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From Barnes & NobleThe Barnes & Noble Review
My mother flies to Florida several times a year to care for my aging grandparents. She wants to be a good daughter, helping them move things around, showing them how to use their new computer, taking them to the movies. My grandmother has severe arthritis, can't drive, and depends heavily on my grandfather. It's hard for my mother to see her once-energetic parents age, to listen to detailed reports on the state of their gums and bones and failing eyesight.
My mother, an only child, knows that the odds dictate that my grandmother is likely to outlive my grandfather. She wonders how she would cope with my grandma on her own. As a mother, wife, and businesswoman, how will she find the resolve to keep being the best daughter she can be? The relationship between Baby Boomer women and their aging mothers is complex. The younger generation has been encouraged to have and do it all — marriage, career, parenthood — and their older, more helpless mothers can seem like a burden. In a society that's more terrified of wrinkles than it is of war, our elderly (and sometimes ailing) mothers remind us of our own certain mortality.
In Good Daughters , journalist Patricia Beard addresses these issues in the context of her relationships with her own mother and other women who struggle with the question "What do we do about our mothers?" Beard digs up the dirt, bringing to the surface the real, if uncomfortable, feelings that daughters experience when faced with the responsibility of caring for the women that raised them. Guilt, anger, and anxiety surface when a daughter dealswitha mother suffering from inevitable indignities such as illness, loneliness, and loss. But with patience and love, Beard assures, handling these problems together can be one of the most rewarding aspects of the mother-daughter relationship.
Good Daughters is a rich compendium of stories and observations. Beard's research isn't meant to be a Band-Aid that can make it all better, but opening the discussion can allow both mothers and daughters to see each other's perspective. "I have tried to be helpful," she writes in her introduction. "But this book is more about self-knowledge than self-help."
In the first part of the book, Beard clarifies the specific issues that make caring for an aging mother so difficult for her daughter. Many mothers don't want to give up their independence, even when it has become dangerous for them to live alone. Struggles can ensue about "who's the boss," and "daughters hear their most grating teenage voices emerging from their middle-aged selves when their mothers hit their hot buttons."
By bringing up what she calls "hot buttons," Beard admits there's usually a whole lot of emotion attached to mother and daughter roles. While we'd love to envision caring for our mothers as this tender scene supported by endless patience, interactions can dissolve quickly into the same power struggles of adolescence. Yes, our mothers may be infirm, but they still have the power to drive us crazy.
Beard acknowledges that each relationship is unique and profiles a diverse cross section of American mothers and daughters. In addition to racial and economic diversity, there is the quality of intimacy. Some mothers and daughters are best friends, some have been estranged for years, and some have a relationship so prickly that one daughter had to cut off all contact with her abusive mother. In each case, a balance had to be found between a daughter's obligation to her mother and her responsibility to herself. Beard shows us that it is possible to maintain these boundaries; a middle-aged woman doesn't have to let her own life suffer in order to be a "good daughter." In fact, Beard says that "if we can let ourselves off the hook — not of our responsibilities, but of our impossibly high expectations — we can relax...we will be able to love our mothers better."
Good Daughters brings light to the emotionally charged world of mothers and daughters by sharing others' stories. For women like my mother, who worries about her parents and wonders if I will drive her to the doctor when she's old and frail, this book offers a certain kind of reassurance that she's not alone. For women a generation younger like myself, it is an opportunity. Hillary Beard, the author's daughter, writes in the epilogue that as the beneficiaries of this book, we have the chance to explore the topic without immediate pressure. "It is not yet my time to support my mother, but she has brought the topic into our family early enough for me to start figuring it out." Even though our mothers may be in fine health and still dancing 'til dawn, being a good daughter means having compassion for our mothers and grandmothers, knowing that we too will be old someday.
—Jessica Leigh Lebos