My Mother, My Friend
The Ten Most Important Things
To Talk About With Your Mother
by Mary Marcdante

 

Preface

At what point do a mother and daughter decide that they can come together as one friend to another? For some women it’s after they have married, for others it is the birth of their first child, and still some, it is during a physical or emotional crisis.

For me, it was the diagnosis of my mother’s ovarian cancer. From the moment I heard she had cancer until her death, I felt like I was in graduate school, cramming the night before finals for a course called: “Everything You’ve Always Wanted to Know About Your Mother and Forgot to Ask.”

Following her death, there were still so many unanswered questions that my father, her sisters, nor her friends were able to answer. I began talking with women in my audiences (I am a motivational speaker at conventions, business meetings, and women’s conferences) about their relationships with their mothers and learned that most women (and men) have questions they want to ask their mothers. Even more surprising was noticing how many women have unfinished business with their mothers and are afraid to broach certain subjects. I was curious to learn more about this phenomenon.

In pursuit of answers, I interviewed psychologists and psychotherapists, read feminist essays, revisited my own past, and kept talking to women in my seminars. I learned that, all too often, a mature woman relates to her mother the way she did when she was an adolescent. She locks her mother into one role -- that of “mother” -- and is unable to see her as a dynamic, multi-faceted person in her own right, the way she would a friend. This prevents her from knowing her mother at a deeper and more satisfying level, and discovering more about herself.

 

Questions are the beginning of discovery.

As I became more immersed in this work, I woke before dawn one morning from a dream in which my mother suggested I write a book of questions that daughters could ask their mothers. I was excited by the concept, but unsure how viable it was, so I took the idea to the women in my programs. Their response was overwhelmingly positive. When I asked these women what questions they wanted to ask their mothers, I received hundreds in return at each program, covering every area in a woman’s life. The list revealed many insights, but one in particular caught my attention: every daughter has at least one burning question that she is afraid to ask her mother -- and may not even be aware of until she’s thrown into a crisis situation, as was the case with me. Once I knew that Mom’s death was imminent, it took me a month to find the courage and right time to ask, “Mom, how do you really feel about dying?” When I finally did ask, her answer was so enlightening and affirming that I couldn’t believe I waited so long to approach her.

My success was due in large part to learning and repeatedly practicing the skills I’ll be sharing with you in this book, the first skill being to pay attention to your mother in a new way. My mother’s illness -- while I don’t wish it on anyone – was a gift that allowed me to begin seeing her with fresh eyes. I learned to let in more of her love, wisdom, and humor, and accept the fact that she wasn’t ever going to be like TV’s perfect mothers I grew up comparing her to: June Cleaver, Donna Reed, and Harriet Nelson. I only wish I’d been able to do this sooner, as you’ll be able to, with this book.

Some women in my audiences have said, “Easy for you to say. Your mother is gone. I still have to deal with mine.” True, I can’t argue that. And the time my mother and I did share before she died included many significant question and answer sessions. In turn, there are hundreds of women whose mothers are still alive who have successfully used the material in this book -- many whose stories are profiled here. They will demonstrate that a daughter can have a healthier and more satisfying relationship with her mom. All you have to do to begin is start thinking of your mother as a friend you’d like to get to know better. If this is challenging for you, consider my story. I by no means identified with my mother as a friend; she was “just” my mother. The funny thing is, when I was writing this book, it became very clear to me that even though I wouldn’t have said that my mother and I were friends, our actions told the truth. We laughed together, cheered each other up, talked about things that were important, and cared about each other’s well being. We did things that friends do. Only I didn’t think we were friends. I’d grown up believing that mothers aren’t supposed to be friends with their daughters.

In my mother's generation a mother's role was solely to guide and protect, not share her personal experiences or problems the way a dear friend would. It was taboo for a mother to tell her daughter that she felt depressed or afraid, or even admit that she was proud of herself. This would be considered too frank and personal; her daughter might not be able to handle it. Based on my personal experience and research, a balance must be struck with young daughters -- age-appropriate truth-telling established with a clear boundary that says, “I’m the mom.” But once a woman reaches adulthood, an added benefit of having a mother is the potential for friendship. The opportunity to exchange thoughts and intimate feelings helps both women explore solutions to problems, and ask and answer difficult or meaningful questions about life.

My friend Barbara says that her relationship with her mother goes beyond friendship. Barbara defines her friends as people with whom she shares common interests and does things with socially. “My mother is more than a friend,” Barbara said. “She’s my mother. I call her first with any big news – good or bad. I expect her to be there when I’m in crisis. When I’m sick, I want her take care of me. It’s so much more than friendship.”

However you choose to view your mother, ask yourself these questions: Do I see my mother for all she is and can be? What parts of her would I want to know more about? What would help us be closer? What would take our relationship to a new level?

Even if you don’t want to be the best of friends with your mother, you can still work on creating a richer relationship. If your situation is reversed and you think your mother doesn't want to have a deeper relationship with you, keep reading anyway. There is always a possibility that she will choose not to be close to you; then again, there's always the chance that she will come around after seriously considering a request on your part to get to know her better. If you believe she isn't interested based on your past history, please talk to her first, using the ideas and words in this book. Once you've spoken with your mother, if she is still resistant and it's still important to know her better, don't give up. Hold a space in your heart for your mother to change. You may be surprised by the result, as Linda -- whom you’ll meet in Chapter One -- was.  Even if your mother never desires a more intimate relationship, go about making your life as joyful as possible, so that you are still taking care of yourself -- and if she does open up to you, you'll be ready to embrace her in love and forgiveness. If your mother has passed on, by reading the stories and reviewing the questions, you’ll draw out precious memories that will help you heal your loss, as writing this book did for me.

What’s The Best Way To Use This Book?

Twenty topics surfaced as this book took form, with ten topics being urgent and most important to begin with. After cataloging the questions I collected, and conducting over 400 personal interviews, it became clear that health is the number one topic most women need to talk about with their mothers, followed by death and dying, money, and aging. These four aspects of life dramatically affect the quality of your mother’s current and future life and your own – and need to be discussed whether or not you get along with her. If this is the case for you, My Mother, My Friend will make it easier for you to discuss these topics.
      Not as urgent, but definitely important in completing unfinished business from the past and enjoying the present are four more topics: resolving conflict, family secrets, romance and intimacy, and self-image and beauty.

      The final two topics speak to the heart and soul and help to celebrate the human and the divine in our mothers: spirituality and appreciation. Discussing your beliefs about the mysteries of life and death shape who you become and how you live; understanding your mother’s spiritual perspective can go a long way to understanding more about yourself. Taking the time to appreciate your mother strengthens the bond between you and celebrates the gifts you have given each other.

Throughout these pages, you will be guided through the process of changing your patterns of communication, and ultimately, your relationship to your mother and to yourself. Through thoughtfully phrased questions, practical exercises, sidebars, sample dialogues and communication tips, you will learn how you can talk to your mother, woman to woman, about the issues of life and death and everything in between. When you develop a pattern of communicating openly, you are well on your way to forging a deeper and more rewarding relationship and preparing yourself for the changes that your mother’s aging inevitably brings.

You will be asked to journal your thoughts and questions, and record your mother’s answers (in written, audio or video format). While doing this may seem time-consuming, I promise that you will be forever grateful that you did this. Someday in the future, you will want and need the information I’m asking you to gather. Your mind will not remember the details you need, but you will have a journal filled with critical information and some of your most precious shared memories, which you’ll be able to refer back to as needed.

If you feel comfortable with your mother and just need a little direction on how to broach a particular issue, you can go directly to the chapter that interests you, read through the questions, and start from there. If you have a particular question in mind, browse through the Table of Contents for the appropriate chapter. Then, review my suggestions in Chapter One for wording a specific question and creating a comfortable setting. If you want a more organized program, consider this book a guidebook. Use it over a ten-month period, a chapter a month. After you've read the first chapter on getting started and know how to proceed, share the book with your mom. Together, you can approach one chapter a month, and get to know each other better at a leisurely pace, planning the activities and then asking the questions at the end of each chapter. You’ll always begin the process with easy questions and work up to the more challenging, intimate ones.

By using the information in this book, you will learn how to release or change patterns that don’t work in your relationship with your mother and maximize the ones that do. You will carry on your mother’s legacy of love. You will discover more about yourself. You will help your mother recognize her own significance, and live with more vitality and financial security. Both of you will become more physically, emotionally, intellectually, and spiritually enriched. When your mother’s time comes to pass on, you will know what her wishes are and what to do. You will become stronger, gentler, and wiser. Most importantly, you will learn to appreciate and celebrate each other.

Be brave, count your blessings, and enjoy the questions.

Mary Marcdante

 

(c) 2014 Mary Marcdante