When Emily Keech’s daughter, Jean, suggested that they attend a mother-daughter workshop aimed at improving their relationship, Keech didn’t think the group counseling would do any good.
“As far as I was concerned, our relationship was irreparable,” says Keech, 83, of Tustin. “Jean and I never agreed with one another. Without fail, she’d say ‘black’ and I’d say ‘white.’ ”
Although she felt it was hopeless, Keech decided to honor her daughter’s request and try the workshop. To the older woman’s astonishment, she was thrilled with the results.
“I was totally surprised at how we’ve managed to work things out,” she says. “My daughter and I have become much more tolerant of one another. Now instead of constantly battling and criticizing one another, we actually talk.”
As Keech sees it, one of their main problems was a failure to reach an adult-to-adult relationship. Keech continued to play the mother, and her 60-year-old daughter kept rebelling.
“Although we should have been over this a long time ago, we weren’t,” Keech says. “Because my daughter and I are very different, we do things differently. My biggest mistake was running with a safety net, instead of letting her bounce and do things her way. From the day your daughter is born, you want to protect her. It took me a while to realize that even if I didn’t agree with what she wanted to do, it was her responsibility and life, and I had to let go.”
Not letting go of daughters is a common problem for many mothers, says licensed clinical social worker Lynne Conger of Orange Outreach in Orange, which provides individual, marriage and family counseling, including regular mother-daughter workshops. Conger says it’s harder for mothers to treat daughters as adults because of the parallels inherent in the mother/daughter bond. “Even though life circumstances are different, mothers were once daughters themselves and daughters often become mothers,” says Conger. “Being of the same gender also means that mothers and daughters face similar challenges throughout their lives.
“It’s natural for mothers to want to spare their daughters any pain and to be threatened when their children show a need to be different. But it’s an important part of maturation for daughters to experience struggles for themselves,” Conger says.
Mothers and daughters need to develop separate identities, Conger says.
“The mother-daughter bond is our first attachment in life, and it’s a profound one,” she says. “Our relationship with our mother influences the way we connect with other people and how we feel about ourselves. If women have issues with their mothers that don’t get resolved, they are likely to struggle in other relationships, such as with spouses and their children.”
Keech’s daughter, Jean Braun, agrees that the mother-daughter bond is important.
“She’s the only mother I have, which is why I wanted to get on better footing with her,” says Braun, an Irvine accountant.
For Braun, the key to getting along with her mother was simple. “Once I started treating my mother like I treat friends and co-workers--with respect, patience and tolerance--our relationship improved,” she says. “Unfortunately, I think we often feel that our family will be tolerant, so we don’t treat them as well as we do other people, and that really isn’t fair. (Now) we look at each other as people, not mother or daughter.”
Braun has a daughter and says that their relationship is the best it’s ever been. “Although we experienced some problems when she was growing up, my daughter has been married awhile and has four children. We can really talk as adults now. After she had the kids, we started seeing more eye-to-eye, which has made our relationship very comfortable,” she says. “She has started thinking that maybe she doesn’t know everything after all and will even ask for advice.”
Braun says that one of the things that helped her relationship with her daughter was Braun’s ability to let go.
“I will tell my daughter when I see her doing something that might cause trouble at some point, but I state it as my opinion. Telling her my beliefs is something I’d feel guilty (about) if I didn’t. Once I tell her, what she does with the information is her business,” she says.
This method of distributing advice works well for Braun’s daughter, Lisa Cuomo, 32, a stay-at-home mother of four who lives in Murrieta. “My mother is not a meddler. She never tells me what to do, and I appreciate that. I do ask for advice sometimes, and what she has to say can be very helpful.”
Claudette Varanko and her daughter Natalia were ready to experienced a change in their relationship.
“I wanted to stop being the perpetual mother with my daughter--it was really weighing me down,” says Claudette, 50, a legal nurse consultant in Westminster.
“I welcomed moving from an adult-child relationship to an adult-adult relationship. Before things changed, I found myself doing most of the talking and telling my daughter what to do. Now I do a lot listening. It was nice to put the responsibility for my daughter’s life in her lap. When she succeeds, it’s on her own merit, not because of what I suggest. And when she fails, it’s not my fault, and that’s a relief,” she says.
Natalia Varanko, 23, also welcomed the change in their relationship. “We had gotten to the point where we had to let go of each other,” says Natalia, an art exhibits administrator in Pasadena. “I was graduating from college, starting a new job and living with my boyfriend. I really wanted a friendship with my mother, but every time we talked, I felt like a 5-year-old again. She would constantly remind me to do things like pay my car insurance. Although I understood that she was just worried about me, I would get angry when we talked and not call for a while.”
By attending the mother-daughter workshop at Orange Outreach and learning to communicate with and understand one another, the Varankos now have a better relationship.
One fundamental lesson for them was learning how to communicate effectively and express their needs.
“I’ve learned how to tell people how I feel and why I’m feeling that way, which is something my mother and I never did before,” Natalia says. “We’ve both learned how to communicate our true feelings to one another and with other people in our lives.”
While talking to each other, Natalia came to understand that her mother also has needs and feelings.
“As children grow up, they are very needy, and everything revolves around them,” Claudette says. “Now that Natalia is an adult, I wanted her to realize that moms and dads are people too, and we have our needs. When she started asking me about my days and took an interest in what was going on in my life, that made me view her as an adult, and our relationship improved.”
Delving into their family history has also given Natalia a better understanding of her mother. “Finding out about my grandmother and how she treated my mother has really helped me understand my mother,” Natalia says. “Because of restrictions in my grandmother’s past, she tended to limit my mother, which just made my mother more determined. As a result, my mother is a very driven woman, which is something I really admire and try to emulate.”
As much as she enjoys their adult relationship, however, Natalia admits there are times when she just wants her mother. “During tough times, you never stop wanting your mom there to hold your hand, and the great part is I know my mom will always be there for me.”