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Posts Tagged ‘mother-daughter bond’

You don’t have to like your mother to love her.

Jess is a friend of mine. She’s in her mid-thirties, and like most young women she’s had a couple of decades of feeling like she had nothing whatsoever in common with her mother. Now, within the past few months I’ve noticed she talks about her mom differently.

Jess’s mother is flying in for her wedding shower and they’re going shopping all day at the outlet mall while she’s in town. She calls her mom several times a week as she’s driving home from work–just to chat. This wouldn’t have happened even three years ago.

Why the change?

The mother-daughter bond is resilient.

It’s not a warm, cuddly blanket, but a sinuous cord that connects us. At times, it’s the jet fuel we need to grow up and move on with our lives. We “use” our mothers. We hate them in order to love ourselves. We swear we will never be anything like them. We despise them when we don’t want to admit we despise ourselves. We lash out in words and actions knowing it cuts like a serrated knife. We think it will always be like this–us, way over here–them, way over there.

The resiliency of the mother-daughter relationship that grows stronger over time isn’t a surprise. Pennsylvania State University conducted a study of midlife daughters and their elderly mothers. Researcher Karen Fingerman, Ph.D., found that “despite conflicts and complicated emotions, the mother-daughter bond is so strong that 80 percent to 90 percent of women at midlife report good relationships with their mothers—though they wish it were better.”

Whodathought? After all those years of bickering, name calling, not calling at all…that we actually love each other underneath all that bravado. And…we actually want a better relationship with our mother! I never throught that day would come for me, but it did.

Suddenly, through birthing a daughter, a woman finds herself face to face not only with an infant, a little girl, a woman-to-be, but also with her own unresolved conflicts from the past and her hopes and dreams for the future…. As though experiencing an earthquake, mothers of daughters may find their lives shifted, their deep feelings unearthed, the balance struck in all relationships once again off kilter.

~Elizabeth Debold and Idelisse Malave

We need something to propel us into our own lives and identities and we push off of our mothers like they’re a springboard–the laws of physics at work in relationships. Our “you weren’t there for me’s,” and “why are you always so controlling” can take years to leave our systems. We stew in our own toxic venom.

Were they bad mothers? Perhaps. At times. But that doesn’t diminish their power or our need to have them in our lives. Even if for a few, our mothers are object lessons, they are still in our lives for a purpose.

Eventually, most of us learn to make at least a measure of peace with mothers–and mothers with their daughters. It’s not a conscience thing. It’s not an “I should.” It just is. It’s biological.

Mothers and daughters can fight, argue, cry, blame, and complain–and their bond gets stronger. You don’t even know it’s happening–you think you’re a million miles away. We can even ignore our mothers and go on with our busy adult lives, and that bond is still there. Genetics is one powerful pull.

I’ve seen it countless times–family members who have been hurt find a way to forgive. Daughters who are disgusted with their mother’s choices begin to understand why, and through their own poor choices, they offer a morsel of mercy.

Mothers who seemed hard, controlling, and fussy finally become real people to their daughters. Their daughters begin to realize the that their mothers have lives, dreams, and quiet heartbreaks no one knows about. Mothers loosen up over time and become somone their daughter confides in.

Again, why?

You can’t make peace with yourself, with who you are, with all that you’ve done that had made you ‘you,” until you can begin to accept your mother, your past. She is your key.

What the daughter does, the mother did.  ~Jewish Proverb

Our mothers, our daughters define us. We are who we are because of them–good or bad. We look into their faces and we see ourselves–past and future.

We forgive, tolerate, and accept things our mothers or daughters have done. We know them, bear their secrets, absorb their transgressions, and even speak our truths into their lives no matter how tough and gritty it is.

Caregiving comes into play in regard to the mother-daughter bond. When our loved ones need us–really need us–we come back. We help out. We lay down our grievances and rally to the cause. But it’s more than that–caregiving gives us a reason to make up, to let go, to “get over it.” As our mothers need us, we return and answer the call.

Whether our relationship is strained or easy, hostile or amiable, we need our mother if only in memory …
to conjugate our history, validate ourfemaleness and guide our way.

~ Victoria Secunda

Something happens when our mothers lives begin to grow smaller either physically, emotionally, or financially–a power shift occurs. We (the daughters) gain strength and power–and this time to “be on top,” allows us to feel less threatened–and when we’re not threatened–we can be generous with our love.

Eventually, the scales balance.

After years of our mother’s having dominance over our lives (the childhood years), we’ve built up resentment, and finally, as time rolls along, we come into our own, we tower above our mothers for a short time, and that isn’t as fun as it sounds. If we’re lucky, and our mothers live a little longer, we become equal bookends, each of us strong in the broken places and worthy of respect.

And then, just when we make peace, our mothers die. It surprises us. It shocks us. This is too soon, we cry.

We realize how ironically close we really were–all along–even when we thought we weren’t. We realize we loved them in a deep-bone way. We lose ourselves in grief. We just found ourselves in and through and mothers, and then they leave us. We feel abandoned, lost, maybe even angry.

Looking back, I realize I’ve lost two mothers four times.

My birth mother had schizophrenia and I was taken from her as an infant when the voices told her to hurt herself and her children. I lost her again when I was adopted at the age of four. I didn’t know it would be forever. I lost her again when I was 23, and found my birth family only for them to tell me that my mother was dead–she had died one year before I found them. I cried that day, that week, that year–I cried for the mother I would never know.

I lost my adoptive mother to Alzheimer’s before death took her. To look into the face of someone you know so well–someone who you’ve screamed at, cried and fought with, only to have a disease eat away at her brain like battery acid–and to know that she doesn’t know you, remember you, you hold no emotion, no connection. You might as well we a cardboard box. It ravages your soul and all you believe.

And then death came. In a way, a welcome relief to the heartbreak of Alzheimer’s. I knew it would never give me my mother back.

Why now? Why do we lose our mothers just at the point when we can sit beside them and feel at ease, a give and take? Just when we can be ourselves in the presence of our most formidable foes, our most dependable ally, we lose them.

I have no answer for this. The only solace I can give you is that my mother’s life is now my example, her stories, her “ways” ripple through my own life. I don’t idolize her or think she was perfect. That would be an insult to such a great woman. I see her as complex and confounding as ever–but that’s what I like about her, about me.

In a bigger sense, I haven’t lost her, or lost me. We sit side-by-side. Equals. I hear her so much more clearly these days. I feel her respect. I listen.

And now, I have three grown daughters. The torch has been passed. They rail against me at times.

I let them. I know the journey they must take to get to their own place of acceptance and strength. I’ll be here. Waiting.

The woman who bore me is no longer alive, but I seem to be her daughter in increasingly profound ways.  ~Johnnetta Betsch Cole

I’m Carol D. O’Dell, the author of Mothering Mother: A Daughter’s Humorous and Heartbreaking Memoir, available on Amazon. I explore the adult daughter-mother relatiohnsip in my book, and I hope you’ll check it out.

 

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