The mother-daughter relationship...well...what can we say? Sometimes our readers say it best. Below are some real life stories from our readers:
Contributed by Michelle Morgan:
While I was always close with my father, the normal bond I saw between my friends and their mothers never existed with my own mother. I was the youngest of three and from the time I was five I felt “different” due to the way she treated me as opposed to my older sister and brother.
I spent more than half of my life trying to make a relationship with her and half trying to put space between me and my mother to avoid the pain of her remarks and the fighting. My siblings said nothing when she went on a tirade and I learned early it was easier to avoid her than confront her.
As a teen, many of my friends would not come to my home due to the way she treated me. I didn’t get it. I got good grades, I didn’t get in trouble for fear of what would happen and yet I was the constant thorn in her side and often the object of her anger.
As an adult I learned from relatives and acquaintances that she often told them things about me that were flatly untrue. Terrible things. She went so far as to tell things to my own children who were young and impressionable. I became so angry with her for telling lies about me that I cut her completely out of my life for long periods of time.
As I reached middle age, my relationship did not improve with my mother but I had resigned myself after many years of reflection and therapy to make peace with myself if I could not with her.
All of our lives changed drastically over the last summer. My sister suddenly moved my mother into her home and told none of us. I knew something must be wrong but my sister not only did not tell us mom was suddenly living in her home but would not talk about what the catalyst to this move was. I had always envied their relationship which try as I might, I was never able to attain with mom.
After weeks of silence and no answers I decided to go to my sister’s home and see what the issue was. What I found was at once devastating and cathartic. My mother was delusional. She thought demons were after her and she was the angel of mercy. I tried to calm my mother who was very agitated when I got there but nothing helped.
I convinced my sister that she needed to be evaluated at a hospital. My mother had often told grandiose stories and I just labeled her a liar in my mind. While listening to the doctor who saw my mother, the pieces began to fall into place.
My mother was diagnosed with schizophrenia. How could I not have realized how serious her behaviors were for so many years? I was educated. So many times in anger I had said my mother was “sick” due to things she said or did to me but hearing those words from a doctor did not validate me as much as they stung.
I felt I had let her down by walking away and not pushing to find out WHY she had done so many things in the past. I was overwhelmed with emotions at this revelation but at the same time I was relieved to finally understand. What I had grown up in, I never questioned as being abnormal. It was what it was. It made sense looking back how she could “lie” and defend her words as truth. They were truth in her mind.
I also found myself hurting that I had given up for so many years when I didn’t realize she was sick. The guilt was terrible but I decided at this stage there wasn’t time for worrying about water under a long ago broken bridge. It was time to forge a new relationship.
My sister had great difficulty seeing mom in this new light insisting that the psychiatrists and doctors must be wrong and minimizing the issue. We had many talks late into the night. Slowly she began to concede as we went over incidents we had witnessed as kids that it was not as normal in our home as we once thought and that my mother was indeed ill.
Since I work with dual diagnosed and have witnessed psychotic breaks like my mother had, I took over the reigns informing and enlightening my sister who didn’t like the thought of medication to manage her delusions. I explained that while it might seem cruel to put her on anti-psychotics and sedatives so late in her life, the alternative would by far impose on her quality of life at this late stage.
I explained that her agitation going on for days on end (at one point prior to going to the hospital she had been up for nearly 6 days with little sleep screaming that demons were trying to kill her great grandchildren and her) would take a toll on her overall health and her heart.
I found material for my family to read on the subject. Slowly through all of the chaos of those weeks that followed her being admitted to the hospital and coming home, I watched my family begin the process of healing. It was tentative at first but slowly we all came to see each other in a new light and I also found myself coming to terms with understanding the woman my mother was.
It is not an easy road to walk but we are finally finding peace we sought for so many years.
Interview with Denise McGregor, author of Mama Drama: Making Peace with the One Woman Who Can Push Your Buttons, Make You Cry, and Drive You Crazy By CNN Entertainment
She gave birth to you. She nurtured you all these years. She fed you, clothed you, listened to your heartbreaks and headaches. And she guilt trips you like no one else you know. You love your mother, but ... she drives you crazy.
In her book Mama Drama, author Denise McGregor shows women how to free themselves from the hysteria that defines their relationship with their mother. McGregor was a recent guest on a one hour long chat with CNN Books. Here is a transcript of that visit:
HOST: Thank you for joining CNN Author Chat. Tonight our guest is Denise McGregor, author of Mama Drama. She explores the tension filled relationships between mothers and daughters.
QUESTION: What is a Mama Drama?
McGREGOR: A mama drama is that ongoing argument we have with our mothers that never goes away. There is an element of addictiveness to it, and we try to recreate this from generation to generation. There is also a sense of pervasiveness. A sense that it affects all of a woman's life, work and family. There is a sense of hopelessness and isolation; a sense that daughters will never have what they want from their mothers.
QUESTION: ...being a daughter, I know, can be tension filled. My mother and I get along far better now any suggestions for the older daughter and mother.
McGREGOR: It is interesting ... is mama drama age specific? It spans all ages. I have a girlfriend in her early 50s, and she is still waiting for her 80 year old mother to apologize. What is it that you want to create with your mother before she dies? Ask yourself that question ...
QUESTION: What is the worst drama trap?
McGREGOR: So many dramas ... so little time. The worst is giving your life over to your mother where you have no autonomy and you lose all your power to her. In chapter five of my book, I give specifics about how to not lose power. I suggest you slow your responses to your mother down, or don't respond at all. Giving yourself some leeway when speaking to your mother is powerful. The no response works as well. Loaded questions maybe don't deserve an answer.
QUESTION: What kind of impact can a mama drama have on a woman's self esteem?
McGREGOR: That's a good one. Women, and men too, judge themselves by how much love they feel from their mothers. That primary relationship has impact on every other relationship you have in life. It is very important that mama dramas get settled early on so that they don't become toxic to us all through life.
QUESTION: What are the warning signs of a Mama Drama?
McGREGOR Mothers know all of our vulnerabilities. The warning signs include anger and frustration. Also, you can feel like you are in a guilt loop. A woman might blame her mother and she might get a sense of being in the same old argument. There can also be some physical cues, like a pain in the neck, back pain, etc.
QUESTION Can boys and their mothers have mama dramas too?
McGREGOR Little boys can have issues with their mothers. I think their are differences between how boys and girls are raised, and I hope this is changing. Boys are encouraged to go out and be something in the world, whereas girls are asked to hold back in a sense. But if a mother treats boys and girls the same, certainly the mama drama can apply to both girls and boys.
QUESTION What about the 83yearold mother afflicted with Alzheimers What about a situation where all the patience in the world is not enough?
McGREGOR That is a very difficult situation It goes back to the core belief system I talk about in my book. If you are dealing with an ailing mother you have to look at her abilities now. With Alzheimers you have to stay very close to the moment; you have to find out what is redeeming about the relationship in the moment. It is not the time to do bedside therapy. You have to ask yourself what your motivation is to try to ask questions you might not have asked before. If you have an ailing parent, it is not the time to try to resolve things you havent resolved before. You have to look at your motivations.
QUESTION Denise, what is your comment on normal, wonderful motherdaughter relationships?
McGREGOR Good question I wrote the book so more women can experience a good motherdaughter relationship Good communication and contact are some of the qualities I look for. There should be a sense of honor honoring each others vulnerabilities. You should know each others vulnerabilities, but know that you all would never prey on those weak points.
QUESTION Does the drama continue in the absence of the mother, and if so, how can a woman resolve these issues if she has lost her mother before addressing them?
Contributed by Jenny Guediri - "Look for the Fat":
Once in a blue moon I get a message from my mother. It’s her form of nurturing, front and center at the Publix meat department, shortly after 2 in the afternoon. Oh, it’s going down on my immediate left: There is my mother, who passed last year at age 77, offering up her unsolicited advice as I reach for a steak and push my finger slightly into the beef inside the package.
“That’s not how you tell it’s good.” I look up in wonder. Did I misinterpret the tone? Nope, no smile. A little too loud, bordering on obtrusive but clear and assertive: the voice of my Mom. Yep, it’s her. The collective maternal consciousness of her generation, that is. The voice of immigrant pragmatic no nonsense mothers from around the universe.
“You have to look for the fat,” She counsels. Spoken like a true survivor.
Why are these women so big on fat? Too much is unattractive. “She needs to lose weight if she’s going to find a husband.” Excess is unhealthy. “How is she going to keep up? You need stamina to find a good man.” Not enough lacks flavor. “That one is too skinny. No hips. How will she carry my grandchild?”
Like the package of meat, a daughter needs the exact amount of fat. Curves prove her prowess. Bulges say forfeit and neglect. Women have been calculating for years, coordinating cross-cultural comparisons into a magical formula equating a daughter’s (and their) happiness.
I have already chosen the package with the optimal amount of fat. I’m good with what I’ve got. In fact, I went through at least nine packs before deciding on the one I’m touching. But the collective Mom caught me in a superfluous act and went in for the kill.
She’s making a connection, that’s all, and I’m supposed to be gracious.
The all-encompassing mother is with me, wanting to relive our dance. I get it. Women everywhere are just trying to help and I can either go with the flow, “Thanks, I’ll keep that in mind.” Or try a shot at challenging the old wisdom. Second guessing, without scientific evidence, is not good. I am from the mother-daughter land that comes not with a welcome so much as with a warning: If you are planning to be yourself, voice your opinion, go against the ancestral grain, you better:
a. Prefix it with all due respect
b. Speak loudly, preferably drawing the attention of others to give the impression you have allies
c. Be ready to feel guilty because by having your own voice, you have indirectly made your mother feel slightly off balance and therefore less in control
d. Watch it
So why do I bother to communicate my approach? Just take the advice and run. Make her day. But I have to put my two senses in, as if I’m going to bridge the mother-daughter generation gap. True, I see she’s annoyed and vaguely insulted. Exactly what is it again that propels me to share my way of interacting? It’s my mother, for goodness sake, and in real life my message was often lost on her. The same way her message, frustrated with that eternal, impractical, female sensitivity, was almost lost on me.
I admit that poking the package is a silly habit. Its progress for me since back in my vegan days, the thought of having to clean and cook meat, ergo touch it at some point, made me queasy. Though, that’s not the point. The point is assumptions can be a turn off. Opinions and the words that carry them can be harsh and disconnected.
When I end up saying thank you, I know I’ve misfired. Personally, I prefer when Mom appears in my mind. She’s still up close and personal, though I feel her energy lightly hovering above me. I know she is watching, giving me the unspoken ok. Sometimes, there’s sadness and a sigh of relief but her vote of confidence is all I need. It’s the faith and support that everything is going to be fine. Only now that she is gone, it’s all very clear.
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Contributed by Sherry Shameer Cohen:
Your website is wonderful. The content is so substantial and it’s very nicely designed. I know I’m going to blog about it as well again. I just don’t know when. Perhaps after Thursday’s parenting workshop. It’s called How to Raise a Mentch. It’s a Chabad thing at my son’s preschool. The thing is that all the Chasidic families (and we’re nowhere near Orthodox) are so calm. Ken and I are high strung.
We moved in with my mother because our townhouse wasn’t child-friendly. I love my mother, but she, well you know, drives me crazy. I’d worry more if we lived apart. She doesn’t believe in going to doctors. When we were in the apartment, she fell off a chair and broke two toes and kvetched about the pain. Duh! Thank goodness we were living with her when she jabbed her good eye. (She’s been blind since birth in the other eye.) “Oh, I don’t need a doctor. I’ll be fine.” She NEEDED surgery that day to save her sight. It took about 8 months. Even a week after the surgery, when she saw floaters, she didn’t want to go to a doctor. Is there any wonder why between her and Alex’s terrible twos that I need Xanax intravenously?
Visit Metro Journalist to read Sherry's Help, My Mother is Driving Me Crazy blog
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Contributed by Sally B.:
So here's what I get to deal with on a daily basis....
My mother is going to win an award!!! "And the trophy goes to Mrs. B for Filthiest Apartment Ever!" The trophy is a model of Pigpen surrounded by dirt. Ok, I am just kidding about this part but the rest of this email is true... She is having a "heavy duty" cleaning service there today, and it was originally scheduled for 2 hours, but the woman from the office called me to, as delicately as shecould, tell me that it is gonna take the whole day!!! And they sent in back-up, a second cleaning woman, plus they have maintenance men moving the fridge, stove, etc. Oh dear! I hope they are all wearing hazmat gear. The entire apartment is only about 450 sq ft, and the kitchen is only 4' x 4'. Oh my gosh, this gave me a laugh!! It's so disgusting but funny.
We have to laugh otherwise we'll cry, right???
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Contributed by Anonymous:
I am 45. For years growing up my mother yelled constantly and did not act as if she cherished me. She probably did love me but she did not know how to show it in ways that I needed. She was not abusive, it's just that she couldn't be bothered with a lot of the things that I cared about. She didn't know how to handle that I had my own mind, ideas, and interests. At times I was depressed and she just "pooh-poohed" it. She was not well equipped to be a parent of kids born in the 60's and never learned from her parenting mistakes.
My father died when I was 16 and in a lot of ways I became the one in charge. I guess to summarize, she took care of the "big picture" things like keeping the house when she had no job, paying the bills, getting my sister and me to the colleges we wanted, but when it came to any sort of conflict resolution, her solution was to slam the door and yell, so we had a household of yelling. She has always tended to try and take the easiest way out of things. She never apologized for some of the bigger things she did wrong. At age 26, after years of her spouting "get out of here!", I moved out quickly when I got a new job. Then she cried to my aunt that I moved out. I moved 100 miles away and liked it very much.
Fast-forward 15 years and her health is failing so we move her to a nice little apartment near where I live. It's a godsend in that I can be there for medical issues, yet she has her own space and has made many nice friends. In many ways she is a lot easier to deal with than years ago, but also she is very needy. I try to keep as much distance as possible. I realize it's not productive to think about things she did wrong 20+ years ago but I am sure it impacts how I feel about her today. There are snippets of nice times we have together these days, and I would like to have more of those, but she still manages to say or do things that push my buttons (probably not on purpose but she is so oblivious sometimes it makes me crazy!).
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Contributed by Alexandra D., Connecticut:
I just keep my mom at a distance....I am so busy I only see her 1-2x a month on average, and I like having my own life so when we get together we keep it short and sweet. I do talk to her but mostly about business, as she takes care of my kids when I work in another state. I don't actually see her because I leave/arrive home before she comes/after she is gone. However, I am giving her the chance to know her grandchildren and vice versa.
You can't choose your family...but you can choose your friends. As an adult, I make the choices on how to spend my time and who to spend it with. I love my mom, but we have different interests and that is ok - like I said, I just keep it short and sweet and that works for me. She is involved in volunteering and has a group of friends to get together with, so she can enjoy her own interests. This will all change when she can no longer drive, but I am living in the moment!!!