As Dick and I were unpacking books for our new bookshelves, we got into a debate about book placement.  For my part, until we actually take the time to organize our books library style, I wanted them grouped by genre, then size, then sub-grouped by hardback or paperback.  I realize this is ridiculously anal of me, but it would really bother me if we weren’t at least trying to organize things as we went along.  Dick, on the other hand, wanted to place them on the shelf haphazardly confident that “someday” we’d get around to re-organizing them.  When the word “someday” is dropped during the execution of any household project, that’s a cue for me to take over.  Someday always equals never.

So, I insisted on doing things my way which annoyed Dick.  He was so annoyed with me that, in the heat of the moment, he said a very, very stupid thing.

“Sometimes, you are so much like your mother…”

Felt that one didn’ chya? Like a kick in the stomach, right?  Any man who mutters these words out loud is clearly a man who doesn’t value the sanctity of marriage or cherish his life.  As my granny would say in her best hillbilly drawl, “Them’s fightin’ words!”  

Identifying the source of Dick’s stupidity doesn’t require pushing the easy button.  He’s male, and thus clueless. But as I administered a generous dose of the silent treatment to Dick, I couldn’t help but ponder some bigger questions…   


Q1. Why it is that every other woman I know has a complicated relationship with her mother?

Invariably when I run across a female friend with a complicated relationship with her mother there are a few common descriptions of mom:

  • Clingy
  • Needy
  • Meddling

Of course there are others, but I’ll go on record with the fact that these are the most oft used.

Given that our mother’s generation was supposed to be the first “liberated” generation of women, how did so many of us 30-somethings end up with moms who are described with terms usually reserved for the stereotypical 50’s era mother-in-law?  Was it something about their generation, or is it just a fact of life?

I’m starting to think it’s a fact of life. I don’t like to admit it, but from time to time, I remind myself of my mother.  From our shared love of bread & cheese to our chubby knees, the mom in the mom in me keeps creeping out.  Our mothers serve as our primary female role models so their words, opinions, and preferences have a profound effect on us.  Some of their influence was bound to rub off on us.

On the other hand, I have to give consideration to the fact that my mom’s generation was thrown into a man’s world with little preparation.  Many women of my mom’s generation were taught that girls are to be seen & not heard. My mother tells stories about how she was taught that girls are to be obedient servants to their parents – period, or risk ending up an unattractive spinster.  When the product of an upbringing that is filled with the message to comply at all costs, meets a society in the midst of massive social upheaval demanding that she become the liberated creature she was never taught to be, it’s no wonder she, and so many like her, come across as needy & clingy.  Years of mixed messages, chronic confusion, and a never ending fight for acceptance by one’s family will leave anyone feeling and acting like the perpetual victim.


Q 2. How can I prevent this from happening with me and my daughter?

Much to my annoyance, Dick enjoys reminding me that Tabitha and I are already well down the path to a complicated relationship.  Despite wanting to be the strong female role model of generosity and tolerance, my true self shows through from time to time.  

For instance, Tabitha picked out a dress to wear to school a few weeks ago.  Frilly pink with a mod Marimeko flower print, I couldn’t have approved more of her fashion sense.  Thrilled for my approval, Tabitha trundled off to pick out shoes.  I suggested her purple mary-janes to compliment the purple accents in her dress. Tabitha returned with a pair of ragged, faded white sneakers.

“Help me put on, Mommy,” Tabitha begged, thrusting the pair of filthy shoes into my face.

“No, no, no, no…you can’t wear those with that gorgeous dress.  Go get the purple ones.”

“I don’t like the purple ones!”, she screamed stomping her little feet.

“Those shoes do not coordinate with that lovely dress you’re wearing.  Either the dress needs to go or you need to wear proper shoes,” I insisted.

“Fine! I’m going to change into something else, then!”

Tabitha stormed out of the room. A few minutes later, she came back in wearing a pair of stained shorts, a faded t-shirt, and the old sneakers.  I said nothing to her, knowing that it was better to hide my disapproval.  From the gleam in her eye I could tell she felt she’d won a tiny victory over her meddlesome mother. 

A bemused Dick turned to me and said, “You know you could’ve just let her wear what she wants.  She’s 3 1/2.  There’s plenty of time to help her obsess about her wardrobe.”

I had to admit that he was right.  I got so caught up in my vision of her as gorgeous little “me spawn” that when she wanted to assert her own personality, I couldn’t let go of the dream.  To pick a battle with a 3 year old over wardrobe when there was nothing inherently inappropriate or dangerous about her choice of shoes was foolish of me.  Besides, Tabitha is strong-willed and it’s a characteristic I don’t want to discourage. With her smarts and her exceptional determination, she’ll go far in life, even if she is wearing the wrong shoes with her outfit. 

So, Lesson #1: Pick Your Battles.  That leads me to Lesson #2: Live your own Life.

Anyone who fancies themselves to be a sentimental romantic and/or a child of the 80’s probably recalls watching “The Thorn Birds”.  One of the many relationships featured in the mini-series is between the heroine, Meggie (played by Rachel Ward), and her mother, Fee, a bitter & distant woman (played by Jean Simmons).  At one point in the storyline, Fee is confronted with her lack of interest in her daughter.  She explains that daughters are of little use, since they simply remind a mother of her own painful struggles; her own failings.

That explanation has always stuck with me because I think there’s some truth to it.  That’s not to say that mothers only see themselves in their daughters. But I think the temptation to project oneself onto one’s daughter is always there.  And, if I’m to avoid the clingy, needy, and meddlesome labels I’m going to need to keep in mind that my life is mine and my daughter’s is hers. It’s my job to raise a loving, tolerant, person who contributes to the betterment of the world.  Tabitha is not my do-over.


Not every woman I know struggles with a complicated relationship with her mother.  Many of us have great relationships.  Often, we’re even best friends.  I think those relationships are rare, wonderful and should be cherished.  

I’m not sure yet if I want Tabitha to grow up thinking of me as her best friend.  Right now, it’s hard enough to have her think of me as her mother.   The constant burden of my children’s futures still weighs on me, transforming our relationship in ways that are yet to be seen.  

For now, I embrace my newfound perspective on mother/daughter relationships and I look forward to one day reclaiming my “me” after she and her brother are grown – hopefully into the healthy, happy people I always knew were trapped inside the kidiots I adore today.  No doubt the decades will go by faster than I can comprehend, but at least there’s still time to stop myself from walking in all of my mother’s shoes.  

With relationships as complicated as these to keep me on my toes, at least I can take solace in my best friend, Dick.  Occasional stupidity aside, he already knows the clingy, needy, meddlesome person I really am and he loves me, anyway.  With his gentle reminders (not like the one that started this whole thing) maybe I’ll be able to keep those parts of myself better hidden from the children than other moms.  Or maybe we’ll raise the kinds of people that are more like Dick – analytical, loving, curious and ever accepting of people – despite all their flaws.  Especially those flaws that belong to their significantly flawed mother.

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