In parenting the days often take forever, but the years fly by. Today I wanted to share some excerpts from my friend Nancy Reinisch’s recent presentation to a group of mothers of daughters about to graduate from high school. This is a season of graduations, so the ideas apply, to some extent, to graduations of all sorts—from crawling to walking; from no glasses, to regular glasses, to bifocals.
Nancy says that the mother daughter relationship is one of the most passionate relationships of women’s lives. She goes on… The mother-daughter relationship will hold its power throughout our lives, and even in the future generation of our grandchildren.
Nancy says: Even if you have younger children at home, a child going off to college marks our own passage into middle age or beyond. So, the upcoming separation that we are facing is filled with complicated and sometimes ambivalent feelings. We mothers are excited for our girls, yet apprehensive, proud of their accomplishments, but fearful for their safety, happy for their youthful exuberance, and sad to let them go out of our day-to-day lives.
So yes, we are at a crossroads with our daughters, but the good news is that we are not losing them. We are merely losing control of them! Through separation and relinquishing control, there is an important opportunity to deepen and build on our relationships with our daughters. It offers a chance to break out of cycles of misunderstanding and gives mothers the break to examine our communication styles, and avoid the landmines that can create distance between you and your daughter.
As mothers, we will no longer be the supervisors, the managers of our girls’ lives. Instead, we need to move toward a role as a mentor, a non-judgmental maternal force who is available to discuss what is going on in your girl’s life.
Nancy goes on to emphasize the importance of empathic communication, listening and not judging (and being aware of how the profoundly intimate relationship moms have with their daughters can also open the door to hurtful and unfiltered, “you’re wearing that?” sorts of painful statements). Heightened awareness is crucial. She goes on…
The goal of communication should be to help your child feel cohesive and intact, even if she screwed something up. The first year of college is often a year of significant learning about how the world operates without your parents around. It is an opportunity for our girls to deal with professors, deadlines, roommate problems, etc., on their own. A mother’s role is that of the listener, who supports her daughter’s strengths and abilities to work out problems on her own.
An empathic response is a prerequisite for your daughter to feel a sense of cohesion. Empathy does not always mean agreeing with a person, but rather trying to recognize what it must be like from the other’s point of view.
College is often a time when teenagers first experience problems with depression, eating issues, drugs and alcohol and while things can threaten to spiral out of control, colleges all have mental health services and can help to evaluate the problem and find the right kind of help. Again, the way to know if your child is having problems is through non-judgmental communications.
Some of the angst that many of us are experiencing at his time is about an upcoming uncertainty in our own lives. Some of us are professionals with careers that have continued throughout childrearing. But, many mothers have curtailed or taken a complete professional break to raise children. At this crossroads, many are feeling uncertain about how we are going to redefine our lives as middle- aged women. I believe that this is a significant developmental stage, where we can evaluate how we want to shape the rest of our lives. It is an opportunity to redefine our careers, or find a way to be of service in our community. We can decide to go to school ourselves, or take that ballroom dance class you have fantasized about for years. If you are married, it is a time to reevaluate your relationship with your spouse and work on refreshing your relationship. If you are single, maybe you will have more freedom to put yourself in situations to encounter new relationships. We have reason to feel excited by a new stage in our lives and should not let this time go by without personal reflection and a proactive plan on creating some new direction in our lives. Our daughters will feel as proud of our growth as we of theirs.
I personally appreciate Nancy’s words on this topic as they come from her professional and her personal experiences. No matter what stage we, or our children, are at, transition is hard, and it is central to growth. Perhaps we might dedicate today to moms (and dads) of daughters (and sons) who could use a little love across the ether as they steel themselves to lovingly release their babies to whatever the next stage is for all of us.
Thanks, Nancy—and Namaste to all, Bruce