“Mother Daughter Me”: A Memoir of Turmoil By Katie Hafner

Journalist Katie Hafner, in her new memoir Mother Daughter Me that Parade called one of the top five nonfiction reads for this summer, writes about the year her 77-year-old mom “Helen” (not her real name) moved in with her and her teenage daughter. In a Q & A on her website Hafner states, “Mother Daughter Me asks a central question: what is our obligation to our parents as they age, particularly if those parents gave us a childhood that was far less than ideal?”

More from the publisher:

Filled with fairy-tale hope that she and her mother would become friends, and that Helen would grow close to her exceptional granddaughter, Katie embarked on an experiment in intergenerational living that she would soon discover was filled with land mines: memories of her parents’ painful divorce, of her mother’s drinking, of dislocating moves back and forth across the country,  and of Katie’s own widowhood and bumpy recovery. Helen, for her part, was also holding difficult issues at bay.

Kirkus Reviews further explains some of the family history as well as the decision to seek therapy:

Helen was the product of two brilliant but narcissistic parents who grew into a woman hungry for attention. When Hafner’s father didn’t give it to her, she had ill-concealed affairs, which led to divorce. Then Hafner and her sister Sarah watched as her mother ‘ricocheted between involvements with various men,’ drowned herself in alcohol and lost custody of her daughters. The ‘lucky one’ in her family, Hafner eventually found true love. But when her husband died suddenly, she and Zoë, who was the first to sense ‘the emotional energy of unfinished business’ that tied the author to her mother, became traumatized. Desperate to bring peace to a feuding household, Hafner engaged the services of a family therapist, and their sessions revealed the extent to which both she and her mother denied the reality of their situation.

Hafner’s new husband, Bob Wachter, excerpts on his own website a key moment in her realization of “how sideways things went” a few months into their shared living experiment. While buying groceries with her mom, Hafner struggles with such internal conflicts as whether or not the family therapy has a chance of working. She states:

…If she’s not going to give therapy an honest try—and she seems to distrust Lia already—that’s surely going to make things harder. In no mood to be agreeable, I watch her struggle with her good hand to retrieve a half-gallon of Lactaid from a high shelf. Pretending I haven’t noticed, I turn my back and, cruelly, offer no help.

When we get home, my mother pulls from her bag a receipt for something I had asked her to buy for me a few days earlier.

‘You owe me ten dollars,’ she says.

You owe me a childhood.

And with that I realize that perhaps I should have sought help before creating this situation. For years, whenever I told people about my childhood but assured them that my mother and I were now close, that I held no anger, they would ask, ‘How can you be so forgiving?’ I always responded with this: You can spend your life carrying hurt and anger toward a parent, or you can get over it and move on. All that time I had thought I resided safely in the latter category, but now I’m seeing that I’m still in the former.

I’m not over it. Not one little bit.

Below Hafner introduces her memoir video-style:

Selected Reviews

Kirkus Reviews: “Heartbreakingly honest, yet not without hope and flashes of wry humor.”

Louann Brizendine, author of The Female Brain“…a beautifully written, intimately provocative, and courageous unpeeling of the deep rhythms of love, hate, fear, and redemption in three generations of females. I love this book!” 

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