Dear Sister of the Heart,
We mamas are usually more focused on mothering our daughters, than daughtering our mothers.
For one, our adolescent daughters are usually living with us and our mothers are usually not living with us. Our daughters are dependent on us as they are slowly but surely growing into their independence. And we are responsible for our daughters, we are raising our daughters, and we are usually not responsible for our mothers, nor are we raising our mothers.
What is our role with our mother and our responsibility to our mother now? What exactly is daughtering for an adult daughter? Are you active in your relationship with your mom? Does she know the real you? My daughter Eliza would insist that you can daughter your mother no matter your age.
Eliza’s definition of daughtering was created with an adolescent daughter in mind. Here it is:
Being active in your relationship with your mom so that she knows the real you; balancing your independence with a dependable bond as you grow into your true self.
(My definition of mothering is: raising your daughter to become herself. But I digress.)
Over ten years ago, when Eliza was sixteen and we had been leading mother-daughter workshops for a couple of years, she found herself wanting to revolutionize adolescent daughters’ roles with their mothers (herself included) out of passivity and into activity.
She was done with the culture’s limited definition of daughters as the unfortunate recipients of their mothers’ sometimes annoying attention, the eye rollers, the ones with attitude. She sensed that teen daughters could have a conscious role in their relationship with their mothers that was important, fulfilling and definable. She knew, herself included, that adolescent daughters could be moody, but that they were also kind, intelligent, brave and loyal. She knew they felt deeply and wanted to make a difference in their world; and in their relationships. She had worked with hundreds of preteen and teen girls at that point and knew the territory.
So, she asked the girls in our workshops to help her come up with some definitions of daughtering. She would say to them, “Our mothers basically know what they are supposed to do- they are raising us. What is your role as a daughter?” The girls were delighted to bring daughtering to consciousness. Here are a few of the amazing definitions they came up with:
Daughtering is the act of showing your mom the world with fresh eyes.
Daughtering is realizing your mom is a person just like you.
Daughtering is honest love.
Daughtering is the job of blossoming, growing, like a flower.
Daughtering is the act of loving your mom and then having a daughter and loving her and then having a daughter and loving her, and so on…
She found that when given the chance, preteen and teen girls define daughtering along the lines of vision, identity and action. She found they have unique insights into the world and into their own family, specifically the line from mother to daughter, to mother to daughter- or the matriline. She knew they had the potential here, in the midst of the teen years, to take this matriline into their own hands: the patterns they could choose, the conversations they could dive into, and the life they could make.
What I am getting at here is this: if adolescent girls are in the habit of being in an active role with their mothers, and they don’t withdraw into peer culture, their daughtering muscles will be strong and instinctual from the start, and with no break in adolescence. If daughtering was a clear way of being, just as conscious mothering is, there might not be so many breakups between mothers and daughters during the teen years. Breakups that sometimes take decades to heal. And some breakups that never heal.
When I am coaching an adult mother-daughter pair who want to heal their relationship, I am always surprised by how similar it is to coaching a mom and her teen daughter. In fact, there are so many parallels that I ask that both adult mother and adult daughter read our book about keeping the mother-daughter bond strong through the teen years. I know it’s going to help them a lot even though it is decades later for them developmentally. All the adult mothers and daughters that I coach lost their connection, to some degree, during the teen years.
It’s not that the adult daughter is sometimes behaving “like an adolescent” in our sessions, though she might be. It’s not that the adult mother is walking on eggshells and taking her daughter’s feedback personally, in our sessions, though she might be. It is that the daughter has not felt significantly seen and heard for who she really is for a long time, if ever, and that she still hopes to find a realistic version of receiving this from her mother as an adult daughter all these years later.
The mother in the session might be at a loss as to how to meet her adult daughter for who she is and wants to be met now. There might be decades of misunderstandings, and repressed feelings and resentments, and also a history of the mother not feeling adequately seen and heard for who she truly was as a daughter by her mother. But I usually find that her commitment to be there and to really listen to her adult daughter’s experience can start to create a whole new chapter in their relationship.
Understandably, adult mothers and daughters alike, want to be mirrored and contained. They are craving a breakthrough so love can flow freely between them. These brave adult mothers and daughters are showing up with me, committed to healing their relationship, and their motherline.
Eliza always acknowledged me for inspiring her to daughter. She said she saw how I never gave up on working it out with my mother. And I finally succeeded, many decades after my adolescence.
Your mother may never be fully capable of meeting you there. I know my mother still has a hard time “getting” me and the life I have chosen. But I was able to see how hard she was trying, and her intention opened my heart. There is so much our mothers can learn from us, if they chose to, as we daughter them all these years later. Give yourself some credit that you do indeed have this same capacity to bring new perspective and energy and healing to your relationship with your mom, to be active in your relationship with your mother, whether she is alive or not, and whether she is able to receive it or not. And you will be inspiring your daughter to daughter you, now and later.
Once you’ve gotten a chance to listen to the Love Letter, leave a comment below —