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Mom's Everything Book for DaughtersPractical Ideas for a Quality Relationship
By Becky Freeman
ZondervanCopyright © 2002 Zondervan
All right reserved.
Chapter OneThe Wind
Beneath Her Wings
or The Gum Beneath
* * *
Bonding with Your Daughter for a Lifetime
It was subtle at first, like a gauze curtain between us, this growing distance. Then one afternoon I looked at my beautiful daughter, age thirteen, and her eyes darted away from me, almost on instinct.
"What's wrong?" I asked her. "Why have you been so snippy with me lately? Is it PMS? Something I've said?"
"Like you really care," she mumbled and sulked upstairs to her bedroom.
The gauze between us transformed into a full-fledged brick wall.
Well, not as long as I'm still the mother, I thought to myself. I would find a way to chisel through this hard silence.
I followed Rachel up the steps, then following some wacky maternal impulse, I climbed into her bed, pulled her pink-and-silver comforter up around my chin and declared, "I'm having a tuck-in until you talk to me and tell me what's been bothering you."
"What's a tuck-in?" she asked, her eyes wide.
"I'm going to stay tucked in your bed-for days if that's what it takes-until we talk."
Slowly, she grinned, eventually succumbing to the undertow of laughter. A good sign. Then in the midst of the laughter, her voice suddenly broke, and she was crying.
Also a good sign. I love the line from the great mother-daughter movie Steel Magnolias: "Laughter through tears is my favorite emotion."
Gingerly, Rachel sat down beside me, pushed away a damp strawberry blond curl from her cheek, and said, "Mom, look: When you are traveling on the weekends and speaking at these ladies' retreats, you are different when you come home. It's like you're on a parade float, waving at us-like we are a crowd on the sidelines. But you don't really see me; you don't hear me. You just say what you have to say to sound like a good mother and pretend you are interested. But you aren't really here. You are somewhere else in your mind."
Ouch! The truth hurts. Especially when it comes from your pubescent offspring.
"Rachel," I said, sitting up in her bed, reaching out and pulling her close to my heart, "you're right. I have to admit it is so hard for me to transition from being a speaker at a retreat and bonding with all these women who live miles away, and then suddenly-zap!-get off the plane, and back into my role here as wife and mom and homemaker. It's sort of like when you go to church camp and it takes you a couple of days to get used to being our kid again."
"I know," she said tearfully.
"But you know what?" I said. "I really miss you guys. No one in the world is as important to me as you and your brothers and your dad. This is where my real life begins and ends, right here, in this house. All I love most lives under this roof. And my traveling to minister, obviously, isn't working well if my first love-this family-isn't feeling so loved after all. So we need to make some changes around here."
"Like what?" she asked.
"Like, I'm going to cut my travel down to one weekend a month until all of you kids are out of high school. And I'm not going to travel in the summer at all, or between Thanksgiving and New Year's. That will be Sacred Family Time. How's that sound?"
"It sounds better to me too. I love you so much, Rachel Praise."
"I love you too, Mom," she said, smiling again. The bricks were tumbling down; we could see each other clearly again. She rose from the bed, tugged at the pillow behind me, and grinned. "Now, would you get out of my bed?"
* * *
Life as a mother is nothing more than a series of moments with our children, one after the other. It is not so important that we do all these moments perfectly, because, in truth, we cannot. And life itself is a poignant mixture of joy and woe, moments of laughing aloud together at a movie, and moments of yelling and slamming doors.
Most of us parents who have been at it awhile admit that we mostly wing it from day to day. We are a learn-as-you-go lot. And that is fine, because parenting is 99 percent instinct and common sense as long as you throw in big hunks of love, affection, prayer, discipline, and a willingness to yelp for help when you are stuck.
What matters most is that we tend to our relationships with our children, paying attention to them, remembering their importance in the grand scheme of our life here on earth, and into eternity. Not because some parenting book tells you it is what you have to do to be a model citizen. But because loving relationships in families are what make life on this planet rich with meaning and joy. It is living as God designed us to live.
I see brilliant orange and golden yellow leaves, dripping with fresh rain, outside my office window this morning. Thanksgiving was just a few days ago. On that day of blessing, I couldn't help thinking of the hilarious idiosyncrasies, the soap-opera-style dramas, that go on behind the beautiful turkey and dressing feasts across our nation. What leaves me stunned with gratitude is not that families are so marvelous, but that they are such a mess and-wonder of wonders-we still love, put up with, and pray good things for one another! Perhaps the family relationship most fraught with emotion is that special bond (or sometimes brick wall) between mother and daughter.
Bonding Glue for the Two of You
When I chat with mothers of young daughters, one of the most common fears they share is that the bond they feel with their child now will somehow blow up and dissolve when their daughter hits the stormy teenage years. Best-selling books with titles like When You and Your Mother Can't Be Friends or the infamous Mommy Dearest can make any woman feel uneasy about what evils may lurk ahead for their relationship with their daughter-beyond Pablum and puberty.
Certainly, the growing independence of the teen years poses challenges, but these fears of mother-daughter relationships inevitably going awry are simply unfounded. For example, in a recent collaborative survey between Ladies' Home Journal and Seventeen magazine, there were surprising discoveries about mothers and daughters, many of them incredibly reassuring. According to the popular stereotype, you would assume mothers and their teen daughters are locked in near-constant combat. Good news: the reality is much more rosy. A whopping 95 percent of moms say they feel close to their daughters, with 42 percent claiming to be best friends. The daughters responded similarly-the vast majority reporting that their mothers are supportive and that they are true friends. In addition, most mothers today (three out of four) feel they are much closer to their daughters than they were to their mothers.
What to Do, What to Do?
Accepting that this mother-daughter friendship is based on many good moments together through the years, what are the ideal ways to spend quality time bonding with your daughter? Well, here is where the moms and daughters had slightly different opinions, according to the survey. Both enjoyed sitting around and talking, going to lunch and a movie, and shopping together. However, the moms were really big on "sitting and talking" time, while not too surprisingly, the daughters enjoyed shopping the most-especially if mom was footing the bill! One of the things Rachel and I have enjoyed most together through the years is occasionally watching a Girls Only Saturday afternoon video, often accompanied by the weekly activity of folding mounds of laundry. Though some of my classic movies or musicals seemed a little old-fashioned to my daughter at first, I good-naturedly ignored her, stuck in the video, and smiled. "Just humor your old mother, okay?" (My favorite movies to watch with girls ages eight to twelve are listed on the next page.)
In spite of some of Rachel's initial protests to "old-timey movies," she soon found herself as caught up in the story, the costumes, and the music as I once was-and I've often caught her watching again My Fair Lady or Seven Brides for Seven Brothers or humming a singable tune in spite of herself.
A Long Line of Love
Although we love it when our daughters earn good grades or show special talents, the majority of mothers, according to this survey, are most proud of their daughters when they observe them performing good deeds. This morning my daughter was sifting through the mail and came across a letter from World Vision, where we give a small monthly financial pledge to help a young girl from El Salvador. (I always keep Damaris Iveth's picture and letters on our fridge. Our family loves watching her "grow up" through these yearly photos.)
"Mom," Rachel asked, "are we going to send Damaris something special for Easter? We need to, you know." And my heart warmed. So much of compassion is caught rather than taught, and one way to build in bonding time with your daughter is to be an example of kindness in your own world. She will take note and will follow your lead.
For example, I have a special place in my heart for children and have always enjoyed wee ones. To my delight, I've observed how my own daughter automatically reaches out to young ones with tenderness and warmth and ease. Rachel began babysitting a young toddler and his baby twin siblings down the street, starting from the time she was eleven years old-apprenticing by working alongside the young mother, changing countless preemie diapers and reading a stack of Dr. Suess books to the big brother who hungered for special attention as well. This Christmas Rachel also participated in a program at Wal-Mart where several teens arrived early to take a young, underprivileged child on a shopping spree. Later the teens decided on their own to throw these same children a wonderful Christmas party.
In thinking back at my own legacy of female benevolence, I realize that my tender heart might have been born of nurture, rather than nature, as well. My mother often invited a mentally challenged, newly adopted little girl named Sunny in our home for "special visits" to give the child's exhausted mother a much-needed break. Mom always kept-and still does-a closet full of toys for anyone who might visit and bring little ones with them. She adored rocking the newborns in the church nursery, and grew up watching her own mother, my "Nonnie," take delight in caring for babies.
Nine Ways to Make Your Daughter Feel Loved
Here are some other ways to build mother-daughter connections:
1. Give her the gift of your presence. Listen with focused attention, look in her eyes, sit down, slow down. Touch her in motherly ways: stroke her hair, rub her arm, hug her.
2. Speak to her with respect and kindness. If you are stuck in a rut of being cranky with your kids, try the mental trick of treating them like guests in your home for day. My mom used to say, "Treat your guests like family, and your family like guests."
3. Encourage her efforts with enthusiasm. Let her know she has her own private cheerleader to count on at home. Convey that it is her courage to try new things that makes you most proud, whatever the results.
4. Seek first to understand your daughter's point of view-and let her know you really hear her, before you express your own opinion. This is one of most profound and helpful "Habits of Highly Effective Families" as taught by Stephen Covey. It is also one of the most challenging habits to implement!
5. Answer her honest questions with honest answers. "Good question! I don't know, but I'll try to find out" is always appropriate.
6. Say yes whenever you possibly can. Reserve no for when it is necessary.
7. Ask her opinion. Girls love giving advice. Or even better yet, share something you've learned from her. You can almost see the self-esteem rising in a child's face when you say something as simple as, "Come taste this soup, would you, Babe? You are such a naturally good cook. What do you think? More salt? More garlic?"
8. Allow your daughter to feel any feelings she may have. In fact, if there is such a thing as a functional family (most of us can only hope for fairly functional)-the common denominator is that all feelings are allowed and able to be expressed. However, you do have to teach her ways she can express those feelings, and ways she cannot, without damaging relationships.
9. Let her cry, and don't be afraid to cry with her too. Part of teaching empathy and tolerance is to allow for "the crankies" in your family now and then. If it becomes habitual, you'll have to take a different turn, but everyone has bad days, and you will want her to be understanding when you are frustrated with life too. Maybe you can have a family Teddy Bear that is passed to the person most in need of some extra love and cuddling on a particularly trying day.
You will probably be surprised one day when you ask your daughter what she remembers most about your times together. Most often it isn't the grand, planned mother-daughter occasions-but the small kindnesses, the little notes on her pillow or in her lunch box, the "folding laundry and watching a video" times of coziness and warmth and fun that bind her heart, forever, to yours.
God, Mom, and Me
Read Proverbs 31:10-31 together in an easy-to-understand translation (The Living Bible and The Message are great). Working together through this passage, make a list of all the qualities of a virtuous woman. (For example: speaks kindly, isn't lazy, helps the poor ...)
Look up the word virtuous in a dictionary together and share its meaning.
Then have your daughter divide a big piece of paper or a poster board into four to eight sections. At the top write, "A Virtuous Woman is ..." and then in each square write one of the qualities your daughter likes best from this passage. Illustrate that quality or cut and paste pictures from magazines of women or girls illustrating the virtue. She may want to hang this in her room somewhere as a reminder of the kind of person she most wants to be.
You Oughta Be in Pictures
Plan a time to look over baby pictures and girlhood pictures together. Memories will naturally evoke some great connective conversation. Bring out some of your daughter's old baby clothes or cards you received at her baby shower.
Excerpted from Mom's Everything Book for Daughters by Becky Freeman Copyright © 2002 by Zondervan. Excerpted by permission.
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