The Mother-Daughter Dance
By: Hollye Dexter
I’ve recently found myself riveted to The Judds series on OWN. Riveted. As they say in the opening credits, the mother-daughter relationship is the most complicated in the world. Many books have been written on the subject. Many. Therapists have bought second (and third) homes because of it. And I am the front row student, watching, studying, reading every My Mother My Self type of book there is. Suffice it to say, this is one huge problem area in my life.
I have a complicated relationship with my mother. Well, I guess not so complicated, since we’ve been completely estranged for almost a decade. This is one puzzle I alone can not solve, no matter how much therapy, how many books I read. My relationship with my mother was always painful, to the point where it finally exploded into smithereens. And not over small petty disagreements…I’m talking stuff that someone could end up in jail over. We’ve reached an insurmountable wall, and I have no idea if we will ever break through it.
When I became pregnant with my first child in 1985, I never entertained the thought that my baby could be anything other than a boy. I couldn’t allow myself to even imagine replaying the painful mother-daughter dance. And yet, on June 4th, 1985…I heard the words “It’s a girl!” as my newborn was placed into my arms. My brain went into a panicked fog…a girl? Oh god. Was I strong enough to escape the fate of my own mother-daughter patterns?
My daughter was born exactly six months to the day of my birthday – my polar opposite. Before she was born, I had spent years working in a nursery with babies, and had a natural way with them. But my own daughter had terrible colic, and there was nothing I could do to soothe her. When I would hold her close, she would use her tiny newborn arms to push away from me, screaming. When I would nurse her, she would projectile vomit everything back out. This was the first time in my life I couldn’t soothe a baby, and she was my very own!
I later had two sons who would nestle happily into my shoulder, fall asleep in my arms, cuddle and cling to me, and cry when I left the room. But not my strong-willed daughter. Nope.
She seemed to be unhappy about coming into the world. I have a photo of her when she was about 4 months old, sitting in her infant seat with a huge pacifier in her mouth, and a Texas–sized frown on her tiny forehead. She was one pissed-off baby.
As she grew older, it got better. The first time she laughed, I cried tears of joy. Until that moment, I didn’t believe I could ever make her happy.
As she grew, she became a delightful, beautiful child. Smart as a whip, outgoing, confident. She always had lots of friends. She was creative and funny. She was a natural born leader, always spearheading some kind of project, whether it was lemonade stands for charity, an all-girl rock band, or a movie she had written and directed. She was 100% enthusiastic about life. And she thought her mom was pretty great. I still have the hand-scrawled letters and cards to prove it.
Then came the teen years, and the pissed-off little baby who rejected everything about me was back. There was nothing I could ever say that was right. I existed for the sole purpose of showing her who not to be. She rejected my way of life, my morals and ethics, my lifestyle, the place we lived, our pets, anything that had my touch on it- she rebuked. I endured it with as much grace as I could muster, reading and rereading “Reviving Ophelia”, understanding this was all part of the individuation process. “I’m not YOU!” was one of her frequent teenaged retorts. “I don’t believe what you believe!”
As a teen she refused the healthy foods I prepared. She scoffed at my yoga practice, never wanted to hike with me here in the beautiful hills where we live, and my belief in positive thinking was as ridiculous to her as someone believing in fairies.
Yet at twenty-five, she has a regular yoga practice, goes hiking with friends, and adheres to a healthy, organic diet. And she happens to be one of the strongest manifesters I have ever known. All she has to do is say aloud – I want a new job, and her phone starts ringing with offers. This has literally happened to her twice now. But still- she shakes her head at my belief systems.
This week my daughter, on the edge of turning 26, is in Israel forging a path all her own, and I, well… I don’t know who I am to her. At this point, I feel like I have no place in her life unless she invites me in. I am done raising her. I don’t give advice or opinions unless she asks. She is still keeping her distance, narrowing her eyes with great skepticism when observing my life and decisions. Still individuating? Or just way too involved with her own exciting young life to want to hang around with Mom? I don’t know.
And so I, like my mother before me, like her mother before her, and it probably goes back generations, am right where I never wanted to be: smack-dab in the middle of the complicated mother-daughter dance. I never learned nor witnessed a loving mother-daughter relationship. I thought if I was a loving mother the rest would simply fall into place. But apparently I missed some important steps. I can only hope and pray that in time I will figure it out, because I love my daughter, and this is not a solo dance.
The Judds were able to wrap their issues up in a neat and tidy bow by the end of the four-part docudrama. Gee whiz, wouldn’t that be nice? I guess all I need is a full-time therapist who follows me everywhere, three personal assistants to send messages back and forth between us, and to write and perform a song of love for both my mother AND my daughter on stage in front of thousands, and I should be all set.
And when I don’t know what to do or say I could just snap my fingers and shout, “Line…?”
[Photo Credit: Flickr Member: Racing Mix]