Home   |  Issues  |  The Daily Star Home | Volume 3, Issue 38, Tuesday May 9, 2006


mothers & daughters
mirroring mixed emotions

What is it about moms and daughters? Why are our conversations so complicated, our relationships so fraught? What makes moms and daughters ricochet between extremes of love and anger? Mother-daughter relationships run the gamut, but have one common denominator: this relationship is probably the most powerful and influential relationship in a woman's life.

Mothers matter more than many women want to admit. Because a mother's opinion matters so much, she has enormous power. Her smallest comment – or no comment at all, just a look – can fill a daughter with hurt and consequently anger.

Alternately, moms, who have spent decades watching out for their kids, often persist in commenting because they can't get their adult children to do what is (they believe) obviously right. Where the daughter sees power, the mother feels powerless. Hence, daughters and mothers, both overestimate the other's power – and underestimate their own.

Ironically, the power that mothers and daughters hold over each other derives, in part, from their closeness. Though much of the conflict between moms and daughters is also true of mothers and sons, fathers and daughters, and fathers and sons, there is a special intensity to the mother-daughter relationship because talk – particularly talk about personal topics – plays a larger and more complex role in girls’ and women’s social lives than in boys’ and men’s. For girls and women, talk is the glue that holds a relationship together – and the explosive that can blow it apart. That's why you can think you're having a perfectly amiable chat, then suddenly find yourself wounded by the shrapnel from an exploded conversation.

Daughters often object to remarks that would seem harmless to outsiders. The complaint one hears most often from daughters (including me) is, “My mom’s always criticizing me.” The corresponding complaint from moms are, “I can't open my mouth. She takes everything as criticism.” Both are right, but each sees only her perspective.

Mothers might feel entitled, if not obligated, to give advice around everything from appearance and clothing, to food issues, relationships and marriage, knowing that women are judged by appearance – and that mothers are judged by their daughters' appearance, because daughters represent their mothers to the world. It may all seem horribly unfair but unfortunately that’s how it works – go blame our so-called social structure.

But most daughters want their moms to see and value what they value in themselves; that's why a question that would be harmless in one context can be hurtful in another. For example, a friend said that she was telling her mom of a successful presentation she had made, and aunty promptly asked, “What did you wear?” My friend exclaimed, in exasperation, “Who cares what I wore?!” In fact, my friend cared. She’d given a lot of thought to selecting the perfect outfit. But her mom's focus on clothing – rather than the content of her talk – seemed to undercut her professional achievement.

But it works both ways. As one mother put it, “My daughters can turn my day black in a millisecond.” For one thing, daughters often treat their moms more callously than they would anyone else. For example, a daughter invited her mom to join a dinner party because a guest had bowed out. But when the guest's plans changed again at the last minute, her daughter simply uninvited her mother. To the daughter, her mother was both readily available and expendable.

As a group, moms are held to very high expectations. We, consciously or unconsciously, demand that they love perfectly, live selflessly and never make mistakes. Daughters tend to lay on their mothers the expectation of being super-mom, while many mothers tend to displace their own needs on their daughters. Yet mothers are just women with the same needs, the same self-esteem issues, and the same weaknesses and strengths as everyone else. If only we could see that. Such myopia hence leads to all the friction.

Friction in the mother-daughter relationship is inevitable. Two women from two different generations, each with her own history, needs and agendas, are bound to clash. For example, most moms push their daughters towards the bonds of matrimony because they simply keep on reflecting the world they’d grown up in, where there was one and only one measure by which women were judged successful or pitiable: marriage. A mother, 9 times out of 10, probably doesn't know what to make of her daughter’s life, which is so different from any she could have imagined for herself.

Moms don’t intend to denigrate what daughters do and become, but the lens through which they view the world can’t usually encompass the one the daughters choose. Understanding this perspective takes the sting out of most of the “advice” moms give. All mothers hope that their daughters grow up to be what they have always wanted to be. If the mother always wanted to be a doctor, more than likely, she wants the daughter to become a doctor. If the mother never fulfilled her dreams of becoming a singer, more than likely, the mom wants her kids to take up singing.

But moms (and fathers alike for that matter) forget that the problem with wanting your kids to be what you want them to be is that you don’t take the time to get to know your children for who they are.

The one thing we must learn and understand is that a person has his or her own dreams and goals. You rob yourselves as parents from getting to know the unique individuals you raise and give birth to. But that’s an issue up to the parents to work out.

For now, as daughters, we need to realize we shouldn’t try to change our moms because we aren’t going to be able to change them. We have to try and focus on the positive sides of our relationship and accept our moms as people with faults. No matter how old we become, even after we become moms ourselves, our moms will tend to behave like mothers towards us. Who knows? Maybe becoming moms will help us understand their perspective even better and bring us closer.

What we need to realize is that no matter what their faults are, it doesn't change their love for us. And that we should let our love for them transcend whatever conflicts that may rise and help us towards finding our one, true best friend.

By Simin Saifuddin

thank your mother

Have you ever wondered how mothers look different from other women? If you look carefully you will see that their hair isn't always done in the latest style, and sometimes it isn't done at all. Their hands are not always manicured and they smell like the kitchen and the laundry room instead of the latest perfume. Their clothes are decorated with amateur artwork a testament to Junior's artistic inclinations.

She could even be working outside, all groomed and extremely fashionable, she could be someone’s boss, but you can be sure that even when she’s cutting that business deal, or going over those quotes, she’s got you at the back of her mind, and she’s worrying about you.

A mother is someone who was there for you when your little fingers used to curl up tight to make a tiny fist. She was there with you when you first smiled, took your first step or said your first gibberish words. She is the one who taught you how to make a ponytail and tie your shoelaces. She was there with a kiss and placating words when you scraped your knee.

A mother is someone who rarely sleeps late in the morning even on lazy Fridays. When you reluctantly quit your bed and sleepwalk into the dining room, you'll find her waiting at the table with your breakfast.

She can be so many things at a time. A handyman who can unclog a kitchen sink with her bare hands while Daddy struggles with the toolbox. She is a magical multitasker who can bake a cake with one hand and clean your mess with the other. She mends, cooks and sews. She washes, irons and scrubs mud off your shoes. A mother is someone who never gets paid, works the longest hours and gets very little rest.

She never takes the choice pieces. She eats chops and singaras that are slightly burned, always saving the best ones for the kids and Daddy. She finishes the food that you did not eat.

A mother is someone who has versatile tears. They show anger, weariness, hurt or happiness. She will cry with you after your girlfriend leaves you, and then she'll cry for you when you pack your bags and leave for studies abroad. She spoils you and scolds you, and occasionally makes your life miserable yet she is the one who waits up for you when you stay out late at night. She waits with supper ready on the table. She is always there.

She is someone you always take for granted. You can count on her to always be there for you unconditionally, to accept you for whoever you are. She will have high hopes for you even if you are failing, pray for you even if you hurt her often, care for you even if you don't care back.

A mother is also someone who is rarely thanked for all the selfless things that she does.

By Shahnaz Parveen
Model: Zeenat, Eshaba,Riffat and Rawan
Photo: Zahedul I Khan



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