When it is difficult to have an authentic mother/daughter relationship
"Compassion is the fountain of forgiveness"
Dedicated to my siblings and of course, my Daughter Lulu, my relationship with you is why I work to be the best being I can be...
Beautiful People!! Let's go!!!
One of my intentions (and at the prompting of a number of my readers) is to share some of my struggles & successes with you. I believe as both an individual and clinical life/mindfulness coach, it is important to expose areas that we need continued growth and support in and to have no fear in admitting we are a work in progress.
Last week, during a session with my therapist/life coach I spoke to her about an exchange I had with my sister regarding my mother. The brief conversation centered on the fact that I could not be honest with my mother as it related to telling her that I was not home for the week, not only being away from home but spending the week at the home of my significant other. "Lying sucks," my sister told me when we ended the conversation; my response "I agree".
Now before I go any further, let me preface this by stating that my mother is probably the most resilient person I know; coming to the U.S. as an adult, acclimating to a non-Caribbean culture that during the late 60's/70s was not kind to Haitians, working hard to forge a life, raising her 3 out of 4 children after her husband left her in a very public and humiliating way, having to undertake the role of grandmother and part-time caregiver to her daughter's son while she (daughter) was trying to navigate new motherhood as a teenager in high school, being responsible for immigrating, supporting and housing family members from Haiti to New York, raising the 3 children of her brother who passed away (a few months later, the mother would be killed in Haiti) eventually adopting them as her own, to her recent challenge of being diagnosed and beating both COVID-19 and Pneumonia simultaneously. All of this- EXTRAORDINARY.
Now one may say "You are a grown adult, living your own life" yes I am a grown adult, and if it were that simple, I would have been able to not only be completely transparent with my mother but have honest conversations of experiences, traumas that have impacted my life, be in a space of comfort with her, she be to me, what I am to my daughter-again not simple at all.
In our culture, Western culture, mothers are generally idealized or disrespected. It’s viewed as a very black or white issue. There’s no place for daughters to put their authentic, complicated feelings about their mothers, without having to suppress them entirely or accept the label of “ungrateful daughter.” From a patriarchal perspective, ANY critical examination of the mother/daughter relationship on the daughter’s part is equivalent to “mother blame.” This false equivalence has been an effective way to shame and silence children about their true experiences of their mothers and stalls their full individuation in our society. Now imagine this in a non-Western culture such as the Haitian culture-where norms and societal views as it relates to raising children, daughters in particular are complex.
There are Haitian mothers from my mothers' generation (mom is 82) who have solid relationships with their daughters-I do not want to give an impression of generalizing as no parent is the same regardless of having the same cultural/ethnic background.
One of the most problematic and common beliefs an adult child can have is, “My mother gave me life. I owe her ” Of course, there’s nothing wrong with a genuine appreciation for all that she may have done for you. However, the feeling of “owing” your mother is something very different and a painful illusion that can bring an enormous price. My price has been not being my authentic self with my mother-creating a facade to which she has been comfortable with, not me and in that process cultivating a relationship based on falsehood than honesty from a very early age.
Ways that mothers can get the idea that their children “owe” them may include:
Feeling deprived or not valued in other areas of their adult lives
Lack of insight about their own childhood history
Childhood histories that involved abuse, neglect, or trauma with little or no therapy
Possible mental illness
The belief that mothers hold the power over their children absolutely
An adult child expecting emotional labor from her mother makes her a hostage to her pain. Often if this pattern starts in childhood (as it did with me), it continues until the daughter is an adult, causing her to experience self-doubt, guilt, suppressed rage, imposter syndrome (my therapist dropped this bomb on me-we will delve into imposter syndrome in a later blog) and problematic relationships, among other symptoms.
For generations past, and for some today, being a parent meant providing food, shelter, clothing, and education. Emotional needs were not seen as important as physical needs. Children were commanded to respect their parents by major religions. Like objects or pets, “children were to be seen and not heard.” Issues like addictions, mental illness, financial struggles, abuse were simply not talked about. People believed that if you pretended they didn’t exist, kept them secret, then everything would be OK. I have realized that this is not true. These issues don’t “go away” when you pretend or try to forget. They are present in our everyday struggles.
Pain from our mothers gets passed down to us from two main sources:
The degree of inherited trauma or abuse that she may have experienced in her family of origin which she may unconsciously pass down to some degree.
The cultural Mother Wound; the pain of being a woman in this culture and how that pain gets passed down through the generations.
In addition to my therapist stating my role with my mother is that of having "imposter syndrome"; we came up with ways to take off the mask of the imposter and work towards being as authentic with her as I best can:
de-couple my mother’s sense of entitlement from my own self-care
take up space without expecting abandonment
attract a romantic partner with a capacity for equal reciprocity
voice a clear "No" to people who expect silent complicity with my own subjugation, however subtle
no longer equate empowerment with loneliness
The taboo of confronting the complexities of mother/daughter relationships has long stalled the process of healing women individually and collectively. It’s important that we see the truth however uncomfortable, that healing is NOT mother blame. It is an essential part of being a conscious, mature adult. In fact, healing (and not passing it on to the next generation) is the ultimate expression of maturity and personal responsibility.
"So do you ever think you can be your true authentic self with your mother?" my therapist asked in closing; I replied, "I can try to be; instead of creating responses that are false in order to appease her, I will stay away from being placed in that position-that is the best I can do while I work on what we came up with so that for her remaining days in this life, I can cultivate some semblance of emotional health and stability in terms of our relationship."
A work in progress, work towards healing...