Laying on Lilly’s bed one morning...
Lilly: “ Yesterday in my psychology class I learned that there are elephant mums and bird mums. You are an elephant mum.”
Me: “What‘s the difference”
Lilly: “Elephant mums are nurturing, accepting, and protective of their children for their whole lives while bird mums abandon their weakest child, are not nurturing, and are really not around. Thank You for being an elephant mum.”
The mother-daughter relationship is the most powerful and complicated relationship on the planet. Some mothers and daughters are best friends while others have a complicated complex equation. The relationship is full of ups and downs but the bonds of love remain the same.
The common complaints amongst my children are:
- You are overly critical and demanding
- You set high expectations that we cannot live up to
- You are a helicopter mum
- You don’t do enough
- You’re only happy when things turn out your way
- You don’t understand - you were not born here
From my perspective, I felt the girls didn’t listen to my advice, sometimes made poor choices, and as they grew up they had less time for me. I felt threatened and rejected that the girls were making different decisions than what I had envisioned. I felt I was a ‘bad parent’ every time they would fall. The girls felt all I did was disapprove of their choices and would get defensive. In the beginning, my parenting style was the same for all. As they grew older what worked for one did not work for the other.
To have a better relationship with my daughters, I had to learn to change my reactions and responses. I had to stop being reactive and just listen. I had to learn to listen to the feelings of what they were trying to communicate to me. I had to have realistic expectations. Each child was different and unique. They each had different strengths and different challenges.
As Lilly grew older, she felt that to be her own person, she had to cut me off completely. She was secretive, angry, rude, and hurtful. Asmita on the other hand was the opposite. She had a hard time breaking away from the nest. She was unable to make decisions without my input. Both extremes are clearly not healthy. The girls and I had to learn to strike a balance. Lilly and I had to learn to trust and forgive one another. While Asmita is learning to take ownership of her own choices and decisions. The older two taught me a lot and the younger two learned a lot through osmosis. Over time I learned to adapt to the rules of the new age.
According to Dr. Ken Ginsburg, a pediatrician and the author of five parenting books and the co-founder and director of programs at the Center for Parent and Teen Communication - “The reason kids push us away is not because they don't like us, it's because they relate to us so intensely and yet they know they have to become independent. So this is a process of figuring out how to push away the things they love the most." They push us away not because they hate us — it's because they love us so intensely.
Don’t get me wrong. It isn’t always easy to remain patient, loving, and understanding when all you want to do is scream - “what the fxxx were you thinking?” Very quickly, I learned that yelling and screaming would get me nowhere. Groundings and curfews stopped working from the ages of 16 - 18. The summer before college being the worse. All you hear is “I’ll be on my own soon“, ”can’t wait to live alone”. Despite being adults, the girls still needed direction, security, and boundaries. The only way to get through to them was to say “I hope you have a plan”. This phrase would keep things neutral. They would end up hearing themselves talk out loud and realize how off the wall their idea/plan sounded. Focusing mostly on the big issues and picking my battles has also helped all of us navigate through the developmental changes.
I believe that parenting the girls does not stop at the end of high school. They need active, involved parenting right into their adult lives. Certain rules of the house need to remain in place even as they get older and go off to college. As the girls have gotten older, I have been their partner in crime and at other times I’ve had to step into the role of the disciplinarian parent. I love each one of them regardless of their strengths and challenges.
Life with the girls has been a amazing. I wouldn’t trade it for anything. They are my best friends, my worst critics, my fashion police, and most of all my life. The only thing I would change is the fatal night that took Lilly away from us. My love is not contingent on their actions or achievements. They don’t have to be ‘perfect‘ to be perfect to ME.
The bottom line is that mothers and daughters can be really close but they’re not the same people. My plan was not necessarily their plan. They were allowed to have different interests, goals, and ways of handling things. A daughter doesn’t have to change her choices to please her mother and a mother doesn’t have to change her opinions, either. We are all different individuals with different visions and goals.