Now on to Emotional incest. An adult who is healthy and fulfilled in their relationships does not seek to rely on their children. Emotional incest occurs when a parent directs inappropriate and sometimes quite sexually charged emotions towards their child.
There’s a stigma about emotional abuse even now. Because it is harder to see, most people think that it is somehow less damaging than physical abuse. In most of the cases I’ve seen it’s quite the opposite. In the case of sexual abuse, I feel like emotional incest is the more insidious of the two. When a child is sexually abused it will most certainly leave its mark. It will scar a child for life. But they are also often aware of how bad the abuse was, and that they were used. Emotional incest can often go overlooked for decades.
Parentification is a phenomenon where a child has to essentially become their own parent. Some or all of their needs are not being taken care of by their caregiver(s). Essentially the child is forced to mature more rapidly than they should and take on much more than what they are developmentally equipped to deal with. In extreme cases, like we see here, a child must also act as a surrogate spouse or emotional support for their parent.
Clearly all of these things have cropped up in Bella’s relationship with Renee. Bella is clearly a parentified child, who is used to taking care of herself, and is uncomfortable letting others try to help her. Renee’s behaviors speak to how little she’s taken care of Bella. Renee is consistently neglectful of Bella’s needs. She’s forgetful and shown to be unwilling or unable to take care of herself properly. By all rights Bella should have been in the foster care system long before the events of Twilight. At the very least she should have been with her father.
Renee is shown to be reckless and impulsive. With money, food, and her physical relationships with men. She serial dated until she found and married Phil. Her flightiness is supposed to be endearing and make Bella look more mature. It doesn’t. All it does is paint a very scary picture of what Bella’s childhood must have been like.
Renee has “forged a friendship” with Bella, and given up all her parental authority to her parentified child. Bella was forced to become a parent to her own mother at a young age. Bella has had no childhood. That is really, really sad, and if it had been intentional it would have explained quite a lot. It wasn’t intentional however. Meyer does seem to have a knack for bringing up often unintentionally disturbing concepts in her narrative. I’ll get into why this affects Bella’s relationship with Charlie when I break down his role in the series.
Bella often treats her mother as if she were just another girlfriend, a confidant, and sometimes even a sister-like figure. However, Bella never ever lets Renee step into her rightful role as a serious adult.
We can see the emotional incest through Bella’s distrust of Phil. Bella feels reluctant to hand the reigns over to someone who she perceives as “young” even though he is her elder and a capable adult. Bella doesn’t want to relinquish this role in her mother’s life. She still feels like she has to take care of her mother. The fact that Bella has exiled herself to Forks for her mother’s emotional well-being says that she doesn’t address her own emotional needs in favor of fulfilling that role in her mother’s life. Renee doesn’t question this or try to make the adult choice to be there for her daughter and accept the time apart from Phil.
Emotional incest has some severe fallout for the abused. Renee was clearly too young to be caring for a baby, and never forged the proper adult network she needed to keep herself grounded and capable of emotional stability. It’s quite possible that this reliance of Bella started when Bella was incredibly young.
Just take a look at this article: http://www.huffingtonpost.com/paul-dunion-edd-lpc/the-quiet-wound_b_8902958.html
Bella’s chronic depression, her martyr complex, her sense of worthlessness and guilt are all there. If this had been addressed in the book as the cause for this, it would have painted Bella as an extremely tragic figure. It wouldn’t excuse all of her actions of course, but it’s something at least.
The thing is, I don’t think that Meyer intended this to happen. Bella’s parents are often pushed to the background as being too “insignificant” to be bothered with or for Bella to care about. She had a magnificent setup to explain why Bella feels this way about her parents. Resentment of Renee would have made a lot of sense, and there’s some of that for Charlie as well, for not being able to see it and put a stop to it before he damage was done.
If we’re supposed to believe that this is every mother-daughter relationship, since Meyer tried to make Bella the “every girl”, then she’s sadly missed the mark. However, if this had been painted as what it was, a deeply fucked up relationship with a parent that impacted Bella’s personality and led her to negative life choices, like choosing an abusive boyfriend, then I’d buy it.
Sadly, that’s not the way the character was written and we’re just going to have to live with what we have. Which is an utterly incompetent mother and her condescending daughter.