By: Shannon Ralph
“Probably there is nothing in human nature more resonant with charges than the flow of energy between two biologically alike bodies, one of which has lain in amniotic bliss inside the other, one of which has labored to give birth to the other. The materials are here for the deepest mutuality and the most painful estrangement.” –Adrienne Rich
I am not sure that I have ever read anything that better sums up the complexities of the mother/daughter relationship than the above quote by Adrienne Rich. Deep mutuality and painful estrangement. I experience both of these on an almost daily basis with my young daughter.
I have three children. My oldest son is 12 years old. My twins—a boy and a girl—are 8 years old. Like every parent, I love all three of my children equally. I adore my two boys with every fiber of my being. I love my older son’s humor. His zest for life. I love my younger’s sons sweetness. His unabashed affection. They are my heart and my soul. They are my joy.
But I would be lying if I said my relationship with my sons was the same as my relationship with my daughter—the little girl who is like me in so many wondrous and horrible ways. The boys are easier. Our relationship is calm. Steady. My relationship with my daughter—who is only eight years old and has not even entered the tumultuous throws of adolescence yet—is a roller coaster ride.
Like a roller coaster, it is thrilling. Exciting. It makes me laugh out loud and swell with delight. When it is good—when we are in mutuality mode—it is quintessential joy. In the same way, it can make me cringe. It causes me to daily throw my hands up in the air and scream. Like a roller coaster, it makes my stomach drop and panic creep into my chest. When it is bad—when estrangement creeps in—it is hell on earth.
Unlike a roller coaster, however, the mother/daughter relationship is a ride that never ends.
My daughter and I have a long road ahead of us. We are so alike that I often feel like I am at war with myself. That any conflict between us in a conflict within us. So before the war starts in earnest—as my daughter enters tweendom and then teendom—there are things I want to tell her. There are things I want her to understand.
- I am not perfect. Up to this point in your young life, I have been Mommy—with a capital M. I am the one you want when you are hurt. I am the one you lash out at when you are angry. I am your soft spot to land. Your comfortable place to be your authentic self. Up until now, I have been your everything. But the day is quickly approaching when you will come to the shocking realization that I am not perfect. I can be selfish. Stubborn. I have been known to be judgmental on more than one occasion. Self-righteous. Obnoxiously competitive. Self-conscious. I could fill this page with a list of my faults, all of which you will discover one-by-one as the years go by. You may even see one or two of these faults in yourself, which will make them even harder to stomach. I promise to strive to be a better person—a better woman and mother—for your sake. But, like you, I am still a work in progress.
- You are not me. And you do not have to be. I love the things about you that make us similar. I love that you have my stubby hands (I’m sorry that your twin brother got your grandfather’s elegantly long, slender finger.) Though sometimes painful to watch, I secretly adore that you are shy like I was as a child. I love combing your straight-when-you-want-it-to-be wavy-and-wavy-when-you-want-it-to-be-straight hair—so like my own. It thrills me to no end that you have already developed the hunger for books I have enjoyed my entire life. Your fierce competitiveness. Your stubborn refusal to admit when you are wrong. I love you for all these things that make us alike. But I think I love the things that make us different even more. You are your own person. You are not me. You will never be me. And I do not expect or want you to be.
- I only want what’s best for you. See, the thing is that I look at you and I see this amazing, kind, wickedly funny, strong, brave, freakishly intelligent, nurturing, wondrous little girl. I see potential that is limitless. You can do and be anything you want to do and be. When I put pressure on you to do better—to be better—it’s because I know you can be amazing. You are amazing. I only want what is best for you. As your mother, I feel like my job is to steer you toward the best you. You may not always like my steering. You may resent my expectations. But my job is to set a high bar. If I do not, the world will set the bar and you may not realize how capable and talented you are. To see you squander your potential would be devastating to me. So I promise to always be there to push you. To encourage you. To hold you to a higher standard than you may want to hold yourself. Because I love you and I know that you are phenomenal.
- I will support you no matter what you choose to do. Will I be disappointed when you drop out of medical school to become a (starving) artist? Will I roll my eyes when you choose 17th Century Russian Literature as your college major? Will I bite my tongue and struggle to keep silent when you move in with your jobless, ambitionless boyfriend? Will I fight the urge to scream when you mar your perfectly porcelain backside with a butterfly tattoo? Will I question your sanity when you vote Republican? Yes, yes, yes, yes, and definitely, most assuredly yes. I will, undoubtedly, try to talk you out of some of these choices—most of these choices. I may even beg you to reconsider. Remember, I have set the bar high for you. But will I stop loving you? Will I stop supporting you? Never. There is nothing—no mistake, no bad choice, no foolish decision, nothing—that you will ever do to lose my support. I am a fan for life.
- We will not always get along…and that’s okay. Mother/daughter relationships are complex. They are fraught with expectations—both realistic and fantastical. I will not meet all of your expectations and you will not meet all of mine. You will dislike me. You will even hate me at some point. But that is okay. You and I are flawed creatures. Neither of us will ever be perfect. We will fight. We will disappoint one another. We will say things we can’t take back. We are equally stubborn, I’m afraid. I’ve already seen glimpses of the difficult years we will have ahead of us. But we will come out the other side stronger—more resilient—for having had one another. And you will always have me. No matter where you go. No matter what you do. I will always be on your side.