It is one of the most complex of all inter-generational relationships. And, very powerfully vertical in its form. Things move from above to below, from the older mind to the younger, from the nurtured to the nurturer. And, yet, it is strangely cyclical in nature. In the course of time, advice flows from the younger mind to the older, decisions are made by the younger regarding the wellbeing of the older, and the nurturer becomes the nurtured.
It’s the story of a mother and daughter
There are all kinds of mothers and all kinds of daughters. Sacrificing mothers, self-absorbed mothers, responsible mothers, irresponsible mothers, ignorant mothers, aware mothers, happy mothers, depressed mothers, ideal mothers and abusive mothers. And, there are different kinds of daughters: Laidback daughters, bullying daughters, timid daughters, rebellious daughters, daughters who think that mama knows best, and those who think that mama knows nothing!
A relationship like no other
The mother-daughter relationship, no matter how healthy or how troubled, plays a major role in the way every daughter visualises and lives her own life. You love your mother and, yet, there are times when you need to remind her that you can make your own decisions. At times, she’s the last person you want to see, but she’s the first one you call for advice.
She is capable of playing the roles of both the father and the mother effectively, of the provider and the nurturer, of the disciplinarian, and the indulgent parent. This is probably the reason why it is usually the mother who is credited or blamed for the way a daughter’s life turns out. It’s easier for daughters to forgive imperfect fathers, not so imperfect mothers.
Mothers surely struggle with their own roles as well. A mother in most cultures is not allowed to be human. Her image is based on purity and fidelity, struggle, sacrifice and self-denial. More so, in Eastern culture where mothers have to fit into a stereotype. And, after a lifetime, for a woman, the love and pride that she feels for her grown-up daughter, mixed with a sense of responsibility for her wellbeing, can be overwhelming. As she watches every move of her daughter, she’s worried about her sexual safety, her survival in her relationships, her family after marriage, and her dealings with her own children. If her attempts to help in any of these phases are rebuffed, or she is considered meddlesome, and the hurt she would feel is quite often intense.
The roles that mothers play also depend on the culture that the mother and daughter live in. A very interesting cross-cultural comparison on adult daughters’ perceptions of the mother-daughter relationship was undertaken by Dr Mudita Rastogi, a licensed marriage and family therapist and professor of psychology in Chicago, US. Rastogi found that significant variations existed between different ethnic groups. Euro-American women wanted to do fun activities with their mothers, but also wanted to maintain certain boundaries. Asian-Indian and African-American women generally turned to their mothers for support, wisdom, and advice. Mexican-American women wanted to be dutiful daughters and help their mothers. However, all the women wanted respect and trust in their relationship with their mothers.
Writes Dr Karen Fingerman in Aging Mothers and Their Adult Daughters: A Study In Mixed Emotions, a book written for researchers, mental health professionals, and other behavioural specialists, “Although many aspects of the relationship change as daughters enter midlife, certain emotional qualities remain constant. In particular, mothers continue to influence the way daughters feel about themselves.”
Psychologists say that one of the features of development of adulthood is to understand that one is different psychologically, physiologically and emotionally from one’s parent. That one has her own separate identity. A daughter might continue to look at her mother as a role model, but understands that if she does not agree with something that her mother has done, she doesn’t have to imitate that behaviour and, in fact, consciously keep away from those traits which could possibly be negative. She can find out what is right for herself. Life has to be led keeping in mind the legacies of feelings and messages absorbed in childhood but, at the same time, by honouring our own truths. The mother has taught her to fly. Her wings have the strength to carry her on their own. Piggyback rides would no longer suit her.
The Gerontologist carried results of a study undertaken by Cornell University, US, which revealed that if mothers between the age group of 65 to 75 fell ill, they would unhesitatingly choose their daughters as caregivers. This was irrespective of their mental health, or even an abuse problem. The study said, “Gender was definitely the trump card. Mothers vastly expected that daughters would care for them, even if there were available sons.”
Even when we do not agree with the life that our mothers lead, our own lives and its experiences will allow us to learn and bring a better understanding and appreciation of what our mothers have done for us.
The mothering that we received as daughters has great influence on the roots of our behaviour, deeply buried and hard to see directly, and yet are the foundation of everything that allows us to grow as human beings. The more we improve the health of our emotional roots, the better we fare.
This also means that in the world of a mother and daughter, love is unconditional and judgments are quietly left behind.
A Loving Web
Sociologists and family therapists say that it is possible to intensify the bond between a mother and her daughter and make it free of shackles and more of a pleasure for a lifetime.
Know that perfection cannot be offered, nor expected in any relationship. That putting your mother on a pedestal is being unfair to her.
Forgive her for her imperfections. This doesn’t remain difficult when we remem-ber how.
She has forgiven our umpteen mistakes as children, teenagers, and as young adults.
Understand the times that she lived in and how they could have prompted her to behave the way she did. A lot of us have accused our mothers of being cowardly in terms of her relationship with our fathers and her in-laws, have called her regressive when she meekly gave-in to her dowry-marked marriage – that she did not show the dynamism she could have. Her time was different, the social and familial pressures were different, she was brought up differently and, so, she reacted differently. If we have daughters, we need to be ready to listen to something similar from them
Give attention to small gestures consciously. Do things for your mother without irritation and with the same feeling that she gave you as a child. Repay the love of that smiling woman holding you proudly in a black-and-white photograph in your house. She was beautiful then; she’s beautiful now.