What is it between mothers and daughters that causes so much tension and arguments?
I’ve felt this since before I was even a teenager. My mom and I were always arguing about what I shouldn’t wear, how I spoke to her, my friends, etc.
Now, I’m a mother with a baby girl I adore but I’m terrified that I’ll end up with the same kind of relationship.
Even at 30 I feel her disapproval of some of my choices, or we disagree generally about whatever’s going on.
My mother came here as an immigrant, having spent her first decade in a country of conflict, her father absent while finding a safe place for the family to emigrate, and her mother periodically hiding her from danger.
I understand that the experience caused her constant anxieties. But I need help accepting why she passed that on to her children born in a peaceful country with all kinds of advantages.
How can I raise my own daughter in a calmer, more trusting way, without reverting to the fears and criticisms of my mother?
Countless books have been written on this most delicate/volatile relationship. A quick Google scan will list many titles for you to check for your specific dynamic, e.g.: The Color Purple, by Alice Walker; My Mother/Myself by Nancy Friday; The Joy Luck Club by Amy Tan; and Don’t Blame Mother: Mending the Mother-Daughter Relationship by Paula Caplan.
Being aware of your mother’s childhood surviving the dangers around her, is a step forward. You can understand that she sees the world with anxiety, through your own younger years and now for her granddaughter.
See her fear, not criticism or disapproval. Those cautions and rules were her way to keep you safe. Listen to her stories, and hug her when she clams up or cries.
You live in a time and place that’s mostly safe, and provides opportunities ahead... which is why your mother’s parents struggled to get here. But that period for her was traumatic.
Reader’s Commentary Regarding the woman whose fiancé is addicted to pornography (August 27):
“The moment I read the column, I prayed your advice would be to quickly move on. I realize you must be careful with what you say but at least you suggested counselling and holding off getting married.
“I’d like to add that those signs are dangerous, and that relationship won’t get better but only get worse. Pornography addiction is just that. The man lives in a fantasy world and nothing that she can ever do will compete or compare with what he’s watching or experiencing.
“Eventually he won’t want to take part in any intimate sexual activity with her because it cannot bring him the high that he gets while he watches and takes part in what’s likely excessive masturbation as well.
“The worst part is that she’ll begin to think something is wrong with her.
“I’ve lived this life in the past. I thought therapy and counselling would change it - but unfortunately, it didn’t. Nor does having a couple of children change it either.
“One must face the reality that if after all these years, nothing’s changing it, he is not going to change.
“This is something he deeply needs to work on for himself, and it requires therapy. Also 12-step programs can help. The only way these two would ever have a chance to survive as a couple, is that he stop watching porn - all of it - much like an alcoholic has to stop drinking.”
Reader #2 - Regarding Ellie’s advice on the pornography matter: “Not every little decision in life needs a therapist.”
Ellie - “Correct. However, some people suffer from not making even the most obvious decisions.
“Her fiancé’s been porn-addicted for years. She dislikes/refuses some sexual requests but lacks confidence to end relationship.
“Suggesting getting therapy often changes that indecision, not because people immediately seek help, but because the suggestion motivates them to speak up or break up.
“Those who do choose therapy may benefit greatly. Or they realize through professional guidance what to do.
“Others who seriously need counselling because they've spent years avoiding changes, are even more likely to benefit. They learn to take a hard look at the issues and decisions they've not addressed.
“I've learned that NOT recommending therapy isn’t as helpful as my sensing when to suggest it, as a wake-up call to end a painful problem.”
Tip of the day:
Readers’ suggestions of books that deal with complex mother-daughter relationships are welcome.