Friend or Foe

An investigation into the pitfalls and rewards of 21st century friendships.

Our Daughters at Holiday Time

Sure we can survive the holiday's with our daughters...

As if there isn't enough stress simply getting holiday cards out snail mail, and arriving at the department stores at opening bell, many of us have adult children, as well as younger children, around for Christmas week. Of all the family bonds in this mix, the mother/ daughter relationship is often on the line over the holidays and frictions may surface. To add insult to injury, the anticipation of quality family time -not texts and emails but actual time together with our daughters between Christmas and New Years- looms large. There is a premium placed on family gatherings, we travel far and wide to make them possible. According to the Bureau of Transportation Statistics, Christmas week through New Year's rate as one of the busiest travel periods for long distance trips. With Black Friday having begun on Thanksgiving morning this year, as reported by the Washington Post, we are reminded that consumerism is another big piece of the holiday pie. Add to that the ‘when and where' of it all and we have the ingredients for a potentially strained holiday season.

When it comes to our daughters, mothers say that planning the best outings and finding the perfect presents is exhausting. Of course the idea of being with our daughters is enticing during this joyous interval, and surely expressing ourselves through gift giving (even in the downturn) is part of it. If we add on other family members, a son, an adult sibling, one's spouse, in laws, parents, this can evoke tensions and undercurrents.

Mothers and Daughters at the Center

Mothers are genuinely enthusiastic about being with their daughters whether the daughter is home for the week, still lives at home, is in fourth grade or a junior in high school. One mother of two daughters, ages fifteen and twenty-one, said that despite the demands of other family members in the weeks to come, it was her daughters that she most aimed to please. Another mother described herself as ‘constantly upset', but making a Herculean effort to gratify her year fourteen year old daughter anyway. Apparently last Christmas her daughter rejected her mother's gestures which included carefully crafted family dinners, family movie night, and the presents she had painstakingly chosen. The mother was both hurt and frustrated by her daughter's rejection, and certainly not alone in her disappointment.

Many mothers of daughters have trepidation about how the holidays will play out in the mother/daughter dyad. Despite our fantasy that the holidays can heal ills, elevate a glum daughter and mend what may be broken, there is a good chance that some drama will ensue. Even for those mothers who have a very comfortable relationship with their daughters, there is an anxiety in the air that doesn't ordinarily exist.

Getting Wiser

Notwithstanding that we plan our holiday events thoughtfully, it may be difficult to escape a sense of dread that engulfs us by mid December. For mothers who feel this way, it's partly because we hold the bar so high. Perhaps it's time to reframe the holidays, redefine our needs and accept what our relationship with our daughters is honestly about.

*Consider emailing an itinerary in advance that everyone can agree to. If your daughter lives at home or nearby, perhaps schedule a lunch in the next few days to trade ideas about how to spend the holiday week.

*We can't force our daughters to conform to our wishes for this specific season,

particularly older or adult daughters. It is important to recognize that they have lives and habits of their own, and to be respectful of this.

*If we pin our hopes to the holidays, it's likely we'll be let down and so will our daughters. However, if we face the fact that family get togethers and the prescribed joy of the holidays can churn up discord, this realism puts us at an advantage.

*Whether a daughter is unhappy or fiercely independent or surprisingly content or madly in love, whatever her emotion and state of mind, if we listen up, we'll better understand her.

*Whatever rapport we have with our daughters, everyone will be more relaxed if we make things pleasant and easy going, without too many rules. To this end, communication, both ways, will be beneficial.

Although the mother-daughter link is layered and intricate, the love and commitment mothers and daughters share is profound. How about acceptance, mother to daughter and daughter to mother, this season - and as a New Year's Resolution for 2012.

 

Susan Shapiro Barash is the author of eleven books of nonfiction women's issues and teaches gender studies at Marymount Manhattan College.

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