Repeating the Mother-Daughter Dance

I just recently finished reading the book, Julie & Julia, by Julie Powell, on which the movie of the same name is based. Now, this is not a book about the mother-daughter relationship or anything even close, and, yet, there are still several references to the challenges of this relationship. For instance, at one point, when Julie snaps meanly at her husband in front of her brother she says that it’s “a searing reminder that I will inevitably turn out just like my mother, either a martyr or a nag or irrational or just grumpy about my bad joints.” Later she talks about how her “granny” and her mother used to fight a lot and how her granny’s nagging used to “drive my mother completely around the bend.” She says she figures her own mom is “terrified above all things of turning into her mother.”

While I’m not a mother myself, I’m guessing that most daughters as they become mothers swear that they will do things differently and have a different relationship with their daughters than they had/have with their mothers. I know I always thought that myself. But if that’s true and all these new mothers were actually able to live up to those goals, then all mothers and daughters would by now have fantastic relationships with no problems and there wouldn’t be a need for this website or any of the books or videos that are out there about the challenges of this relationship, and Julie Powell wouldn’t be talking about this in her book about her cooking blog…right?

So, what’s going on? Many of my friends are now at the age when their daughters are growing older and they’re now the ones whose daughters are saying, “Motherrr!” (cue the eye roll please.) How does this happen? I imagine that my own mother started out thinking she was going to be different from her mother as well. What is it about the mother-daughter relationship that causes the same pattern to keep repeating itself from generation to generation?

My mother used to tell my sisters and me to just wait until we had our own daughters and then we’d “get it back in spades.” I guess that was implying that we, the daughters, were the problem. And maybe as teenagers we were. But were we really? And what happens as we get older?

Sometimes the relationship does get better as the daughter matures and realizes that maybe her mother actually does know a thing or two. But most of the time it seems these mother-daughter conflicts continue into adulthood. In many ways the issues between mothers and daughters appear to be quite similar in later adult years as they were in the teen years. We’re still trying to exert our independence and our mothers are still trying to hold on. Maybe this is pre-wired into us at birth. Is it just in our DNA?

While it does seem to be an almost universal issue (this mother-daughter “thing”), it’s certainly not 100%. I do know women who have wonderful relationships with their mothers and also with their daughters, but I think these are more the exception than the rule. The challenges that most mothers and daughters seem to face range from minor to really severe and even daughters who have lost their mothers can be left with unresolved issues for years.

I can only speak for myself, but I know that there have been times – and still are – when I’ve blamed myself for the problems in our relationship…I wasn’t patient enough, I wasn’t a good daughter, I flew off the handle, I was unreasonable. But I think I can be a bit easier on myself (and on my mother too!) if I acknowledge that there really is something inherent in this mother-daughter dance that is just beyond our control. It seems to be the nature of the beast, so to speak. And if we call it a “dance” that implies that there is a give and take, dips and twirls, back and forth, a coming together and moving apart but, above all else, the potential for a really good time. Homepage

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