It’s been such a long time that I’ve been thinking of writing a post about this subject but clearly I had to put some things together in my mind before putting my gathered thoughts into writing. What amazes me is the number of women I have met throughout my years as a health care practitioner that has brought me to this awareness.
I believe that there is a shared female-experience that deserves some discussion here. Now please know that I am aware that this post will not match every woman out there, nor is it meant to. But if the group that reads this post reflects my patient population, a good number of women might have peace about their mother-daughter experiences.
So here goes — not all Mother-Daughter relationships are wonderful. Maybe we all know that some daughters (especially through those awkward teenaged years) are not easy. But here’s the big surprise: Not all mothers are easy or wonderful (gasp!). I am not referring to that small percentage of Mothers that is truly hurtful or cruel with their daughters. I am talking about Moms that have a different relationship with their daughters than what is nurturing for their daughters. But Moms are inherently nurturing, right?
Oh yes, our society encourages the glamorized image of the perfect, nurturing and self-sacrificing Mother.
Let’s take a look at something beautiful I read recently:
For all Mothers
(including soon to be Mothers)
We are sitting at lunch one day when my daughter casually mentions that she and her husband are thinking of “starting a family.” “We’re taking a survey,” she says half-joking. “Do you think I should have a baby?”
“It will change your life,” I say, carefully keeping my tone neutral.
“I know,” she says, “no more sleeping in on weekends, no more spontaneous vacations.”
But that is not what I meant at all. I look at my daughter, trying to decide what to tell her. I want her to know what she will never learn in childbirth classes. I want to tell her that the physical wounds of child bearing will heal, but becoming a mother will leave her with an emotional wound so raw that she will forever be vulnerable. I consider warning her that she will never again read a newspaper without asking, “What if that had been MY child?” That every plane crash, every house fire will haunt her. That when she sees pictures of starving children, she will wonder if anything could be worse than watching your child die.
I look at her carefully manicured nails and stylish suit and think that no matter how sophisticated she is, becoming a mother will reduce her to the primitive level of a bear protecting her cub. That an urgent call of “Mum!” will cause her to drop a soufflé or her best crystal without a moments hesitation.
I feel that I should warn her that no matter how many years she has invested in her career, she will be professionally derailed by motherhood. She might arrange for childcare, but one day she will be going into an important business meeting and she will think of her
baby’s sweet smell. She will have to use every ounce of discipline to keep from running home, just to make sure her baby is all right.
I want my daughter to know that every day decisions will no longer be routine. That a five year old boy’s desire to go to the men’s room rather than the women’s at McDonald’s will become a major dilemma. That right there, in the midst of clattering trays and screaming
children, issues of independence and gender identity will be weighed against the prospect that a child molester may be lurking in that restroom.
However decisive she may be at the office, she will second-guess herself constantly as a mother.Looking at my attractive daughter, I want to assure her that eventually she will shed the pounds of pregnancy, but she will never feel the same about herself. That her life, now so important, will be of less value to her once she has a child. That she would give herself up in a moment to save her offspring, but will also begin to hope for more years, not to accomplish her own dreams, but to watch her child accomplish theirs.
I want her to know that a cesarean scar or shiny stretch marks will become badges of honor.
My daughter’s relationship with her husband will change, but not in the way she thinks.
I wish she could understand how much more you can love a man who is careful to powder the baby or who never hesitates to play with his child.
I think she should know that she will fall in love with him again for reasons she would now find very unromantic.
I wish my daughter could sense the bond she will feel with women throughout history who have tried to stop war, prejudice and drunk driving.
I want to describe to my daughter the exhilaration of seeing your child learn to ride a bike.
I want to capture for her the belly laugh of a baby who is touching the soft fur of a dog or cat for the first time.
I want her to taste the joy that is so real it actually hurts.
My daughter’s quizzical look makes me realize that tears have formed in my eyes. “You’ll never regret it,” I finally say. Then I reached across the table, squeezed my daughter’s hand and offered a silent prayer for her, and for me, and for all the mere mortal women who stumble their way into this most wonderful of callings.
Please share this with a Mum that you know or all of your girlfriends who may someday be Mums. May you always have in your arms the one who is in your heart.
By Dale Hanson Bourke
‘Chicken soup for the woman’s soul’
Isn’t that a beautiful expression of thoughts from a loving mother? Unfortunately, this is not the experience that some daughters have with their mothers. Daughters may feel neglected, blamed, challenged for their life choices/decisions, guilty for not living up to the expectations of their mothers, or even burdened by a maternal role that they find themselves in, with the woman they expect to receive this energy from. And I am not referring to a time when the mother-daughter role may naturally shift as many daughters become caregivers for their aging mothers.
Not all mother-daughter relationships are nurturing. What is troubling for me to discover in my practice is the number of women who have had or who currently have difficult (at best) or incredibly challenging (at worst) relationships with their mothers. Remember that I am a Naturopathic Doctor working especially with cancer patients. Could this relationship be a possible root of the psychological links to various women’s cancers? I am so aware of the number of female patients that I see that have troubling relationships with their mothers that I can no longer deny that some connection exists here. So I will be creating a page specific to Mother-Daughter relationships to elaborate on this thought further.
For now, I am convinced that overcoming the frustration/sadness that surrounds difficult relationships helps create healthier directions for us all. And I do intend to discuss some of the “taboo” matter surrounding at least one of the most important relationships in any woman’s life. Luckily, I do have plenty of personal experience to draw from as well 🙂
Looking forward to posting more on this topic soon!
Regardless of whether your Mother-Daughter relationship is wonderful or terrible, I have seen some common themes among women in my practice that I’d like to share with you.
I have seen 2 types of relationships most frequently in practice:
1. The relationship is seen as “good” with a very caring Mother figure who is brought to worry and/or sleepless nights over any problem going on in the Daughter’s life.
2. The relationship is “okay” with the Mother showing some care/concern over the Daughter’s concerns but always with the Mother’s concerns/problems being more difficult relative to the Daughter’s (from Mother’s perspective and/or reactions to Daughter’s concerns, or sincerely felt by both since Mother has had a difficult life or is currently going through a difficulty).
In both cases, the experience is very real for both the Mother and the Daughter. It’s the feeling that is left with the Daughter that I believe is of importance here. Both cases leave the Daughter feeling guilty over her expressed concerns. This guilt does not put value to the Daughter’s individual experience. And I believe that this inner-turmoil contributes strongly to some of the chronic diseases that I see in practice. Both scenarios leave a sense of frustration for the Daughter; the first case is due to a feeling of guilt over sharing a difficult experience with a Mother and then creating challenges in the Mother’s own well-being, and the second case a sense of frustration over the Mother’s minimization of the Daughter’s experience.
Frustration over anything is a strong contributor to stress in the body. When the body experiences frustration (from work or personal matters), it becomes worn-down and the body’s natural defenses become weaker. Often, immune concerns will follow — frequent colds, allergies, and over a long-term, even cancer can result from such stress.
So how can we modify such relationships? I believe that one very important step is for Mothers and their adult Daughters to see each other as equals. Mutual respect and compassion should ideally be the foundation for these relationships. Every age group sees different challenges, and a loving relationship can support the challenges that arise.
My advice to Daughters: recognize that your Mother will choose to handle your stresses in her own unique manner; it is not to put unnecessary pressure on you personally. Equally important – do not try to handle your own stresses in the way your Mother would have, or currently does handle hers (if it’s not what your core feels comfortable with). Every person has the choice to view their stresses from a “glass half-empty or half-full” perspective. In overcoming challenges, we can all benefit from moving forward optimistically — if your Mother is optimistic and supportive, then by all means carry forth this wonderful tradition, knowing you do have the strength to get through whatever challenges life may send you. If she models worry, impatience or frustration, please know that you do not have to repeat these emotions. Your health will thank you for a movement towards optimistic healing.
My advice to Mothers: Daughters need their Mother’s support. No matter how old they become, there is a special “lift” received from the nurturing energy that I believe only a Mother can provide. If your daughter is going through a challenge (health or otherwise) just listen. Much of your own energy and wisdom is already within your adult Daughter, and she needs only positive support from you as an adult to get through a tough time. Your challenges/problems matter too — but when your Daughter is sharing her own challenges with you, try to listen, support, and find a later time to share your own challenges. I believe that Daughters want to be of great support to their Mothers, but they need support too. Oh, and a concern I’ve heard from many daughters… their Mothers never ask them how they are (or ask in a superficial manner only) — it’s ok to hear your Daughter’s concerns and recognize that she has her own journey in this life — and you can make a difference for her even as an adult by just showing you care. And you too will get through whatever life brings your Daughter’s way — you can choose how you handle her challenges — hopefully with a positive spirit and belief that she will do (and can do) whatever she really needs to get through her challenge.
We are all Daughters of Mothers. We have had experiences with our Mothers that shape us. Sometimes however, the emotional reactions that we have (frustration, worry and/or anxiety) are not our own personal styles of handling things. They are the subconscious energies of our Mothers that we have learned and have taken on as our own. If you notice that your coping strategies for stress cause you distress, I believe it’s important for you to re-think your reactions and see if they follow your Mother’s energies/styles of coping. If they do, it might be time to spend some time thinking of how you would like to best handle stresses before they arise. I believe that if all women (Mothers and Daughters alike) are able to take charge of their reactions to stressful situations, we will have a much healthier generation of women rather than one that is re-living past patterns of behaviour and/or illness.
More to come soon about my thoughts on this interesting relationship.