On Mothers and Daughters
Updated: Feb 24, 2021
My daughter ushered me into motherhood. Her birth was rocky, but she arrived earth-side on her own terms - right on time, and a little sideways.
When I was pregnant with her, I read everything I could about the birth process and when I got to the part about cutting the umbilical cord, I came undone at the idea that this creature, so utterly a part of my body, would never again really be mine. From that cut, she would belong to the world, to others, to her own will. She would be mine, but no longer mine alone.
The idea unraveled me. I was overcome with grief. And when she arrived on her birth day, our separation was unexpectedly immediate and distressing. She couldn’t catch a full breath. The snip was unceremonious. She was wrapped into the tiniest and most precious bundle, and whisked away for heroics to save her life.
When I got her back, she was more incredible and earth-shattering than I ever imagined. She was mine and I was completely hers, but in the faint traces of our daily life I was aware that our need for one another would forevermore be a dance. An ebbing and flowing between us as she discovered and owned her independence.
That separation is by design, of course. To allow independence so she could someday function fully without me. If I’m honest, those first, fresh years made me crave a little independence. They felt like what I imagine to be a freshman fraternity hazing. I just wanted to sit down, catch an hour of sleep, maybe even a shower. But I was held hostage, asked to stand on my head, and forced to drink a gallon of coffee without breathing.
We’ve come a long way since then. Sophia turned 13 yesterday. How we’re already here, I’m not sure, but I do know that where independence was once the goal, it is now firmly the priority. I’m reminded that I’m often in the back seat of that car, sometimes unable to reach the wheel. I don’t breathe for different reasons now.
And I’ve got a solid kid. Definitely independent, level headed, funny. She shows up, she does her homework and packs her own lunch and rides her bike 3.4 miles up hill to school everyday. But what she needs from me, and when and how, is entirely different now. Do I step in or stay put? When I do step should I go left or right? And when there is a misstep how do we correct? How do we tend to each other, and repair, when we fall out of sync entirely?
The process of letting go is more imperfect than I ever imagined, and it often makes me think of my own mother and how we’ve navigated the same process. When I set out to write this, my first thought? This is going to be an effing mine field. My very next thought: I need to call Mom.
This is notable because we’ve reached a point where Mom and I don’t call each other much. We love each other, of course, but we are different creatures that view the world through very different prisms. When we’re looking through our own prismatic version of the world, we are just fine. But when we turn toward each other, it’s a collision of conflicting shapes and colors, and we lose each other in the mess. We don’t know how to put down our prisms. We just keep looking, in frustration, at the version of the world the other one can’t see.
Looking back, our years of navigating independence were rocky. We both seemed to want the same thing - to be seen, understood, to have the last word. I still feel like I’m fighting for that and maybe she does, too.
And I think we’re not alone. After all, as a wedding planner, I had a front row seat to this particular female dynamic for the better part of two decades. If there’s one take-away from guiding mother-daughter duos through one of the most charged seasons of life, it’s that we crave to be really and truly seen by our mothers, and mothers by their daughters.
Some knew just how to get this right. But a lot, didn’t. What looked innocently like selecting the tabletop details or compiling a guest list, was often a revisit to their well-worn dynamic. And those decisions represented something fundamental - they were the canvas on which they really wanted to be seen. So when there was push-back or disagreement? It was charged.
I’ve watched high functioning, loving women come undone because the one woman in their life who is supposed to champion her, just simply doesn’t see how or why. Two people clouded in their own needs and desires, unable to see the other when it matters most.
Perhaps the struggle is generational. Perhaps there’s some primal origin, but one thing is for damn sure - it’s universal. I have been that “undone” woman more than I care to admit. And that dynamic between mother and daughter has always been profoundly relatable. I empathized with both sides. I was, after all, a daughter who is also a mother with a daughter.
So, the question for me became how can I help this dynamic play out differently in my own home? The answer has always come back to Sophia. Before she was born, I was so certain about how she would arrive, and who I needed her to be. But the message she brought with her right from the beginning was loud and clear - this is her story, on her terms.
And that’s really where it ended and began anew for me. It wasn’t my job to shape her into who I thought she should be, or for her to think how I wanted her to think. It was my job to love her, keep her alive, exemplify a moral foundation, and then allow her to become the only version of herself she’s was ever meant to be.
It sounds so simple, but when I first looked upon the most pure and precious possession of my life, and saw in her myself, our family history, the opportunity to do better, it was hard to not have clouded eyes and crippling expectations.
But I try really hard not to. This means that we talk about what is true for ourselves and how we respect what is true for others. We don’t do drama, and we try, try, try not to do judgement (so hard). Instead, we practice listening and conversation and accountability.
When we talk about femininity, it’s not hers we focus on but rather the kind that every human possess. I do not assign her a color, an outfit, a feminine preference. Is she clean, kind and on time? Then we’re alright, alright.
When we talk about our bodies, we talk about feeling good instead of looking good - if you get one right the other one naturally follows. When she speaks, I try to really listen. And when she turns thirteen, I try not to see her on the precipous of an emotional mine-field that might blow us to bits. I see her instead at the beginning of transforming into an extraordinary woman, who has her own path to navigate, and for which I am here to see her through, with as clear eyes as I can manage.
If I’m a feminist at all, then I know that she too was born a mother and in her is encapsulated all of that divine feminine wisdom. All the wisdom of Mother Earth. All the wisdom of the amazing and pioneering women that came before her.
But this newest phase we are entering feels bigger and entirely different. Where before we were in a constant state of expanding, this now feels a lot like contracting. All those years of parenting, now drawn into her and quieted. All that I’ve poured into her, now needing solitude and hibernation. A germination. A winter.
This winter sometimes looks dark and a little scary, especially when scrolling through baby photos. Her sweet, happy face. Memories of when there was more leaning in than pulling away.
Of course, I know that children aren’t meant to be captured and kept. They are sands that seep through the cracks of our outstretched hands. But my mind tweaks a little thinking about all of the versions of my daughter I’ve already loved and known and then lost. Always losing to gain the next miraculous version of her. Stronger, bigger, more competent in every way.
It turns out, growing up is not just the business of children, parents are asked to do it, too. To do it first. And that looks to me a lot like a constant state of letting go. Letting go of expectations. Sending shoulds and woulds up to the ethers. Marveling in my own awkward awakenings and clearing the clouds from my own eyes.
And the gift of that is to constantly gain her anew, while simultaneously grieve who she will never be again. What a joy to witness. So very bitter-sweet to live. But I’ve only got one chance at this as a mother, raising a daughter. One chance to do right by her first, and then hope that will shine back on all of us as she steps her way to adulthood.
And with that I say to her: Go, girl. I’ve got you. Be free. Be you. Step boldly into the places your heart craves and desires. We will never be in this space or place again, but I can’t wait to see the places we’re headed.
Lead the way, my love. Mom is right behind you, cheering you on, holding you close. Always letting you go.
Cover Photo: Kara Block Creative