From Tension to Tenderness —healing Mother/Daughter relationships

By Marlou and Laurie Newkirk

CONNECTICUT PRESS CLUB AWARD WINNING ARTICLE! Originally appeared in Fairfield Magazine, Wilton Magazine and Bedford Magazine.

It’s been said that one of the toughest relationships in the world is the one between mothers and adult daughters. I can vouch for that. My daughter, Laurie, and I love each other but in the past I drove her crazy and she frustrated me to distraction. We had good times, fun times, but we also had screaming battles, slammed down phone receivers, and shed many tears.

Twelve years ago, things came to a head, and Laurie, along with her friend Barb (another struggling daughter), plunged themselves into research and, ultimately, launched the award-winning website (yes, with three rs—as in what every daughter yells in frustration…“Mother-r-r!”). The website focuses on healing. Laurie and Barb were surprised by how quickly they gained an international following and by how many daughters emailed them to say, “I thought I was alone in my struggles.” But then mothers also started emailing them to say, “What about me? My daughter drives me crazy!” Turns out we are all in this together.

Research shows that daughters want the ‘perfect’ mother. Mothers want the ‘perfect’ daughter. Each wants the other’s approval. Every time a mother or daughter blames the other it can cut at both their souls. Together, Laurie and I have developed strategies to deal with criticism, giving advice and being more positive.

It might be a surprise to a man, but it won’t be to a woman, that a turning point in our relationship revolved around Laurie’s hair. One of the biggest “buttons” between mothers and daughters is appearance—hair, weight, clothes. We were having lunch at a restaurant and I said, “I’m going to leave soon to get my haircut and you need one also. If you come, Tina might squeeze you in.” Laurie snapped, “Leave me alone, and don’t tell me what to do.” She abruptly got up and walked outside.

When she returned, to my surprise, Laurie said she was going with me to the stylist. It had been a seminal moment for her. While she was outside she had looked at her reflection in the window and realized she did need a haircut. She had learned through research that a mother sees her daughter’s hair as her responsibility, because it of course was. For years a mother is in charge of washing, brushing, detangling, and carrying ponytail holders for hair emergencies. Laurie realized I wasn’t criticizing her, I was showing love. As for me, I had registered the pain behind her snarling. I had to be willing to let her go with her hair hanging in her face because it’s her hair. Now my approach is more gentle—I ask her if I can suggest that she needs a haircut. It’s a small shift that’s made a world of difference.

Liking Each Other
In the charming movie, Lady Bird, Lady Bird feels so criticized by her mother that she says, “I wish that you liked me.” Her mother responds, “Of course, I love you.” Lady Bird persists, “But do you like me?” Every time Laurie and I talk now we try to tell each other one thing we like about the other. I admire her creativity and she admires my tenacity. By doing this, we’re erasing old wounds and reinforcing friendship.

Advice Giving
I am a great advice giver: to anyone, anytime, anywhere. Laurie did not appreciate this quality. It was a significant source of our battles. Laurie wanted to share with me but said it was getting too painful. She felt ‘controlled’ and that I didn’t have faith in her ability to work things out. In My Cousin Vinny, Lisa wants to help her fiancé Vinny, a lawyer. He is struggling with procedure in his first trial. She says, “How can I help you in this procedure?” I have now adopted that line instead of going straight to giving advice.

It’s a Process
We realized ultimately we are building a friendship. If you were trying to make a new friend you would be polite, positive, and kind. I recently fell and hit my head and because I take a blood thinner I had to go to the hospital and get a CAT scan (I am fine). As I lay on the gurney in the ER waiting for the test, Laurie and I talked about the fragility of life and how glad we were for all the healing we have done. At that moment, we realized how much grace there is in forgiveness.

One response on “From Tension to Tenderness —healing Mother/Daughter relationships

  1. S. Cohen

    I have a daughter and a son which I struggle through same situations. My daughter went for haircut with her friend and ended up cutting her hair too short. My daughter said it is a health cut MOM it will grow back. Going with me MOM is too stressful. My son has a condo in the Pines with the stress of Covid over our heads, my son expressed MOM you cannot handle this situation. My reply is no one can handle this situation It puts distance between our relationships. You are walking on egg shells when you want to ask of their life. Their reply to me is you do not have confidence in my decisions. So I stand back and wait for them to call me.

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