As Mother’s Day approaches, it makes me give thought to the unique relationship a mother and daughter share and how this relationship is ever-evolving. My oldest daughter, Miriam, is a teenager and, as anyone with a teenager knows, this is a unique age that comes with a lot of “opportunities.” Navigating a time when your child still needs you but is trying to create themselves separate from you requires you to constantly be aware of your, and your child’s, emotions while not letting them take hold of you.
Recently, I found myself feeling exhausted after a long day that started at 6am. It was now 5pm and I had put on my Mom Hat. In that moment, I craved to be taken care of, even by myself. I wanted to take a shower, eat dinner, and unwind. Rather, I did things for my kids first, while navigating them through the emotions they had surrounding their long day. For instance “So-and-so was rude today”, “My teacher gave us a pop quiz”, “Evie fell on the playground”, “Finals are coming, I’m procrastinating” and on and on. I sighed and said, “Oh, days like this I miss my Mom.” Sometimes she feels so far away, even though she is in Los Angeles and I’m in New York.
Miriam looked at me confused. “That doesn’t even make sense. What does that mean?” she asked. I told her one day when she’s a mother she’d understand. That no matter what happens in your life you will always need your mom. No matter how much you grow and change, no matter how old you are, there will be times when you just crave a look or a hug from your mother that makes you feel safe and understood.
As a working mother of four, this pressure is always present. I am a provider, the manager of schedules, the nurturer of people’s wellbeing, nourishment, growth, and organization, not to mention my husband or myself. I have responsibilities to my work and career, and really, to myself. I know many reading this know exactly what this feels like. As mothers, we facilitate and hold entire lives together in a delicate balance. On those exhausting days, like the one described above, I find myself wishing for the care that only my mom can give me. The acceptance, love, and support that is unique to her.
It makes sense when you really think about it. We come from this person’s body, our body is created within theirs and after we’re born they continue to assist in the creation of our life. This is an unbreakable bond. Once we are born, our mother is our lifeline, the person who fulfills all of our needs. It is our first experience of unconditional love. This reminds me of something my youngest daughter questioned me about the other day. She inquisitively asked “Why do you still have a mommy if you can now do things for yourself?”
The science behind our bond with our mothers also speaks volumes about this connection. A new study shows that while cells from a mother’s body migrate to her growing baby during utero and take up residence in places like the heart and liver, they also find their way to the brain… and vice versa. We literally share cells with our mothers and while we are unique from them, this highlights just how deep this connection truly is. In form we seem like separate individuals, physically unattached from one another, and yet we are intrinsically linked.
As an adult, my relationship to my mother is different but that connection in unchanged. I still want her to nurture me but I find myself also wanting to nurture her at this stage in her life. All the dreams and aspirations she had for me are what I now find myself wishing for her. To love and be loved, to have amazing experiences, to continue to grow and enjoy life. I want to be a part of helping her to create a rich, fulfilling life. And I know that these are the things my daughters will want for me. It is a continuous, beautiful circle.
Abigail often exclaims “I want to be JUST like my mom!” Being so young, I wondered, what it was that she was even able to see in me that she would want to emulate. I realized, that it wasn’t a quality that I have or even anything material. It was the way I make her feel. She wants to create for herself, what I wanted to create for myself in my own mother’s image: safety, acceptance, belonging. A continuation of that unconditional love.
The knowledge that we are loved unconditionally creates a psychological space of safety and security. A blueprint that helps us to become the person we are meant to be. Psychologist Donald Winnecott observed that children playing in close proximity to their mothers display higher levels of creativity versus those who are farther away. This “circle of creativity,” as he puts it, is a space in which children and adults alike can take risks and try things out, fall and stand up again, fail and succeed, because they feel secure and safe in the presence of a person who loves them unconditionally. Adults have partners and friends that extend this circle of creativity. But that doesn’t mean we ever stop needing Mom.
As we grow up we create our lives anew all the time. As the kabbalists teach, we have come to this world to grow, to experience, and to reveal our potential. We came here to transform and the connection we share with our mothers, literally and figuratively, allows us to do just that. While many relationships will contribute to our lives and we’ll leave the circle of creativity with our mothers and create a new one with our partners and spouses, it will never change the longing we will have for our mothers.
Happy Mother’s Day to Moms everywhere.
** In the above blog post I expressed gratitude and awe at the bond between mother and child, both from the perspective of a mother and a daughter. As I wrote this blog I thought about mothers and daughters alike who may have learned more from their mothers about how not to be than to be. This post received several comments about the pain that some people carry from being adopted, having lost their mother or having had a negative relationship with their mother altogether. Those are all painful experiences to have, and I am truly lucky to have the relationship with my mother that I do. Which is not to say it was always fluid, we both worked at it over the years, continuously creating new lines of communication and creating healthy boundaries. As with any relationship it must evolve; requiring time, effort, and restructuring as our roles changed. The sad truth is that not everyone is blessed with a good mother.
No mother is perfect and most do their best, even if it may have been pitiful, it was probably their best. If this was your experience you can heal from it and learn from it. If you want to stop the cycle, you have that opportunity. You can become the mother yours never was, either with your biological children, through adoption, or through charitable work. Our desire to nurture, our innate desire to care and love is our likeness to the Creator and it is our responsibility to awaken our god-like natures. For daughters who have lost their mothers I recommend reading Hope Edelman’s book Motherless Daughters. Many people with difficult relationships with their parents have found this book helpful, Toxic Parents: Overcoming Their Hurtful Legacy and Reclaiming Your Life by Susan Forward.18