A Daughter's a Daughter for the Rest of Her Life
by Christine Gray
One of the great joys of the last few years of my life has been my developing relationship with my daughter. She will be 21 in just a couple of months and I feel very surprised and honored to be a meaningful part of her life as she moves into adulthood.
It wasn’t always like this. The last few years of high school I felt estranged from her, sealed off from the private person she was inside. She tells me now that she really didn’t share herself with anybody, but I know I made it almost impossible for her to approach me or to reach me, either. It wasn’t that I am such a private person, but more that on some level intimacy is very threatening, especially with those closest to you.
My relationship with my own mother was certainly less than perfect. We fought like cats and dogs. My mother felt free to share her opinions about what I did or didn’t do to meet her expectations, and was often savagely insulting in the ways she expressed herself. I learned to be the same way. I caught myself acting in ways I swore I would never act with my own children. I wanted to strangle myself for the things I said in the heat of anger. Being mortified about your behavior and truly changing it, though, are two different things.
Fortunately for me, a series of events conspired to force me over the edge into a new way of being in the world. I suspect it is really the result of a lifetime of working on myself, in one form or another, but to stand here now and see the fruits of this effort show up in my life is a very gratifying experience.
Five years ago at Christmastime, my brother died of melanoma, a particularly aggressive and virulent cancer. He was diagnosed in August, and by the end of the year he was gone. This event had a devastating effect on everyone who knew him, from the clients he counseled, to his friends and professional colleagues, to his family. Especially hard hit was our mother. She and my brother had had a rocky relationship, to say the least.
But somehow, through a miracle that sometimes happens when a loved one faces death, they repaired a bridge of love. My brother spoke to her every day by phone, and what started out as an obligation became by the end, a lifeline. There were times when she was the only one who could comfort him. She was the only one who could lift him from his despair into a place of more peace. She was eighty years old by then and had walked many hard paths and lost many loved ones. Facing death herself, she was perhaps the only one with whom he could open that inner door to the unthinkable.
There was a beautiful and shining payoff for me in this. After my brother died, my mother, perhaps shattered into a new way of being, opened up. For the first time in my life, I saw her, perhaps, as only her dearest friends had seen her before. She became someone I could really talk to, someone who could reach out of her own grief to comfort and support me.
She passed away last year at the age of 85. I was only just beginning to see her as human instead of rigidly locked into that role she insisted upon, as mother. I remember her telling me once that she was my mother, not my friend. I was 17 or 18 and trying desperately to reach out to her. I was crushed. I am happy to say that by the time she died that was no longer true. She had indeed become my friend.
So, when I shared with a friend of mine how overjoyed and amazed I was that my daughter had called me and shared some deeply troubling events that had happened with a boyfriend, the amazement was from the bottom of my heart. I would have died before I shared like that with my own mother when I was her age. I was stunned, almost, that she could or even would share like that with me. It was very gratifying to realize that I had not recreated what I most feared, the same relationship as existed between me and my own mother.
In the few remaining years before she died, I saw miracles happen in the way my mother and I communicated. It is such a blessing for me, and I hope for her that we had time to learn to relate differently before she left this world forever.
I am blessed to see my daughter becoming my dear friend at such a young age. I pray this relationship continues to deepen and enrich our lives. I find myself putting out extra effort to be my authentic self with her, to be honest and truthful in the life stories I relate. I want her to know me for who I am, warts and all.
I look around now at the women who are my friends and listen to their own stories of how they relate to their daughters. I look at the women I don’t know and watch and listen to how they relate to their daughters, young or old. I think more deeply about what it is like to be a daughter and how critical that role of mother in your life can be. It is a rich and fascinating stance to examine as a woman, especially as I watch my daughter grapple with the trials of a world so different from mine in many ways, and so much the same.
All of this makes life itself more fascinating. Perhaps it is this kind of shift in perspective, from mother to friend, a broadening of the role of mother that helps me carry this change over into the larger world too. What have I learned, what have I lived through, that might be useful to others? What do I see now with new eyes? Where is there pain I might be able to soothe? For in learning to relate differently to my own mother, I also learned to forgive. Forgive her for her imperfections, forgive myself for my imperfections and forgive my daughter for being who she is.
As a result I see the anger, even the hatred that exists in some relationships in a new light. In my experience it has been an unfortunate and destructive twist in a desire to really be seen and loved. How fortunate I have been to see what happens when this twist disappears. The light that comes through is nothing short of Divine. I am truly a lucky mother, to have a daughter I can call friend.