Parenting Young Women in Today's World

My Daughter, My Self

"Unlike the mother-son relationship, a daughter's relationship with her mother is something akin to bungee diving. She can stake her claim in the outside world in what looks like total autonomy-in some cases, even "divorce" her mother in a fiery exit from the family-but there is an invisible emotional cord that snaps her back. For always there is the memory of mother, whose judgments are so completely absorbed into the daughter's identity that she may wonder where Mom leaves off and she begins." - Victoria Secunda

My daughter Alexis and I have found this to be true. In our relationship, she has abandoned my affections time and again, only to come back in a loving reunion that brings us closer together than ever. No matter how angry she gets with me, the truth is there is no one whose opinion means more to her than mine. No matter how exasperated with her I become, the bond between us is always stronger whenever we reconcile

My daughter and I had another fight today. Why? Is it because we are so different from each other? At times, when I listen to her talking, I hear my own voice. So why is she such a stranger to me?

Every mother I have ever spoken to has confirmed my finding: Raising a daughter is much more difficult than raising a son. What is this ineffable relationship that exists between mothers and daughters? More broadly is the question, "What is this spirit of competition that consists between women?"

Part of this adversity springs from a conflict we carry within ourselves. In 1959, Ruth Handler introduced everybody's favorite dream girl in New York City at the American Toy Fair. Barbie® was sporting a ponytail, and she was wearing a striped swimsuit. Had she been a real woman, Barbie's measurements would have been an impossible 39-18-33.

So it is that for 48 years, American women have been bombarded with a message that defines their individual value in terms of the ability to attract and hold the attention of a man with their beauty. Last year, two Barbie® dolls were sold every second of every day.

I got my first and only Barbie® doll in 1964. By 1974, I was striving to achieve an ideal of "perfection" that required dyed blond hair, a tiny waist, high heeled pumps, and tight-fitting clothes. The pressure on my daughter is even greater than what I experienced: Whereas I had one Barbie® doll at the age of nine, Alexis had more than twenty Barbies when she was growing up. Television shows like "Nip and Tuck," continue to indoctrinate our young women to strive for ideals of perfection that leave little room for variation; and no room for consideration of what makes for a perfect soul.

I grew up with entertainers who had "real" bodies, such as Leslie Gore and Gladys Knight. Alexis has "unreal" role models like Pamela Anderson and Beyoncé Knowles. It is almost impossible to feel oneself adequate in this cultural milieu.

But the tension between us is more than this. Elizabeth Debold, Marie Wilson, and Idelisse Malave explain it this way:

Suddenly, through birthing a daughter, a woman finds herself face to face not only with an infant, a little girl, a woman-to-be, but also with her own unresolved conflicts from the past and her hopes and dreams for the future.... As though experiencing an earthquake, mothers of daughters may find their lives shifted, their deep feelings unearthed, the balance struck in all relationships once again off kilter.

At 51, I have lived life and experienced the heartaches and lessons it can bring. Now I am flush with the lessons and the benefits of experience, and I have a deep desire to share this legacy with Lexie because I want to prevent her having to go through some of the painful experiences I endured.

I talk, but she can't hear me. I shout, but she hears only an attack on her ability to navigate the world on her own; and so she bumps her head unnecessarily to prove that she doesn't need my counsel. She resists guidance by the one person who understands her better than anyone else in the world.

Is there anyone on this Earth more exasperating, or endearing, than our daughters? Is there anyone else we understand so well? I think not.

The wisest course may well be to see only the promise in our daughters. Many times, we criticize in our daughters the things we dislike in ourselves. Yet criticism only locks us into the very pattern we are trying to change; in ourselves, or our daughters.

Once, when I was at my wits' end with Lexie, I happened to be studying a visualization course by author Shakti Gwain. At her instruction, I began to write affirmations about my little girl. I said: "Alexis is a highly successful and motivated straight A student in college." I did this each and every night. I refused to criticize conduct that I found questionable. Instead, I focused only on what she was capable of being.

Within a very short time, Alexis had a list of written goals, each with a date. My daughter is a highly motivated and intense young lady, and when she sets her mind to something she is unstoppable. So it was only a matter of time before she was reaching her objectives. I was elated!

As I ponder this development, I realize that when I criticize the person who is more like me than anyone else on Earth, I am really criticizing my Self. I remember that, like everyone else, my daughter responds to love and praise, and avoids criticism. How understandable is it that she would fight to avoid condemnation from the one who opinion she values most? I love my Self. Therefore, I love Alexis. For, in so many ways, we are one.

Affirmation: I love and appreciate my wonderful daughter, and give her permission to be all that she is meant to be.

Mindy L. Hitchcock