Mama Diaries

There’s no handbook for mother-daughter relationships

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Move over Belle, Ariel and Cinderella. There’s a new princess in town. Just like her predecessors, Merida’s got gorgeous hair, a lovely figure, and suitors trying to win her hand in marriage.

But unlike them, marriage is the last thing on her mind as she gallops on her horse, shooting arrows with perfect precision and climbing rocks to drink from waterfalls.

My husband Migs was supposed to take our 4-year-old daughter on a little father-daughter movie date. But at the last minute, I decided to tag along, which turned out to be a good thing.

Most princess movies focus on the romantic relationships of the princesses with their prince charmings. This animated movie is different—it delves into the most basic and fundamental relationship of all—a mother-child relationship.

Long before the sibling rivalry, friendships and romances come, there is the relationship we have with our mothers (and fathers), which shapes how we will relate with everyone in the future, as well as how we will relate with our own selves.

A side note—did you notice that most of the princesses had no mothers? Snow White and Cinderella were orphaned at a young age. Ariel, Belle and Jasmine are raised by their fathers, while Sleeping Beauty and Rapunzel grow up away from their parents. It seems only the non-princesses such as Tiana, Mulan and Pocahontas have mothers.

Going back to the movie, we also get a  glimpse of her relationship with her father, King Fergus. Clearly, the little princess adores him, just like every daddy’s girl.

But while the king is brave enough to throw himself before a bear to save his loved ones, we see that just like every dad, this one is wrapped around his princess’ little finger. This leaves the role of the bad cop to none other than Queen Elinor.

Collision course

As expected, being the disciplinarian means the queen and the princess are constantly on a collision course. You can see how the queen wants only the best for her daughter—she wants her to be fully prepared for the challenges ahead and does everything  to teach her daughter how to be the best queen she can be.

Unfortunately, like many teens, royalty or not, all Merida sees and feels is an attempt to control every facet of her existence. She has the desperate need to get away from it.

There is no doubt about the love between the two. But there is also no doubt about the complexities that come with this bond.

Merida asks for a spell from a witch so she can change her mother, but instead, gets more than what she bargained for when the spell turns her mother into a bear!

I’ve been blessed with a very loving and close relationship with my mom. I talk to her about anything and everything because she has always been open, and it’s always been my dream to have the same kind of relationship with my daughter.

My daughter is 4 years old and it seems like half the time that we are together, I am trying to help her be a “good girl,” which includes a fair amount of discipline.

Watching “Brave” reminded me that there are always two sides to a coin. A mother may see her attention to every detail as her proof of love.

But her daughter may misconstrue it as direct criticism and a personal attack that can hurt her feelings, especially since  children are more sensitive and always looking for validation. This can lead to rebellion. Or, daughters might not get used to making a move without their mother’s approval.

But, of course, this is a worst-case scenario. Just like in the movie (and you can stop reading here if you haven’t seen it yet), all the duo needed was time to understand each other and see things through each other’s eyes.

As it turns out, this is the answer to the riddle of the witch, what they need to break the spell and turn the queen back  into a person.

“Brave,” even as a cartoon, was a good reminder on the value and importance of constant communication and mutual respect.

But I wonder why these kinds of misunderstandings seem to be reserved for mothers and daughters. Why not mothers and sons? Is it because mothers see so much of themselves in their daughters that the level of expectation becomes much higher? Or perhaps it is just the dynamic. Women are more likely to have the emotional  bond with one another, than men, and that’s when tension arises.

 

 Not ‘best friends’

Since I don’t have enough years of experience or wisdom for this, I went online. A resource I found is a book called “Too Close For Comfort,” by Linda Gordon and Susan Shaffer. Their theory is that most problems come from the mother wanting to be “best friends” with her daughter, which can never be, because for starters, “A best friend is different than a mother-daughter relationship. It requires having common experiences: You raised your kids together, you went to the same college, and you’re in the same place together. Mothers and daughters are never in the same stage of life at the same time, so the relationship is never equal.

“The other thing that’s important is that unconditional love exists only in the parent-child relationship. You’d put your body in front of a truck for your daughter; you’d probably call 911 for your best friend.”

The authors talk about how it is necessary to have boundaries at all times, to maintain the respect and balance needed for a healthy mother-daughter relationship.

An ideal one would allow growth and development for both, but when boundaries are crossed, problems arise.

For instance, a mother who constantly “rescues” her daughter from problems prevents her daughter from growing up into an independent and capable woman. Meanwhile, the constant worrying about a daughter may prevent a mother from “gaining her own identity and understanding that she has brought up this wonderful adult daughter.”

Instead, she may find herself confused as to where her identity and responsibility end and where her daughter’s own begins.  As tempting as it may be to feel responsible for our children’s happiness and success, there is only so much a mother can, and should do. Instead, a mother can be a guide or a supportive partner who will be there for her children all their lives.

It certainly made a lot of sense when I thought about it. I’ve always said that my mom is my best friend, but maybe our relationship works for us because at the end of the day, I still see her first and foremost as my mom.

With regards to building the same type of relationship with my own daughter, we’re really still in a very early stage. I am trying to set the stage as well as I can and do what my own mom did, but who knows what life will throw at us?

It’s easy to read great theories but I wonder if I will be able to put them into practice when the time comes. Times like this, I wish she came with a handbook that I could study and memorize! But since she didn’t, this will have to be a learning process for both of us.

Hopefully, at the end of it, I’ll have both a daughter and a best friend. And I won’t turn into a bear.

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