Introduction An Intricate Duet
We all hope to feel our mother’s arm around our
shoulders when we’re worried, to feel it gently let
go when life calms down. It’s an intricate duet that
moms and daughters dance—one backing off when
the other needs space, moving up close when the
—CATHIE KRYCZKA, WWW.TODAYSPARENT.COM
One late afternoon seven years ago, I took care of my daughter’s baby and toddler boys while she went to the doctor. I walked around the house, holding four-month-old Luke in my arms, patting his little back and singing to him to help his colic. Today he’s a healthy seven year-old, but those were stressful months—and long nights of Ali being up with night-owl baby Luke. My daughter’s young family lived with us at the time, so I helped whenever I could.
“Hungry, Nandy! Nuggets! Cheerios!” twenty-month-old Noah implored. Holding Luke, I raced around the kitchen, popping chicken nuggets on a cookie sheet and into the oven, then handing him a cup of Cheerios to stave off his hunger. I turned on a Barney video to entertain Noah while the chicken nuggets baked and kept patting and rocking Luke. Needless to say, after two hours this grandma was pooped!
When Ali walked in, she took Luke from me and gave him a kiss. I offered her a glass of iced tea and a muffin, and we sat down in the family room. I was hoping we could talk since Luke had simmered down a bit.
“How’d your doctor’s appointment go?”
After her brief answer I said, “You know, honey, I read this week that when a nursing mom consumes citrus fruits, dairy, and even caffeine, it can cause gas in the baby. Cutting those out might help Luke cry less. What do you think?”
In seconds I knew I’d said the wrong thing.
“With Luke awake all night, how do you think I could get through the day without several cups of coffee? I can’t cut out caffeine!”
Then I started trying to explain that the article had suggested she could drink black or green tea instead. Mistake number two. That just made her madder.
“You just don’t understand, and you’re so annoying,” she said, grabbing her diaper bag. She took Noah’s hand and headed for the door. “I’m going for a ride.”
I was sorry to have irritated her, and I believed I was only trying to help by offering a little suggestion. No chat, no thank-yous for caring for the boys; just biting my head off and leaving.
I often had no idea what kind of mood my daughter would be in—angry or euphoric, depressed or pleasant. Occasionally we had some great moments together, but those were becoming few and far between. Many times when we were around each other, I felt I couldn’t do anything right. Whenever I opened my mouth, whatever I did, no matter how loving my intention—it would irritate her. She’d be exasperated and say, “Oh Mom!” or say nothing at all.
Her resentment hurt. I felt her disdain and judgment and didn’t know where it was coming from or what I’d done to deserve it. I could see she was trying to separate and be her own person, and I was trying to give her the space she needed. I was also aware of our differences, but they didn’t explain her attitude toward me or the distance between us.
Time after time I was driven to God and prayer—not as a last resort but because he told us to cast our cares, concerns, and worries on him (1 Peter 5:7)—and I definitely had some concerns for my relationship with my daughter. I asked for strength and wisdom to know how to be a support to her in this transition time. I knew prayer was the greatest influence in my children’s lives—especially now that they were gone from home—and I’d prayed countless prayers for her over the months and years. But nothing seemed to change in our relationship.
I just wanted my daughter back, the daughter I’d carried for nine months and held until she crawled and then learned to walk—the much anticipated only daughter whose birth was surrounded with so much joy it was like Christmas Day although it was November. I wanted the daughter back who’d giggled as I pushed her in the swing at the park, smiled with her shining blue eyes in pictures, and loved for us to hop on our bikes and ride to Braum’s for an ice cream cone. And who, after winter school days, even in her preteen and early teenage years, asked me to stop for hot cocoa and talk. I just wanted us to get along like we used to.
I loved my daughter immensely and didn’t understand why as a young adult she was so angry with me and why she kept pushing me away. I gave her—and our relationship—to God so many times I can’t count, yet the rift in our relationship lasted through most of her twenties.
Though I held fast to my faith during those years, I sometimes wondered, Will we ever have harmony between us or will her attitude toward me always be laced with hostility? Is our connection forever lost? Is she always going to be annoyed with me? Will we ever enjoy each other again?
I didn’t know. THE MOTHER-DAUGHTER RELATIONSHIP: A DUET OFSHADE AND LIGHT
We aren’t the only mother and daughter pair who’ve struggled or had tension in their relationship. It’s common for a mother and daughter’s interaction to be rocky during the transition from adolescence and the twenties and even through adulthood. The mom-daughter connection is an intricate, close relationship that is static and changing at the same time. It’s static because of the strong bond we’ve had since our children’s birth, and it’s changing because we’re human and our daughters are going through different stages of life, as we are as well. Even as our relationship spans the decades and seasons, it’s a paradox, and that’s why it’s complicated.
Think of all the history you have with your daughter, all the bonding and good times. First birthday and first day of school. First stitches and ballet shoes. School programs, Brownie Scout meetings, and inevitable skinned knees. First pierced earrings, lipstick, heels, and dates. Graduation and all the years and laughter and tears—and arguments—
The closeness of the mother-daughter bond holds much potential for conflict. Usually the conflict starts in the teenage years, if not before. When your daughter was little, she may have clip-clopped around in your red high heels and said, “Mommy, I want to be just like you when I grow up!” Yet when she arrived at adolescence, she started rolling her eyes at
your advice and letting you know that she didn’t want to be anything
Sound familiar? You’re not alone, but there is hope. I too found my daughter’s separating-transitioning-individuating times difficult, and often baffling, as you’ll read about in the pages ahead.
Yet today, about twelve years later, Ali and I have the friendship—the mother-daughter duet—I’d hoped for. We understand each other more, accept each other, and even appreciate our differences. We have forgiven each other for many hurts and made peace with the past. Most of the time we truly enjoy each other’s company and friendship. But it was not a quick process. It took a lot of work to get here. For a long while it seemed that when we were together, we clashed like a junior high school band more than we harmonized like a skilled orchestra—and there was no way we were going to sing a duet. We had no idea what a long journey it would be, but it’s definitely been worth the effort.
Along the way toward figuring out why things were strained between us and getting to a healthier, more enjoyable relationship, we discovered principles you’ll find woven through the stories and chapters ahead—like letting go, respecting and believing in your daughter, listening and taking care of yourself—and the powerful effect of forgiveness. All of these have helped turn our relationship around. CONVERSATIONS WITH MOTHERS AND DAUGHTERS
Every mother and daughter has a unique story of their relationship and life. That’s why Ali and I share our story as well as those of other moms and daughters of different ages and from different places. Over a period of many months, we interviewed many women. When I went to speak at a women’s event in Dallas, Texas, or a rural area of Kansas, the Washington DC area, or California, I sat down and talked with women about their mother-daughter relationships: What was the hot button or issue that brought conflict between you? What’s the best way you’ve found to connect? What are the communication barriers
—things you say that your daughter reacts to?
If it was daughters I was talking with, I asked: What does your mom say that makes you want to stop the conversation? What do you need from your mom? What can your mom do to help your relationship?
To moms we asked: What’s different about your daughter’s and your generations? What was your relationship with your own mother like? What’s a story you could tell me that shows how a turnaround happened in your mom-daughterrelationship?
Though when we started Ali intended to interview the daughters and I the moms, she ended up interviewing some insightful mothers and I learned so much from talking with daughters. In coffee shops, restaurants, and airports, in our neighborhood, church, and other cities, via e-mail and Facebook, Ali and I talked with daughters from college age to forty-something and with moms from their late thirties to their seventies. We heard what they love about each other and what hurts and annoys them, what they like to do together and how they reconciled after a period of distance—and we share many of their stories in the chapters ahead. IS THIS BOOK FOR YOU?
Looking into the past to process what had happened in our relationship is the hardest thing either of us has ever done. But we were willing to go there because we know what it’s like to come out of the struggle and conflict to relate as equals and adult friends and how enormously satisfying that is. Because of our experience, we want to provide hope for discouraged moms who think their daughters are too far gone, or for the mom who simply doesn’t understand her daughter or just longs for a closer, more connected relationship.
We’ve heard so many women talk about their struggles and hopes in relationship to their moms or daughters. They spoke with candor and angst when it came to past and present experiences. Ali’s section, “A Daughter’s Perspective,” is a portal to help moms better understand what their daughters might be feeling in order to gain more effective ways to
relate to them. In this part of each chapter, you’ll hear what your daughter might be thinking or has been trying to tell you for a long time. It’s our hope that it may even produce an “aha!” moment that can empower and encourage you.
Maybe as you read our story, you’ll think the issues facing you and your daughter are quite different than ours. Perhaps you get into shouting matches or exist in a cold war of silence because so many subjects are taboo, thus avoiding the issues that keep you apart. Your daughter is a woman now and thinks you’re still mothering her, so she pushes you away. Or maybe your daughter knows exactly how to push your buttons and relishes doing so. Or you raised her in a good church and now she’ll have nothing to do with your “religion.” Perhaps your daughter has moved across the country or across the world, and you wonder if the distance in miles reflects the disconnection between you.
Whatever the specifics of your situation, maybe you are thinking, I’m so discouraged with my adult daughter. I don’t know what’s wrong, but we just don’t get along. We surely don’t have the relationship I’d longed for.
Or perhaps, Our connection is good but I want it to grow. And sometimes I worry about the choices she’s making…
This book can help.
Regardless of your past, present, or impending future, you and your daughter can be reunited; your relationship can be more satisfying. It’s never too late to find the strength that comes from forgiveness and acceptance, the peace received from understanding and empathy. We hope that through the pages ahead you’ll find ways to step into your daughter’s shoes, or to reflect on your relationship with your own mother, or perhaps discover glimpses of hope and encouragement if your daughter is in crisis or estranged from you.
You’ll read some things we moms often unknowingly do and say that can either undermine or build the relationship. We’ve also tucked in countless ways to help you connect or reconnect with your adult daughter, as well as some building blocks for a lifelong friendship. Discussion Questions are added for you to gather some moms and have your own conversations about the issues in the book. There are questions for each chapter, ideal for discussion in a small group, book club, or for individual reflection.
Ali and I haven’t arrived. We are two very different, imperfect women who have worked on our relationship and learned to get along and enjoy and accept each other, but not without struggle along the way. We encourage each other and often make each other laugh. Yet we still have days when we are relating in an “off-key” way. We sometimes agree and other times disagree. But we’ve discovered an enduring bond—a mother daughter duet—that enriches both of our lives.
You and your daughter can too.
It starts with you, Mom, even if it seems your daughter is unwilling. You can make the first move. You can change your approach and find new ways to relate to her. And a new relationship can grow through all the seasons that are ahead for both of you.
Excerpted from Mother-Daughter Duet by Cheri Fuller and Ali Plum. Copyright © 2010 by Cheri Fuller and Ali Plum. Excerpted by permission of Multnomah Books, a division of Random House LLC. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.