Nov 16

Mother-Daughter Relationship Memoirs (3 Books)

Mother-daughter relationships are featured in the following three nonfiction books that offer many and varied personal accounts about real-life issues.

I. Mother Daughter Me by Katie Hafner (2013)

Hafner writes about her own mother-daughter relationship in light of what happened 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?”

Widowed Katie had hoped that Katie and Helen’s bond would improve and that Helen would develop a closeness with her granddaughter. Per the publisher: Instead of “fairy-tale” dreams come true, there were “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 reports on a crucial decision: “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.”

II. Still Here Thinking of You: A Second Chance with Our Mothers by Joan Potter, Susan Hodara, Vicki Adesso, and Lori Toppel (2013)

This memoir arose from a writers’ group addressing mother-daughter relationships. Excerpts of their stories can be found on their website.

Kathleen Reardon, Huff Post Books: “This is storytelling as art. The authors excel in their ability to pull you into their recollections knowing…that you are out there vicariously living through their revelations and your own similar, heartfelt and heartrending reflections.”

III. What My Mother and I Don’t Talk About: Fifteen Writers Break the Silence, an anthology compiled by Michele Filgate (2019)

Danielle KurtzlebenNPR: “…(T)here are four main topics that these writers aren’t talking about with their mothers: terrible things their moms endured, terrible things the writers endured, what their moms were like before they were moms and the ways their moms failed to be good moms.”

More from NPR about these stories:

…(O)ur mothers still mess up — sometimes in life-altering ways. It’s about how, despite our love or desperate need for them, we mess things up too. And it’s also about the gut punch that happens when some children are forced to legitimately wonder just how good their mothers’ intentions ever were.

But then, it’s about how much more livable those relationships might be if someone just said those three magical words.

Those words are not ‘I love you’ but, rather, ‘Are you OK?’ Or, even more difficult: ‘Hey — I’m hurting.’

An important conclusion by Kirkus Reviews“…(S)ome readers may want to have their therapist on speed-dial.”

Dec 04

“Daughter Detox” from “Unloving Mothers”

One of the conundrums for the daughter of the emotionally unavailable mother is puzzling through how her mother can be physically present and emotionally absent at once. For the young child, this is emotionally confusing and, as the child matures, it may stay that way and create a well of deep self-doubt. Peg Streep, author of Daughter Detox (Psychology Today)

Peg Streep knows all about “mean mothers” and the need for “daughter detox.” Her book Mean Mothers: Overcoming the Legacy of Hurt was previously featured on this blog, so today’s post is about her more recent Daughter Detox and its companion workbook in which “unloving mothers” and their effects are explained.

In the 2017 Daughter Detox: Recovering from An Unloving Mother and Reclaiming Your Life Streep outlines seven stages toward healing:

  1. Discovery: recognizing the eight different types of toxic maternal behaviors (see Mean Mothers post) and realizing any of these may have affected you
  2. Discernment: assessing the damage more closely
  3. Distinguish: “allows us to see why so many of us end up in unsatisfying relationships, chose the wrong partners, or are unable to develop close friendships”
  4. Disarm: unhealthy patterns and trigger responses are among the behaviors examined
  5. Reclaim: learning empowerment and starting to make healthier choices
  6. Redirect: changing how to relate to your mother
  7. Recover: developing a plan for moving on with healing

For further assistance, Streep’s The Daughter Detox Guided Journal and Workbook: A 7-Stage Process To Help Recover from an Unloving Mother and Reclaim Your Self-Esteem may prove even more effective as a self-help guide.

Also available are many blog posts by Streep. Check out the following links at her website and at Psychology Today.

In one post from last year (Psychology Today) Streep lists and explains 12 things daughters of toxic moms wrongly learn. Click on the link for details.

1. That she’s to blame for her mother’s treatment of her

2. That she can fix the relationship — with her mother or anyone else

3. That her essential character is set in stone

4. That her feelings are illegitimate (and not to be trusted)

5. That the peace is always worth keeping

6. That it’s normal for people to act hurtfully or use hurtful words

7. That independence and interdependence are mutually exclusive

8. That boundaries are like walls

9. That someone always has to be in control

10. That people aren’t to be trusted (especially women)

11. That love is a transaction

12. That she can’t be healed

Another interesting Psychology Today post by Streep lists five wishes, along with suggested strategies, that unloved daughters often have. It’s emphasized that these are beyond the basic wish to be loved by one’s mother and/or to understand why one isn’t loved by Mom.

There isn’t an answer, of course, to the question, ‘Why doesn’t my mother love me?’ The chances are good that even if she were able to admit to herself—which is unlikely—she wouldn’t be able to answer it. More importantly, as long as you keep asking the question, you remain focused on your mother and remain in her orbit. The only person you can change is you.

You can go to the link above in order to read fuller descriptions of these five wishes:

1. Feeling secure about decisions

2. Being able to act rather than react

3. Being able to accept herself, perfectly imperfect

4. Being able to manage her emotions

5. Feeling free of the past

Material from blog posts such as those mentioned above can of course also be found in Streep’s Daughter Detox book and workbook.

May 09

“The Joy Luck Club”: Mother-Daughter Issues

Suyuan: Not expect anything! Never expect! Only hope! Only hoping best for you. That’s not wrong, to hope. Jing-Mei ‘June’ Woo: No? Well, it hurts, because every time you hoped for something I couldn’t deliver, it hurt. It hurt me, Mommy. And no matter what you hope for, I’ll never be more than what I am. And you never see that, what I really am. Mother-daughter dialogue from The Joy Luck Club

The above lines from Wayne Wang‘s The Joy Luck Club (1993), a film about the lives, past and present, of four Chinese women and their 30-something Chinese-American daughters, are the most memorable from my long-ago viewing.

From Janet Maslin‘s film review, New York Times: “…both sweeping and intimate, a lovely evocation of changing cultures and enduring family ties. Admirers of the best-selling novel [by Amy Tan] will be delighted by the graceful way it has been transferred to the screen. Those unfamiliar with the book will simply appreciate a stirring, many-sided fable, one that is exceptionally well told.”

There’s a narrator, June: “…Ming-Na Wen has the pivotal role of June, who is off to find her long-lost siblings and whose going-away party becomes the pretext for bringing all these characters together. June is still mourning the recent death of her mother, which makes it odd that the party is so lavish and jolly that it includes barely a trace of grief.”

Roger Ebert, rogerebert.com, further explains the premise: “The ‘Joy Luck Club’ of the title is a group of four older Chinese ladies who meet once a week to play mah jong, and compare stories of their families and grandchildren. All have made harrowing journeys from pre-revolutionary China to the comfortable homes in San Francisco where they meet. But those old days are not often spoken about, and sometimes the whole truth of them is not known.”

Generations clash: “In America, the mothers find it hard to understand the directions their daughters are taking. Some marry whites, who have bad table manners. They move out of the old neighborhood into houses that seem too modern and cold. One daughter despairs of ever satisfying her mother, who criticizes everything she does.”

Arguing last year for The Joy Luck Club “to be forgiven by Asian Americans”—the ones who’d rejected it under the pressure of it being the only film representing this particular population—Inkoo Kang (Slate) wrote:

The epic, gut-wrenching, emotionally layered melodrama gives tear-jerkers a good name…(I)t’s still surprisingly resonant, even modern. In the China scenes, the mothers fight for survival amid war, sexual assault, and life-destroying marriages. Lindo gets off relatively easy by ‘only’ being affianced to a stranger at age 4. (In her teens, she cleverly schemes to escape her arranged marriage.) As a girl, An-Mei learns that her mother, who became a lowly fourth wife after the death of her first husband, was raped by her new spouse, then had her child from that attack stolen by a more powerful wife. These traumas influence how these mothers raise their Chinese American daughters, most of whom are on the verge of marriage or divorce. ‘You don’t know the power you have over me,’ cries Lindo’s daughter, Waverly, fearing that her mother doesn’t approve of her fiancé. ‘Nothing I do could ever, ever please you.’ But Lindo, who had been fearing that her swanky, corporate-lawyer daughter is ashamed of her, is determined to make Waverly understand—by telling her own journey toward valuing herself—how much she trusts her adult child’s judgment and ability to make her own choices. The scenes in which daughters Lena and Rose reclaim their self-worth from the men in their lives are as satisfying and relevant as any in feminist movies today.

I’ve often considered re-seeing this highly female-centric film. Watch the trailer below:

Dec 15

“Terms of Endearment”: Mom-Daughter Drama

It just so happens that Greta Gerwig, the writer and director of this year’s highly popular indie movie Lady Bird, recently revealed that one of her favorite movies is Terms of Endearment (1983), which, like Lady Bird, features a conflictual but loving mother-daughter relationship.

Interestingly, “Wesley Morris noted recently in the New York Times that over the last 34 years, only two best-picture Oscar winners (‘Terms of Endearment’ and ‘Chicago’) featured two or more major female characters who actually talked to each other” (Michael Phillips, Chicago Tribune).

The film was based on Larry McMurtry‘s novel, also titled Terms of Endearment, which came out in 1975 and is briefly summarized on Amazon: “Aurora is the kind of woman who makes the whole world orbit around her, including a string of devoted suitors. Widowed and overprotective of her daughter, Aurora adapts at her own pace until life sends two enormous challenges her way: Emma’s hasty marriage and subsequent battle with cancer.”

Vincent Canby, New York Times, describes the gist of Aurora and Emma’s mother-daughter connection in the movie adaptation:

The film is the story of a possibly smothering mother-daughter relationship that is immediately defined in the film’s very first scene: A young Aurora Greenway ([Shirley] MacLaine) insists on waking her infant daughter, Emma (later to be played by the equally incandescent Debra Winger), to make sure the baby hasn’t succumbed to crib death, while the voice of her off-screen husband tells her, in polite terms, to lay off the kid. Aurora’s problem throughout ‘Terms of Endearment’ is that she can’t.

Watch the trailer below:

In a nutshell, over the course of 25 years a lot of interesting things happen. Emma marries Flap (Jeff Daniels), whom Aurora dislikes, and has a few kids. Flap is unfaithful. And while Aurora has a push-pull romance with Jack Nicholson‘s character, Emma fields interest from John Lithgow‘s. As in the book, Emma eventually is faced with cancer, an experience that, needless to say, intensifies the dynamics between her and her mom.

Just last May Joe McGovern, ew.com, wrote the following accolades: “The film won five Oscars including Best Picture, and holds up miraculously today as perhaps the very best huge-hearted Hollywood weepie of its era. Though Terms is often hilariously funny — in large degree thanks to the comic spontaneity of Winger’s performance — it’s the soulfulness and poetry of the movie’s final act which gives it unmistakable classic status.”

And back in the day, Roger Ebert (rogerebert.com) had praised the film’s “ability to find the balance between the funny and the sad, between moments of deep truth and other moments of high ridiculousness.”

Back to the present: According to several reports earlier this year, producer/director Lee Daniels said he was in the process of planning a remake that will star Oprah Winfrey in the Aurora (or otherwise named) role. Stephen Galloway, Hollywood Reporter, noted it would take place “in the ’80s and include a storyline about black men who brought HIV/AIDS to their female partners.”

Daniels apparently stated, “I’ve got to tell stories that are important to me, and so many African-American women died. I want to make Flap…gay and infect the Debra Winger character. And then we explore the ’80s in a different way.”

As of this writing, however, not only has Oprah denied knowledge of such a development, but Daniels has offered no further updates.

Nov 22

“Lady Bird”: Teen Navigates Her Identity

A heartfelt coming-of-age story that perfectly captures the bittersweet transition from adolescence to dawning adulthood, [Greta] Gerwig’s directorial debut is a joy from start to finish, a warm, generous snapshot of teenage vulnerability and exuberance. Review of Lady Bird by Lara Zarum, Village Voice

Lady Bird isn’t a movie about any searing issue; it’s just a wonderful, rare character study of a young woman figuring out her identity, and all the pitfalls that follow. David Sims, The Atlantic

For what it’s worth, Lady Bird is the highest-ranking film ever on Rotten Tomatoes, with a perfect score.The 17-year-old lead character, Christine (Saoirse Ronan), as described by Sims:

…someone cursed with that familiar, often painful, gift of youth—absolute certainty. She feels everything strongly, expresses her opinions loudly, and both wounds and charms the people around her without meaning to. On the brink of adulthood, she’s resolute enough about her desire to go to college on the East Coast (far from her home of Sacramento) that she tosses herself out of a moving car when her mother Marion (Laurie Metcalf) tries to dismiss her ambitions. Another movie might frame that moment as frightening or foolish, but Greta Gerwig’s Lady Bird celebrates Christine’s teenage will, no matter how extreme it can sometimes be.

David Sims emphasizes the importance of the connection between Lady Bird and her mom: “Lady Bird is a powerful illustration of the temporary tenuousness of the mother-daughter bond in the later teenage years, and the surprising strength of that connection even during times of total conflict. Gerwig knows how easily children can wound their parents and vice versa, and the film’s best moments spring from those (often accidental) blow-ups.”

As does Zarum, who notes “it’s in many ways Marion’s story, too”: “Gerwig nails this dynamic, the subtle manner in which Marion’s little criticisms, small and sharp as a pin, poke into a daughter’s psyche the way only a mother can; or the way weeks’ worth of argument and hostility can drift off like mist when, on a shopping excursion, mother and daughter both spot the right dress at the same time.”

In her article “Why the Mother-Daughter Relationship in Lady Bird Feels So Real” (The Cut), Anna Silman states, “Lady Bird is a story of personal growth, but it’s also a story of attachment: of a mother and daughter struggling to navigate their boundaries at a time when a mother’s fear of abandonment and a daughter’s desire for independence are particularly at war with one another.”

Silman points out that many of the mother-daughter issues have presumably emanated from Marion’s upbringing with an alcoholic, abusive mother. Although we viewers know this from a brief remark cast off by Marion, her behavior seems to indicate a major lack of insight into the ways she’s developed as a result.

Other of Lady Bird’s fraught relationships include those with her older brother Miguel, whose girlfriend also resides with their family, her best friends—both real and wannabe—and a couple of first boyfriends.

A more secure attachment, on the other hand, is what Lady Bird has with her father (Tracy Letts), who’s depressive and currently unemployed but a giving and loving dad.

Some other plot elements include her love/hate connection to her hometown of Sacramento, her shame over residing in a section of the city that’s not the coveted wealthier one, and her eagerness to leave her Catholic high school for a good college in the East despite her lackluster academic performance.

Rex Reed, New York Observer: “Self-assured, fastidious, unusual, written with sass and directed with sensitivity and style, Lady Bird is a year-end surprise that lands in 2017’s pile of mediocrity like a stray emerald in a pile of discarded rhinestones.”

Watch the trailer below: