New Don't Blame Mother: Mending the Mother-Daughter Relationship / Edition 2

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Overview

First Published in 2000. Routledge is an imprint of Taylor & Francis, an informa company.

"This classic investigation of the common tensions between mothers & daughters has been updated to include new material on single mothers, lesbian mothers, welfare mothers, and more.

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Editorial Reviews

Publishers Weekly - Publisher's Weekly
At least since Freud, mothers have borne the brunt of blame for many of their family members' personal problems, defects and failures. But even cynics may be stunned by Caplan's documentation of a mother who was labeled "hysterical" and lost custody of her children after she accused their father of sexually abusing them. Many such injustices are highlighted in this edition, substantially revised from the 1988 original, building a solid case for Caplan's claim of widespread "mother-blaming." As cultural scapegoats, mothers are often viewed and treated by influential "experts" as unstable, emotionally needy, selflessly giving, smothering and tyrannically powerful. Caplan outlines 10 pervasive myths wherein all mothers are deemed either "perfect" or "bad," a double bind perhaps best illustrated by the myth that both working and stay-at-home moms are somehow "wrong." Fathers are in for a bit of culpability here, but Caplan doesn't offer many solutions for the problems that people often blame on their mothers. Instead, she concentrates on political arguments and rehabilitating the mother-daughter relationship itself. She encourages the daughter to "demythologize" her mother and forge an alliance by, among other things, drawing out her mother's life story and finding qualities to respect in her. Though some of the author's suggestions, including her "expressive training" in which mothers and daughters resolve problems through role-playing, may be simplistic, Caplan effectively articulates an indisputable societal offense and offers the first steps toward its remedy. (May) Copyright 2000 Cahners Business Information.|
Library Journal
In this revision of her 1989 book of the same title, Caplan, a clinical and research psychologist, examines the pervasiveness of mother-blame in society and identifies ten myths surrounding motherhood (e.g., "good mothers" don't get angry). She takes an especially close look at the role psychologists and therapists have played in promoting these myths. The book's second half makes suggestions for improving relationships between mothers and adult daughters through honest communication and a rejection of the myths. Certainly, readers will question some of Caplan's views of women and mothers: she seems to overlook many healthy, thriving mother-daughter relationships, and not all readers will agree that the myth of male superiority is as widespread as the author suggests. Nevertheless, this work is well researched, with extensive notes and suggestions for improving relationships. Recommended for public libraries.--Kay Brodie, Chesapeake Coll., Wye Mills, MD Copyright 2000 Cahners Business Information.\
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780415926300
  • Publisher: Taylor & Francis
  • Publication date: 3/28/2000
  • Edition description: Subsequent
  • Edition number: 2
  • Pages: 320
  • Sales rank: 1,078,205
  • Lexile: 1260L (what's this?)
  • Product dimensions: 6.00 (w) x 9.00 (h) x 0.80 (d)

Read an Excerpt




Chapter One


Getting Started


How are we to be the mothers we want our daughters to
have, if we are still sorting out who our own mothers are and
what they mean to us?

Letty Cottin Pogrebin


[In the story of mothers and daughters] the plot is not
entirely of our own making. We may be free to unravel the
tale, but we have not been free to create the social relations
upon which it is based.

Marcia Westkott


You're reading a book called The New Don't Blame Mother, so chances are, no matter how sad, upset, or angry you are at your mother, you'd rather improve your relationship with her than simply stay upset. This book is an offering to you, to let you know what has helped other mothers and daughters resolve their difficulties.

    If you're busy blaming your mother or wishing you could "divorce" her, you are caught in a psychological prison. You can't get free, and you can't really grow up. There are practical problems. For example, you dread family parties: Your mother might not like what you're wearing. Or she might love what you're wearing and say to everyone, "Doesn't my daughter look gorgeous?!"—and you'd be mortified.

    That kind of practical problem is a symptom of the fact that mother-blame limits your freedom: you can't be an adult who freely considers all of life's possibilities. You restrict yourself to certain activities, interests, and friends to prove how different fromMother you are. You can't look honestly at who you are, because you might discover ways that you are like her! Frantic to avoid what you consider her failures, you overreact, throwing out the good with the bad: you grow tough because you think she's sentimental, or you become a doormat because she wasn't warm enough. All that reaction against her, that desperate drive to prove your difference, restricts and damages your relationships with the other people you love—your mate, your children, your other relatives, and your friends. You offer them only a part of your true self, a caricature.


Angel in the House or Wicked Witch?


If you feel sadness, irritation, anger, or even outright fury toward your mother, I suggest that you stop right now and let yourself experience it. Look at it. Cry. Scream. Hit pillows. Make a list of the five worst things she's ever done to you. Then consider this: the biggest reason daughters are upset and angry with their mothers is that they have been taught to be so.

    Most women sincerely but mistakenly believe that anguish in their relationships with their mothers is inevitable because their mothers are so limited, so dependent, or so terrible. Largely unaware that our culture's polarized mother-images create barriers between mothers and daughters, we have held each other responsible. Mothers are either idealized or blamed for everything that goes wrong. Both mother and daughter learn to think of women in general, and mothers in particular, as angels or witches or some of each. Our normal, human needs, feelings, and wishes are distorted in ways that erode our relationships by making us expect too much of each other and by making us exaggerate the bad or mistake the neutral and positive for negatives. As many mothers and daughters admit, one minute they can overflow with love and admiration, thinking of each other as positively perfect, and the next minute they can be overwhelmed with rage and contempt.

    The polarized images have long and complicated histories. In part, in Anglo-American culture, for instance, the idealized ones stem from our Victorian heritage, in which the mother was supposed to be the "Angel in the House" who soothed husband's and children's tired feet and fevered brows, spoke sweetly and gently, and considered meeting their needs her life's mission.

    The "Wicked Witch" mother-images familiar to most of us come partly from fairy tales about horrid women. Although they're rarely called mothers, they are often stepmothers or character who harm children while filling mother-type roles, like the witch in "Hansel and Gretel" who lures children with food or the stepmother who offers Snow White (poisoned) nourishment.

    Both extremes cause trouble. How can you have a relationship with a perfect being who's way up on a pedestal? And who would want to get closer to a person she believes has caused all her problems? Even without these images, other problems in mother-daughter relationships would still exist—problems of communication, of sibling rivalry, real individual psychological problems. But each of the two images is supported by a number of troublemaking myths or beliefs; for example, if we believe the "Perfect Mother myth"—that a mother meets all her children's needs—we feel cheated and angry when our mother doesn't measure up, and if we believe the "Bad Mother myth"—that it's wrong for a mother to stay closely connected with her adult daughter—we fear and resent our mother's offers of help or advice. These myths create avoidable problems that make dealing with the inevitable ones much harder.

    The Angel/Witch, Perfect Mother/Bad Mother myths are rooted in a powerful tradition of mother-blame that pervades our culture. Most mothers are insecure about their performance as mothers and desperately need the approval of other women, including their daughters. Yet tragically, as daughters we are taught to belittle the work of mothering and blame our mothers for almost everything that goes wrong. We too easily point out our mothers' failings, without ever examining how much our negative view was shaped and intensified by the myths that lead to mother-blame. As daughters and mothers, for generations we have been trapped in a dark web we did not spin. But once we are aware of the myth-threads that form the web, as we tell our mothers' stories and our own, we can begin to pick apart the web. Daughters have to go beyond both kinds of images, taking away the masks of motherhood, as they try to see who their mothers really are.

    At some level we all know how hard it is to be a mother, and most of us sense how hard our mothers have tried to do right by us, even if they didn't always succeed. Understanding societal barriers to good mother-daughter relationships frees you to see your mother's good and bad points in all their complexity and subtlety, rather than as examples of stereotypes—guilt-inducing mother, demanding mother, needy mother, overwhelming and judgmental mother, cold and remote mother. When you look at your list of the worst things your mother has done to you, after you've read Don't Blame Mother, you'll probably understand more about why she treated you the way she did, and as a result you'll feel differently about both her and yourself.

    Relationships based on myths and stereotypes have no chance of improving. But when you look at your mother realistically, you begin to break down barriers and reduce the energy you waste on anguish about each other. This book is based on my experiences as a therapist, my research and the research of other people, women's responses to my earlier writing about mothers and the mother-daughter relationship, my university course on mothers, and feedback about this book's first edition.

    The women described in this book vary by race, religion, class, age, sexual orientation, and such factors as whether the daughter is an only daughter or an only child, or has or does not have children of her own. But my primary focus is on commonalities in mother-daughter experiences, because in so many respects we women are treated alike, regardless of our differences and membership in other groups.

    As you read stories from my life and from those of my friends, family members, students, workshop participants, and patients, I hope you will see that you are not the world's worst daughter, nor is your mother the world's worst mother — and, conversely, you are not the world's worst mother, nor do you have the world's worst daughter. These stories should also help you decide how to apply the principles and research presented here, so you can plan what to say the next time your mother calls or the next time you feel a fight with your daughter coming on.


The Emperor's New Clothes: Seeing through Mother-Blame


Mother-blame used to come easily to me, and it continues to come easily to most therapists, because that is how generations of therapists have been trained. I spent years seeing therapy patients before I realized how common mother-blame is and how much damage it does. Mother-blame is as rampant today as it was when I began my graduate training in 1969. In fact, it was and is so common that for years I hardly noticed it.

    When I worked in the United States and Canada with psychiatric patients of all ages in a general hospital, delinquent teenagers who were mental hospital inpatients, children who had school problems, and various families, I heard my colleagues lay at mothers' feet the responsibility for most of the patients' problems. If anyone in the family was depressed or aggressive, the mother was usually blamed: "She's overprotective," "She makes her kids so nervous," and so on. If the mother herself was the patient, she was blamed for her own problems—"She's a masochist" or "She comes on so strong—no wonder her husband hits her!"

    In many settings, we therapists saw patients together and then, in case conferences, heard each other describe them and attempt to identify the causes of their problems. Most of what I actually saw most mothers do ranged from pretty good to terrific; but my colleagues usually described their actions in negative ways. I tended to leave case conferences feeling vaguely ashamed but not knowing why. One day, I realized that it was because, as a mother, I was a member of the group that my colleagues seemed to think caused all the world's psychological problems. I felt like the child in the fairy tale who knew the emperor was naked while everyone else praised his elaborate clothing.

    A most distressing characteristic of mother-blaming among mental health professionals is how few of them seem to be aware they do it. Even when therapists are alerted to mother-blaming attitudes and comments, they usually deny that they themselves could do such a thing. After I became conscious of the clash between what I saw with my own eyes and what my colleagues said they saw, I began in each case conference to ask a simple question: "In addition to the mother's influence, what could have contributed to this person's problems?" When I asked my question, my colleagues said I was "soft on mothers" and "overidentified" with them. Their focus remained not on whether the mother had caused the problem but on how she had done so.

    In spite of these responses, I was inspired to continue my questioning by the growing literature on mothers, although only a few books—Adrienne Rich's Of Woman Born, Judith Arcana's Our Mothers' Daughters, and parts of Phyllis Chesler's Women and Madness and With Child—offered positive views of mothers. Most writers continued primarily to find fault with mothers and describe how they ruined their children's lives. Some began well, pointing out that all women have a rough time in our society, but mother-blaming was still present in essential threads of their writing: mothers can't let go of their children, keep daughters too dependent on them, are never satisfied, profoundly disappoint us, and burden us with unbearable guilt.

    In 1977, in her enormously popular book My Mother/My Self, Nancy Friday presented such a pessimistic view that many women found themselves more hopeless after reading it than before—and thought that meant something was wrong with their mothers and with them, rather than with the book. (Even books from the late 1980s and the 1990s often have this tone. As one reader of the 1989 Don't Blame Mother wrote to me, the 1990s book When You and Your Mother Can't Be Friends "purports to give advice on how to deal with mother-daughter rifts but is laced throughout with mother-blaming and mother-hating passages," and is "dripping with hatred for her own mother," which the author was in many ways unable to go beyond. In my own reading of this book, I found little analysis of the way society sets mothers and daughters up against each other. Other recent writings are less mother-blaming but are largely theoretical and include little in the way of practical solutions.)

    Despite this continued focus on mothers' limitations, I noticed the beneficial effects of all the loving, empowering things that mothers were doing—they rocked babies, cooked nourishing meals, soothed hurt feelings. These things were hardly mentioned. For all the inspiration of books by Rich, Chesler, and Arcana, little or nothing changed among mainstream psychotherapists. From my own experience, I saw that simply voicing objections to mother-blame had no positive results. I needed to document systematically the scapegoating of mothers by mental health professionals. In chapter 3, I describe some of the documentation that I gathered, which revealed that mother-blame had not abated, even in the face of the modern women's movement.

    To document the problem and its effects on mother-daughter relationships was one thing; to figure out what to do about it was another. Rich, Chesler, and Arcana had begun to describe what it feels like to be a mother and to be a daughter, and Jean Baker Miller—in her classic Toward a New Psychology of Women—had clearly described the nature of the subordination of women in general. A number of writers had begun to look at relationships between women. But still missing was some idea of where or how to begin to mend the rifts between daughters and their mothers.

    Ways to avoid mother-blame and mend mother-daughter relationships still constitute largely unexplored terrain. In fact, until the past decade, almost no systematic research had been conducted on woman-woman relationships of any kind. The focus of nearly all psychological research until recently has been on male-male relationships (competition, achievement in the workplace, aggression, etc.) or male-female relationships—in other words, on any relationship that includes at least one male.

    Almost everything said about mother-daughter relationships by experts consulted by women whose daughters range from young adults to old women came not from research but from individual speculations; this lack of research created a vacuum that mother-blame quickly filled. And sadly, even the 1990s surge in research about mothers and daughters has done little to stem the mother-blaming tide (see the preface). It is hard to avoid the influence of stereotypes when we look at the realities of mothers and daughters, and Ph.D. and M.D. degrees do not immunize us against those biases. It is time to cut a path through the myths and toward the truth. We owe it to ourselves, to our mothers, to our daughters, and to other women to accord mother-daughter relationships their due—to declare that they are worthy of our time, our effort, and our respect.


Mothers and Other Strangers


If we can temporarily think of our mothers as strangers, we can more easily put them and their treatment of us into perspective; even when we become very angry at strangers, we can see them in a new light more readily, since we have no long, shared history, we may have no common future, and certainly we do not have the intimacy and complexity that characterize our relationships with our mothers.

    I once became impatient because an iron I had left in a repair shop still wasn't ready six weeks later. I called and told the store manager that I needed to pick it up even if it wasn't ready. She spoke curtly to me and slammed down the telephone. Dreading an unpleasant encounter, I went to the shop the next day and found that not only was the iron repaired but the manager was also pleasant. I then recalled something I had heard years ago: the manager, a woman probably in her sixties, keeps the shop running so that her ninety-year-old father can keep working. I realized that she must have a terrible time keeping him happy by running the business, while also trying to hold on to some clientele in the face of her father's slow (but excellent) repair work. When I remembered this, my irritation with her vanished. My perspective changed.

    Much of the work of mending the mother-daughter relationship involves placing mother-daughter problems in similar perspective, by looking at the forces that shaped our mothers and the pressures our culture puts on mothers and daughters to have a particular relationship. We owe it to our mothers and ourselves to consider our relationships with the same compassion as we do our business relationships with the neighborhood fix-it store manager. Furthermore, our feelings about our mothers have profound effects on our relationships with our daughters and with women in general. Those of us who believe we are supportive of women but deeply resent our own mothers are probably not as wholeheartedly benevolent toward women in general as we think we are. The better the connections we have with our mothers, the better our connections with other women tend to be.

    In thinking through their problems with their mothers, most daughters find that their mothers have seemed worse than they really are; motherhood myths have badly distorted their view. Some daughters, however, have a very different experience and find that their view of themselves changes even more than their view of their mothers. As one woman told me,


Although my mother really did some bad things to me, I now realize that it was not my fault. She hardly paid any attention to me when I was a child, and I thought I was to blame. When I was about thirty, she told me for the first time that my father had been so jealous of her love for me when I was a baby that she felt she had to downplay our closeness. I'm still upset that she buckled under his childish jealousy, but I no longer believe that I was — or am — unlovable.


Some mothers are so difficult or hurtful that `changing them is beyond anyone's power; but even in those cases, a daughter's understanding of the motherhood myths can strengthen her own self-esteem. I saw this happen gradually over two years to an eight-year-old daughter of divorced parents.

    Ginger needed to believe—as most children do—that her mother was perfect. Her mother was an emotionally brittle woman who had been seriously disturbed from early childhood and still has trouble in close relationships. The mother told me, "The year my husband and I split up, Ginger was in first grade. A few times, she called me from school in the morning and begged me to let her come home for lunch. But I wasn't going to let her manipulate me. So I just took to putting my answering machine on first thing in the morning."

    Since Ginger was six, she has assumed that she is undeserving of love: "Mom doesn't seem to love me, so I must be a bad child. In fact, I know I am," she told me at age seven. But during the next year, as she spent more time in other children's homes and saw how their mothers treated both them and her, Ginger began to see that the problem was her mother's, not her own. Recently, she told me, "It's been really hard to see that my mother is mean to me and even lies to me, because mothers aren't supposed to do that. But each time she's mean, I think about how many times she's been like that before. At least now that I know that she treats everyone that way, I don't feel so much like a rotten kid anymore."

    If eight-year-old Ginger can gain this insight, adult daughters can do as much.

    Some of you may be so angry at your mother that you can hardly speak to her. Some of you may feel overwhelmed or intimidated; still others may simply feel remote or detached from her. Not all mothers and daughters have constant trouble, but nearly all have trouble sometimes. And although mother-daughter relationships are no worse than mother-son, father-son, or father-daughter ones, several unique features characterize them.

    Because mother-daughter relationships tend to be very close, they combine the potential for much joy and much pain. The joy comes because most women have been taught to develop their interpersonal sensitivity and skills, so mother and daughter have a good chance to make their relationship flower, once they see how to do it. Despite their problems, mothers and daughters usually find ways to show that they care about each other and share some interests, values or jokes. In general, women are more willing than men to work on relationships, so when mother and daughter clash, they are likely to seek a solution rather than focus on winning the battle.

    Part of the special pain between mother and daughter comes about because they feel that anger and alienation are not supposed to be part of the mother-daughter relationship. According to our cultural ideals, a mother is always gentle and loving-and so is her daughter. But precisely because of women's skill at understanding other people's emotions, many mothers and daughters can both wound and heal, both hurt and delight, each other better than anyone else can.


Learning the Stories


In more than thirty years of studying and practicing psychology, I have found that most mothers and daughters mistakenly believe that their problems with each other are mostly the result of their own, individual craziness, or each other's, or both. Those beliefs help neither one of them. In fact, most mother-daughter relationships improve once the women understand that they have both been duped — daughter into mother-blaming, mother into self-hate—and divided against each other by the myths.

    When someone asks, "What causes the trouble between you and your mother?" most of us are ready with an explanation. We have our stories to tell—stories about her, and stories about our relationship. But some stories are closer to the truth than others. We need to get as close as we can to the real story about our mothers and ourselves. An old friend told me,


All my life I had thought that Momma loved my sister more than me. I never questioned it, never asked about it, just believed it. When I turned twenty-one, Momma had a party for me, and I started talking about my childhood. As I said for the first time in my life the words, "Of course, Momma always loved Luisa best," I wondered for the first time whether or not it was true. Saying it out loud was such a definite thing to do. I suddenly felt a responsibility to Momma, to find out whether it was true before I kept on believing it myself.


    When we tell the story of our relationship with each other, a mother and a daughter teach each other parts of the truth: "You felt scared then?! I thought you hated me!" When we strip our stories of the myths and then retell them, we begin to mend our rifts, learning what we have in common and experiencing the joy of discovering both great and tiny jewels of facts and feelings we hadn't known before.


Changes


Although some fortunate mothers and daughters can talk openly to each other about the problems between them, many women are daunted by the thought of doing so, or of trying to do so again. But these problems can be worked on successfully, and it needn't require years of expensive psychotherapy. It is striking how often, once a daughter is educated about our mother-blaming culture, she takes off rapidly.

    Sometimes, naturally, it takes longer. At the end of the one-semester course I teach on mothers, the students write about how their feelings about and relationships with their mothers have changed during the course. The following are typical comments: In September, a woman described her mother as "cold," "distant," and "in pain," and said that she wished that "it could have been different between me and my mother, so I wouldn't have had to struggle so hard by myself in the past"; in December she wrote that her perspective had broadened: "I have hope for further changes in myself, and I'd like to meet with other women concerning these issues. This is new for me and it feels good."

    Another woman wrote, "I have more respect for my mother than when we began this course, and I feel closer to her.... I am more tolerant of the things about my mother that bother me.... I no longer feel I am competing with my mother-but have more of a sense that we are both on the same team."

    These changes did not require the daughters to suppress feelings of anger behind a smiling facade. Once some myth-based guilt, anger, and anguish are gone, the remaining feelings are easier to accept, understand, and work on, especially when mothers and daughters feel they are on the same team, working out problems together, rather than on opposite sides of an insurmountable brick wall.


Sharing, Listening, and Learning


Not all mothers are saints, nor are all daughters automatically wrong for thinking their mothers made mistakes. Mothers are human; they do make mistakes, and sometimes the way our mothers brought us up wasn't very good. Few mothers, though, are complete monsters. However, we easily believe they are monsters if we don't know how else to think about them — and that is where talking to other women comes in.

    Most women want to talk about their mothers and, for some, about themselves as mothers. Nearly all women are filled with anger, guilt, fear, and uncertainty about aspects of their relationships with their mothers and/or daughters. Through patients and students I have learned that it is often easier to look clearly at someone else's dilemma than at our own stale anguish. Without a fresh look, simple and obvious ways to talk or to think about how we interact just don't come to mind. The daughter continues to blame her mother and fear her disapproval, and the mother continues to blame herself and agonize about the distance or conflict between herself and her daughter. Thus, both of them feel guilty. Each becomes entrenched in her own agony about their relationship and finds it harder and harder to understand the other's point of view and think of constructive ways they can be together.

    Two activities have been especially helpful in my work with women. The first is simply to hear other women describe painful and infuriating feelings similar to their own. The second is to describe their own experiences as mothers. Every time a woman has told how angry she has been at her mother, sure that only she had ever felt this so intensely, she has found that many women have felt the same—and done the same "horrible" things because of it. One woman, for instance, described a wild tantrum she threw when her mother brought store-bought cupcakes to her third-grade Halloween party.

    Hearing what others have to say helps daughters feel less crazy and mean. This releases energy they have been using to cover up what they regarded as their craziness or viciousness; they become freer to find better ways to deal with their mothers.

    In classes and workshops, I ask participants to listen to other women's complaints about their mothers in new ways. Rather than feeding each other's mother-blame, they first acknowledge the daughter's frustration and then ask whether she might be misinterpreting or mislabeling the mother's motives and behavior. For example, when a woman describes her mother as overprotective, the participants ask whether it might be more accurate to describe her as loving and nurturing. The new, less angry labels don't always fit, but amazingly often they do. When women see how apt the new labels are, they realize how deeply the culture has ingrained in us the lesson, "When something is wrong, just blame mother." Through descriptions of their frustrations as mothers, women can provide each other with insights into their mothers' situations. Several women in one group described enjoying their careers but feeling torn apart when leaving their clinging toddlers at the daycare center. This discussion inspired some women to ask their own mothers how they had coped during those years.

    Another woman talked movingly about her feelings when the hospital nurse said that her newborn was jaundiced and would have to be placed under special lights that would make him very listless. She was ashamed of both her terror about what the jaundice might signify and her powerlessness to help her baby. Watching him under the lights, she found that the only way she could maintain some semblance of calm was to take dozens of photographs of him. She believed that her worries were overblown but felt guilty about her ability to distance herself through taking pictures. She was doing her best to cope but felt simultaneously pathologically attached and pathologically detached. Her story helped other women gain new perspective on what had seemed to be their mothers' detached behavior. Instead of seeing this detachment as a sign that their mothers didn't care about them, they began to consider what else might have been behind such seeming unconcern. They began to wonder about the bigger picture.


The Goals of This Book


The goals of this book are simple:


· To reduce the pain felt by both daughters and mothers in their relationships with each other.
· To help daughters and mothers to feel better about themselves, by understanding the nature of the barriers between them.
· To give daughters and mothers a wider range of choices about how to conduct their lives by freeing them from myths that limit their vision of their options and teaching them new techniques and practical skills.
· To heighten both daughters' and mothers' awareness of how they have been kept apart by the ways they've been taught to think about each other.


    To keep track of how you think and feel about your mother, keep paper and pen nearby as you read the following chapters. Jot down anything that comes to mind that might help in the unmasking process — things you realize you don't know about your mother and want to find out; a word or phrase that rings a bell for you, even if you're not yet sure why; stories that match your experience and stories that seem totally different from yours; questions that come to your mind. If you don't find the answers here, chances are you'll want to find them by talking with other people or reading other works, such as those in the bibliography.

    Some of you will find that as soon as you read about a particular problem or issue, you will know how it applies to you and your mother, and you'll throw down the book in midchapter to do something about it. Others will want to read the whole book, think about the issues, talk to other people, and do further reading before even considering taking any action. Many readers will be in the second group: after a lifetime of being socialized into mother-blame, even a full chapter's worth of antidotes will be only a beginning. And if you gave up hope years ago, you'll have to work to get your engine revved up again.

    Even daughters whose mothers have died have a great deal to gain from imagining, as vividly as possible, what they would say to their mothers if they could, and what they think their mothers might answer. Talking to your mother's close friends or other family members can be helpful, since one or more of them will have somewhat different perspectives on her, and other information about her, than you have. Some women in my course on mothers looked carefully at the books their deceased mothers had owned, noticing passages their mothers had underlined and notes they had written in the margins. Others inspected photographs of their mothers throughout their life spans, trying to read what they could from facial expressions and postures about how their mothers might have felt at different times in their lives.


Daughter's Move, Mother's Move


Initiating changes in your relationship with your mother — or in the way you think about her, if she has died or if you decide not to discuss these issues with her directly — may be mostly up to you. For that reason, this book is largely addressed to daughters. But mothers may find it useful, for knowing what has shaped her daughter's view of her can help a mother understand the way her daughter treats her. Because mother-blame is more deeply ingrained than daughter-blame, daughters are more often aware of anger at their mothers than vice versa; so a daughter may need to do more work, peeling away of layers of blame and myths, than a mother. But a mother who reads this book will probably understand more about her own mother (and their relationship), and this can shed light on her relationship with her daughter.

    Usually, when a daughter is angry at or alienated from her mother, the mother is also suffering, for mothers tend to be excellent sensors of emotional distance. Despite their pain, though, most mothers of adult women come from generations taught that mothers haven't the right to ask for much (although some of them founded the Second Wave of the women's movement in the late 1960s and early 1970s or feminism's recent Third Wave); daughters in each generation are more likely than their mothers to feel comfortable questioning the roles our culture expects mothers to play and their perceptions of their own mothers. This is not to say that the taboos about questioning motherhood have disappeared. The night I finished writing my first major effort about mothers, I woke in terror, feeling that I had blasphemed and would be punished—not because of what I had said, because my view of mothers was generally sympathetic, but just for looking at mothers.

    Our mothers generally feel this taboo even more: for them, even more than for most of us, society expected that they would become mothers (whether or not they also worked for pay) and would try to fit the self-sacrificing, uncomplaining mold of ideal motherhood. Indeed, this mold for young mothers exists even today. When their children reject or criticize them, most mothers feel that they have no right to complain, that the failure must have been their own—they themselves have internalized mother-blame. When their daughters are grown, hauling old wounds into the light for examination or reexamination is too frightening—unless and until they know that they will not be attacked for doing so.

    Furthermore, mothers know that one generation has difficulty understanding another. A mother is skeptical that her daughter could understand how hard growing up during the Great Depression or World War II was or just how badly an unwed mother was treated even twenty years ago. Comments like, "But Mom, the Depression ended decades ago! You're rich now!" or "It was easier for you! In the `sixties there was no AIDS!" quickly seal a mother's lips. Mothers need to know that their daughters are moving off the team that points an accusing finger and onto their mutually respectful and supportive team—not blindly or totally but thoughtfully.

    Most women want to form close relationships and work out whatever interrupts that closeness. Most mothers and daughters, no matter how furious at each other, don't want to stay angry after the immediate release or empowerment of anger is over. We'd rather reestablish the closeness. We are sad and wistful when a bond is broken.

    I hope to provide some tools for repairing that bond. Understanding how myths hinder a rapprochement — for it's hard in different ways to reapproach an angel or a witch — mothers and daughters will be prepared to reevaluate their history of problems, retell their shared story in a more truthful way, and begin their next chapter with a clearer vision of both the bridges and the gaps between them.

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Table of Contents

Preface to The New Don't Blame Mother ix
Acknowledgments xxvii
1 Getting Started 1
2 Such Love, Such Rage 17
3 Mother-Blaming 37
4 Mother-Daughter Barriers: The Perfect Mother Myths 68
5 The Bad Mother Myths 96
6 Feeling Safe: Going Beyond the Myths 139
7 Mending the Relationship 158
8 What Mothers and Daughters Have Done 189
9 It Is Only a Door 220
Appendix A: Expressive Training 229
Appendix B: Guidelines for Mother-Daughter Interviews 232
Notes 235
Bibliography 251
Index 279
About the Author 289
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  • Anonymous

    Posted June 4, 2008

    A reviewer

    I first read Don't Blame Mother' in 1992. One day my mother silently handed me this book and quietly said, 'you might find this interesting'. My mother and I have had an extremely rocky relationship. She was an abusive mother with me, yet loving with the other children. I have always yearned for a closer relationship with her, and while this book created a short period where that seemed to occur, sadly it didn't last. Both mother and daughter must be willing to really 'see' who each other are, and do the work to 'heal' wounds and make reparation. Even though the 'improved' relationship didn't last, (due to my mother's continual refusal to see who I am too, and other issues) this book enabled me to view my mother in a much more realistic, loving, and forgiving manner. Mothers are no more or less human than any other individual. This book is outstanding, and even if it never actually changes the relationship between mother and daughter, it can be a powerful tool for any mother or daughter to finally see her relation in a more realistic manner. I highly recommend this book to not only mothers and daughters, but to husbands, fathers, sisters, brothers, any family member. Anyone can benefit from the precepts and ideas contained in this book, and find at the very least self healing. When my mother first handed me this book my thought was, 'Oh yeah, another 'thing' for her to deny responsibility'. For her, it was exactly that, but it took me on a journey of self awakening and personal growth. It aided me in my own role as mother, helped me to enlighten my own children from early childhood on that I am only human too, and to not place me on a pedestal or not see that I have needs, dreams, desires, griefs, and joys just like they do. This book does not excuse behaviors and choices, it explains them and the reality of our mother's in a framework of humanity.

    2 out of 2 people found this review helpful.

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