Family Dynamics (Mothers and Daughters)

 

I have friends and family who are a lot like me. Then there are those not like me and not going away anytime soon. Some of them are very near and dear to me. One example is my own daughter who is a lovely human, a good friend to others and a good citizen. But she is a different bird than me.

 

When I found out I was having a girl at age 34, I got my wish. I named her in my stomach. She was funny, verbal and musical early on. She would sing along with the radio on tune. We’d go to a doctor’s office and she’d immediately say, “We all done.” And when baby brother was born 4.5 years later, she called him a parent stealer. Oh, she also had and still has auburn curly hair.

 

My daughter was my first child and my real first experience with a baby. 

 

I was the youngest of my family and never baby sat for infants. Honestly, I wasn’t fully ready for an infant, toddler, adolescent or a teen. I feel like I winged much of it. That factor along with Daughter being spunky and feisty set us up to butt heads. Conversely, Dad bonded with her from day one. They were and are similar people. He turned her into a Yankees fan. They have their own language (baseball speak) and it continues to this day.

 

Still, we were a functional family, I was a “good enough” mother. I did learn in graduate school why “good enough” parenting is good enough. As much as I was one who wings it and then worries, learning about “good enoughness” helped me to be a calmer parent.

 

I did my best to be a role model and teacher of culture, music and a love for the arts. I also encouraged our children to be to be well mannered, especially on the outside. This means they know right from wrong.

 

Yet, Mom and Daughter sure had it out throughout these years. One example, which ironically exemplifies all our interactions was as a teen, she’d ask me, “how do I look?” I would reply “it’s really pretty but it seems a little too short.” She’d reply, “That’s ridiculous, you are saying I’m too fat.” Need I say more?

 

As a young adult, my daughter has thrived. She’s got a cool job (sports related) and she loves her life. Old habits never die and recently there we were colliding again. Details escape me now because it’s all so about the dynamic of who’s right or who’s wrong, who started it, who insulted who, and really, the language we didn’t share.

 

Dad has seen this and has been an unwilling arbiter. From reacting strongly to ignoring both of us, he became another complicit cog in the wheel of these family dynamics. 

 

Flash forward to these past few weeks, when I had an epiphany. It was simple. I needed to change and by changing I changed this sometimes-painful dynamic. What did I do? I stopped, I paused, I loved. 

 

When an issue came up where we disagreed, I calmly disarmed her. I vowed to hold back on all judgments and personal suggestions. Anything I said had a goal of going forward. I let go of my angst, and voila, my spunky red head softened. Dad softened too, and our marriage felt a different kind of calm.

 

Have you heard about the family theory that likens families to systems? When one thing changes everything else changes too, positively or negatively. In my case, I was a moving part, and once I stopped, everything else changed, and then the system was a new system with all parts functioning together. Another family therapy tip is there are family units that make up the system. There’s the marital unit, who also comprise the parental unit. If this unit divorces, they still have that parental unit title and need to remember that to solidly deliver good parenting to their children. All the players need to function both independently and with each other.

 

Therefore, if these Mom-Daughter issues work their way back to our old system of butting heads, I will walk away. I’ll do a cross word puzzle, pick up a good book or take a nice walk. I want to keep this positive change going.

 

Deep breathes always help too. Family interactions can take the air away from us, so we must replenish ourselves with mental oxygen.

 

As for our parental and marital unit, I hate to admit, we are starting to age, or let’s say we are in a new (not necessarily the last, oy) chapter. Our children have entered into their adult lives. There’s so much more to come for all of us.

 

I’m so glad I get to be a better mother to both my children. Boundaries will be important. Lastly, do not forget yourself, the Mom. You are big part of the system. Never forget that you must take care of you in the process of family dynamics!

 

Beth

Beth grew up in Camden, New Jersey and majored in Education and History at Rutgers University and later obtained a Masters in Family Therapy at Drexel University. She’s married to her husband of 41 years with two young adult children—a daughter and son—who both work in NYC. She loves movies, Netflix, books, history, linguistics and exploring the human condition. From her extensive background, she’s accumulated many stories and lessons and looks forward to shaping the conversation.