Years ago, a mentor recommended reading Motherless Daughters by Hope Edelman.  My mother was alive and well, so I didn’t see the relevance.  It sat untouched in the basket near my bed for years until one day after the birth of my daughter I decided to read it anyway.  To my surprise, it opened a window to understanding the generational impact of the untimely loss of a mother and helped me grasp the legacy of complicated mother-daughter relationships in my family.

When my grandmother was dying at home in hospice care, we phoned each other at least once a week.  We had never talked that frequently before and I learned more about her during that time than I had in the previous 26 years.  She was my last surviving grandparent and I wanted to know all I could before her generation slipped away.

One day, my grandmother told me her first memory as a child was being held up to her mother’s coffin.  She was four years old.  Her father eventually remarried a sickly woman that my grandmother and her older siblings disliked.  When her sister and brother moved out, she was left to care for her ailing step-mother.

My grandmother dreamed of moving West to work on a dude ranch but never found the courage or opportunity to escape.  Instead she met my handsome, popular but often mercurial grandfather at a barn dance and became a wife and mother.

My mom often said my grandmother was the perfect mother in many ways—she took her children to lessons she had only dreamed of having, was an excellent Swedish cook, kept the house tidy and their clothes clean, and rarely if ever raised her voice.  But something was missing.  My mother never felt a strong emotional connection from her.  And since history in the absence of awareness often repeats itself, this was the story of my mother’s and my relationship except our house was a mess and my mom yelled.  A LOT.

So it goes without saying I have a few little issues around mothering. When I found out I was having a daughter, I was overjoyed and petrified.  I had three years of experience as a mom to my son but something about the mother-daughter relationship made me extra jittery.

My hope and prayer then and that I still carry today is that I can have the emotional connection with my son and daughter that my grandmother and mother and I never had.  It’s a bit overwhelming to aspire to a level of connection I’ve only observed from afar—in movies and books and mother-daughter acquaintances—because most of my close friends and all of my family have complicated relationships with their mothers, too.

And already it’s been so much harder than I thought.  When my daughter, Ana, expresses big emotions, I want to run, quell, or explain them away.  And at times, that’s exactly what I’ve done.  But I’m slowly developing a deeper acceptance and stamina for difficult feelings.  Because my uneasiness with my daughter’s emotions is really about my uneasiness with my own.  Growing up, I learned we don’t share TOUGH feelings or truthsWe shut them down.  FAST.

So I’m unlearning as much as I’m learning when I force myself to be still and sit with Ana or Alex when they’re upset without running or quelling or explaining–even when the feelings are so strong and raw they claw at my core.  It can be unnerving and at times makes me wish I had a drug of choice to turn to–a drink, a pill, a bag of chips, mindless surfing, shopping, or perfecting–anything to take the edge off.  But I remind myself that this is the life I want: to be fully present even in the painful parts.  Because this is the only way I know how to build real connection—with God, myself and others.



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