“Probably there is nothing in human nature more resonant with charges than the flow of energy between two biologically alike bodies, one of which has lain in amniotic bliss inside the other, one of which has labored to give birth to the other. The materials are here for the deepest mutuality and the most painful estrangement.” – Adrienne Rich
I first encountered this quotation while reading Dr. Harriet Lerner’s, The Mother Dance. I was not a mother of a daughter at the time, but maybe it resonated with me as the daughter of a mother. As a therapist, I have worked with this relational dynamic many times whether it was with a daughter trying to connect to her mother, a mother trying to understand her daughter, or facilitating a dialogue with them together in the room. I have met with mothers who no longer talk to their daughters and I have met with daughters who see their mothers as a source of unwavering love and support. Most mother-daughter relationships fall somewhere in between.
When I found out I was having a girl, I responded with both excitement and fear. I looked forward to the shared experiences we could have doing “girl things”. At the same time, I was afraid of the potential influence I could have in her life – would I be a healthy female role model for her? I concluded that the most important thing for me to do was not to mother exactly how I was mothered or exactly the opposite way I was mothered but to find a balance by being present for the experience. One of my main objectives today is to ground myself as the adult in the relationship, conveying the simple but difficult message of “I am here for you”, not the other way around.
As an adult daughter today, I have more context to understand my mother and some of the forces that affected her role and our relationship. I often joke about setting aside money for my daughter to use towards her own therapy – at least she won’t have to pay for the sessions in which she recounts all my failings. My hope is that my intentions and actions over the years will create a relationship that favors the “deepest mutuality” side of the spectrum as opposed to the “painful estrangement” alternative. My plan:
- Be present and available
- Listen and accept differences
- Be the loving adult
- Acknowledge and address mistakes
- Pay for her therapy, of course