Tami Simon: You’re listening to Insights at the Edge. Today my guests are Sil and Eliza Reynolds. Sil and Eliza are a mother/daughter team set to change the dynamics and their teenage daughters. Sil is a therapist in private practice, specializing in family medicine, women’s health, and eating disorders. Eliza currently attends Brown University where she is studying developmental and social psychology, gender studies, political science, and nonfiction writing.
With Sounds True, Sil and Eliza have created a new book, Mothering and Daughtering: Keeping Your Bond Strong Through the Teen Years. Through this pioneering book, Sil and Eliza are leading a revolution, smashing conventional wisdom on mothers and teenage daughters.
This episode of Insights at the Edge was recorded with Sil and Eliza both present in the Sounds True studio. In this episode, we talked about how to repair a mother/daughter bond, especially during the teenage years, [when] the mother and daughter find themselves deeply at odds with each other.
We talked about the essential toolkit that one needs both for effective mothering and effective daughtering. We also talked about the grief that can sometimes surface when we face our own disappointments about how we were or weren’t mothered. Finally, we talked about what it means for a mother and a daughter at any age to “keep it real.” Here’s my conversation with Sil and Eliza Reynolds.
In your book, you both offer quite a few definitions that relate to mothering and daughtering. I thought we’d start at the beginning, at the top, with a definition: your current working definition of—let’s start with daughtering, and then mothering. I mean, is “daughtering” a word you invented?
Eliza Reynolds: You could say that, yes. “Daughtering” is a new word; I will claim it for now and I hope it takes a life of its own. Let’s say that. It’s a word that I actually asked the girls that I work with to define with me. So it’s become a work in progress. But for the book, I have—slightly against my will, and consciously—nailed it down.
TS: Let’s hear it!
ER: Daughtering is … I don’t have it memorized. I’m going to say it anyways, though. Daughtering is stepping out of passivity into an active role in your relationship with your mother. It’s balancing, responsible independence with a dependable bond during the teen years, specifically in this book, but also…
TS: OK, so there’s a lot there, so let’s break it down a little bit before we move into the big topic of mothering here. So, taking more responsibility, moving out of passivity. That’s a pretty big idea right there. I mean, I think most people think that if you’re a daughter, you sort of receive your mother’s parenting style for better or for worse. You’re sort of on the receiving end. But you’re turning it upside down a bit here.
ER:Well, yes. That’s been my experience. My experience is that most of the teenage girls who I know, work with, and even myself at times—which, this is a personal journey, I am a teenage daughter—live in a world of passivity in their relationship with their mother. It’s eye rolls. It’s exasperated sighs. It’s “She’ll never get me, so why try?”
I don’t believe that’s good enough. I don’t believe that’s the answer. I believe that not just for the mother and for the relationship, but I believe it for the life of a teenage girl. When you give up in that relationship, what are you learning? What are you putting into practice in almost every other important relationship in your life? You know? When I say to step into your role as an agent of change in your relationship, this is the learning ground. This is the pattern that’s being set, whether it’s Jungian [or other] psychologists around the world would look at these primary relationships but for me, as somebody who’s not a hard-core psychologist, it’s basic. It’s learning a pattern of relating. And I’m learning to step into my own, and own what I need and what I want in an active role that I can play.
TS: OK, but what would you say to a teenager who says, “How much impact can I really have on this relationship? My mom’s the one who decides this, this, this, this. You know, I’m not even driving a car yet, whatever. Obviously I am in this passive, one-down role here.”
ER: You’re in a passive role in certain contexts, but the thing is, first of all, you are on a train that is headed straight to independence. In our culture, the clock’s ticking. Mom has this role maybe right now—when I work with a 13- or a15-year-old—[but] you hit 17, 18, or 19, and that’s very much not going to be the case. This is the time of transition.
So it is true in peripheral ways, but what we see so many girls demanding that the despite the fact that mom has the car keys, “I’m going to run the relationship in other ways. I’m going to close the door and I’m going to lock you out.”
Even if you make me keep my door open, I’m going to lock myself—my inner life—[away] from you. And that’s really what I’m talking about. So many mothering/daughtering books are focused on this very outer, outer, outer life. I want to start on the inside. I want to open that debate for teenage girls—a discussion for teenage girls. I think there’s more being done around adults and women and mothering around [this issue], and that’s not really something that is part of teenage girl’s life. That’s really where I want the change to happen.
It’s about the fact that even if your mother is shut down in a lot of ways or is running the relationship in a lot of ways, sometimes adults aren’t adults in a lot of ways. There’s a developmental gap—it’s kind of the fate you’ve been handed. You were born into this family, but you’re on a journey and as you grow older, maybe you’re able to realize that more. It’s been a journey for me; what I knew at 13 is obviously a world of difference from now at age 21, but that’s been part of my journey, realizing, what is my fate and what do I want my destiny to be? What are the choices I want to make? What am I going to do with this one life that’s been handed to me?
Part of that is asking my mom for a certain kind of relationship—learning what she can give, learning her limitations, learning she’s an imperfect human. And you know, I can pretty much say that [to] moms out there that if your teenage daughter comes to you and says, “Mom, I want to talk to you about a relationship,” [not many moms are] going to [say], “No, let’s not talk. Let’s get in the car.” There are so many mothers who are receptive to that and want something different but don’t know how to completely find it themselves. That’s where a teenage girl comes in.
TS: Now, you offered two parts to this “work-in-progress” definition.
ER: [Laughs] Yes.
TS: The first [part] was not being passive, and the second part has something to do with keeping the bond alive and being responsible in that? Can you tell me what you meant by that?
ER: Yes. What I see is that there’s such a paradox inherent to this teenage experience: a teenage girl’s relationship to her mother. In the definition—my current working definition—there’s a juxtaposition of the independence and the dependence. One of my favorite things that my mom says is that, “Healthy dependence creates independence.” So, it’s one of these balancing acts. As a teenage girl—I mean, you toss whatever paradox you want into it: whether it’s, “My mom mortifies me more than I could imagine—anybody in the world.” Which is true: my mom sometimes embarrasses me like I can’t believe. And, she loves me more unconditionally, more than anybody I could ever imagine.
So as a teenager, when I hit [age] 14 and 15, I was feeling all this angst and this “Mom, oh my God, please, please don’t do that. You’re irritating the heck out of me.” [But] I was also feeling such guilt for that. So it’s finding this balance. That’s really what the second part of the definition is about. It’s a really hard thing—balance is hard at any level—but it’s saying, “OK, how do I find my independence, and how do I also make sure that I am using this dependence, this bond that I have, in a way that feeds my independence instead of hinders it? And [how do I] find this balance between the two?” Which can be very, very difficult. You know?
That’s the thing about the independence: I believe that daughtering is fundamentally, sometimes, not that much about your mom. To be a teenage daughter—and to be a daughter, really, on the tail end of a matri-line, of a cycle of inheritance—is to be living your own life. It is to be growing, you know? It is to be growing into your own self, and that’s part of what the mother/daughter relationship is. A mother/daughter relationship, specifically during the teen years, [consists of] an adult and somebody who’s not an adult. And that dynamic should be that way for quite a while. That’s a healthy balance that needs to be found. And a mother who expects her daughter to be an adult, to feed her [own] needs, that’s where you have, from the daughter’s side, just way too much weight placed on that.
TS: Now before we leave this sort-of-new word in our vocabulary—you’ve taken a noun and you’ve made it a verb. What do you think about that?
ER: Yes! I love that! I was pissed [because] moms have all these words. They get to “mother.” Everybody knows what “mothering” is, in fact everybody’s debating it in every [magazine] article. [I was also pissed because] there’s always such a bad rap about teenage daughters and teen girls. We’re overemotional, we’re shallow, we’re bossy, we’re not leaders … you name it. There are all these adjectives that are assigned to teenage girls.
[In addition,] we’re this huge market. We’re consumers, but not smart consumers. There are all these things about us [teenaged girls], and yet we don’t have the words for what [people] expect of us. We don’t have the actions for it. So I want to build those actions. If that word’s not there, then let’s find that word. Let’s play with it. Let’s define it. Let’s own it for ourselves. And that’s the “daughtering” revolution. Welcome.
Sil Reynolds: [Laughs.]
TS: OK, let’s switch for a moment to “mothering.” This is a word that has many, many, many different definitions, [including] what makes for good mothering, I’d like to hear from you, what do you think makes for good mothering?
Sil Reynolds: Well, Karl Jung was my inspiration, and he said the greatest burden on the child is the unlived life of the parent. When I read that a number of years ago, it so inspired me in my mothering role because it’s what I felt was missing in my daughtering role. And it’s so much what I wanted to provide for my daughter as I raised her.
So my definition is very simple. [Good mothering is] raising your daughter to become herself. Now, I’m not saying that anybody—any human being or any mother—could do that perfectly. And perfection is not something I’m going for or that anyone should go for. [Perfection is] not possible, but it is a practice for me as a mother. It has been a practice of continuing to watch this beautiful human being—my daughter—who’s unfolding before my very eyes and becoming her own unique person. This soul. This beautiful, unique soul. Who is she? And more and more trying to discover that [instead of] placing my agenda or projections onto her, which is, you know, really challenging.
SR: I mean, mothers will do that. It’s perfectly natural. Human beings do that. And yet it’s been a sort of spiritual practice for me that that is my working definition for mothering: raising [my daughter but] not placing my unlived life on her. You know, really trying to make choices.
When we watch our children, we say, “Who are they?” When [Eliza] was very young, she loved to dance around the kitchen. There happened to be this world-dance company in our town and they took children at three years old into this wonderful community to learn dances from all over the world. I really thought about that. It felt right. I had to really separate out what was my agenda, because what mother wouldn’t delight in her daughter dancing and then performing? You know?
SR: And then [I had] to just intuit, [to use] my mother’s intuition: Who is she? And bringing her to this community of dancers and getting this sense that this was a place where she could thrive in this community. And it really worked out. She still dances to this day. And it’s her thing.
TS: Now this idea of supporting and enabling your daughter to be herself: who she truly is, her true self. If you were going to create for mothers a portable toolbox that had essential tools in it—I don’t just mean surface tools—I mean the actual deeply rooted realizations that would support [their daughters]. What would be the essentials in that toolbox?
SR: The essential tool would be that that mother knows who she [herself] is.
TS: That’s a pretty big essential.
SR: [Laughs.] And again, because that can’t be done perfectly, and because that is also a process, I express a gentle urgency in the book that we mothers [raise] our commitment to being the more conscious person in the relationship, to being the adult in the relationship, to getting our psychological and emotional house in order as much as we can—[but] not perfectly. Because we’ll make mistakes. In fact, it’s important that we make mistakes as we mother because that’s part of life, and then we teach our daughters so much from our mistakes. We teach them about what it is to own up to our mistakes, to apologize for our mistakes, to have compassion for ourselves. It’s what we call the “rupture and repair” process in psychology.
And yet, I feel that in the toolbox, if possible, [there should] be some kind of spiritual practice or psychological practice, which is not a burden to our mothering, but it increases our consciousness as we mother.
TS: Sure. Now let’s just take a little aside here.
TS: I know so many women who had children because they didn’t really know what to do with themselves. They weren’t aware of “this is who I am in my fullness.” It was more like [these women felt] some kind of emptiness—and maybe some babies were gonna help. It seems like that would be a difficult situation in terms of what you’re describing as the number-one essential [for the good-mothering toolbox].
SR: Yes. Well, my experience with the hundreds of mothers and daughters I’ve worked with [while] teaching workshops is that even if you go into that [mother/daughter] relationship unconsciously, it is an awakening. And that it’s never too late, at any age! I mean, some mothers wake up when their kids are adolescents and say, “Wow, I really need to get my act together in a way that I haven’t before because I’m being challenged—and I need to understand myself, my lineage, and my psychological and emotional baggage so that I can parent this kid who is making huge demands of me right now.”
So a tool can be a spiritual practice. Therapy was incredibly useful for me because I was able in therapy to complete my spectacularly incomplete adolescence, and I did much of that even after Eliza was born. It’s not something you have to do before you have children.
SR: But certainly, teenagers up our game. There’s an urgency because the hormones and the brain biology make way more demands of our children, of our adolescents, and of us. So getting the support we need as mothers—in the book I refer to it as our containers. We can contain our children through healthy boundaries and protect them in ways that are appropriate. We too, as mothers, need that healthy containment, whether it’s in relationships we’re in, in therapy, in a spiritual practice, time and nature. We need to be restored. Our reserves need to be regularly filled up so that we can be available as the relatively balanced mature adult in the relationship.
TS: So it’s interesting you’re going right for the root, if you will, which is a mother’s relationship with herself as the most important starting point for the mothering relationship.
SR: Yes. Yes. And I found that in my inner work, I learned—literally with the help of therapy and other ways—to mother myself, to contain and mirror myself. These are two of the keys in the mothering/daughtering approach: the mirroring and the containing. I [already] mentioned containing. Mirroring is literally seeing soul. But we can also see soul in ourselves.
Author Peggy O’Mara, who was the editor and publisher of Mothering magazine [for many years], has a wonderful quote that says: the way we talk to our children becomes our inner voice.
TS: Hmmm. Interesting.
SR: Yes, because it’s so powerful. So in the ways that I’ve inherited negative self talk, my urgent [practice] as a mother was to treat myself with more compassion and kindness and acceptance—to raise myself to become myself in order for there to be a greater freedom for Eliza to be who she is.
TS: Yes. I think I understand, now, a little bit about containment in the mother/daughter relationship, but tell me a little more about how mirroring plays out specifically in the mothering of your daughter.
SR: Well, if you know the Snow White story, [it contains] the symbol of the narcissistic mother—the stepmother. Eventually it’s this “clear mirror” that mirrors the truth to Snow White, which is that she is the most beautiful—the fairest of them all. And I like to say that in that [Snow White] myth, that is the positive mother’s reflection of her daughter. To a mother who is at home in her [own] body and at home in herself and has reflected her own beauty to herself, she then becomes a “clear mirror” for her daughter—and her daughter is beautiful to her. There’s no threat; her daughter is not her agenda or her extension.
So I see clear mirroring as—not perfect mirroring—but a mirroring where I can look at Eliza and see her separate from me, and reflect—as a mother—reflect back to her, her beauty. So sometimes that’s literally through words. In an everyday way it can be, “Oh, I notice the way you did that job—that was really thoughtful of you to do it that way,” so that she [the daughter] begins to get a sense of who she is.
ER: [Interjecting.] I think you begin to hear that reflected back to you in a kind of accurate way. On a basic level, it’s somebody who noticed that you did that. Or that this is what they see in you. And that they’ve acknowledged [you] or mentioned that. But it also comes out in a day-to-day way communication. It plays a huge role in mother/daughter communication, but really any communication. When you speak to somebody, you want to be heard—first of all for what you said. There’s almost nothing so frustrating as feeling like the communication got stunted because I didn’t even have the time to hear what you had to say. They got onto what they had to say.
ER: And mirroring—in a basic, everyday communication way—is when I have something to say, my mom is there to listen to it. The first thing she does before she goes off to deal with a situation—even if she’s multitasking as most mothers are with five things flying around—is she says: “Honey, what I think I’m hearing you say is this … You felt this way today.” Or, “When I did that, you felt this.” Just that mirroring, that “getting it,” can be a very day-to-day thing, [and it] is such a fundamental skill. Through [my mom] showing me what mirroring is, I can mirror my friends. You know? It’s a skill of an emotionally intelligent person.
TS: You know, I notice so many people who weren’t seen or heard in their family and how that’s a wound they carry into their adult life. Maybe it’s in the work place. That’s where I see [this] so often. Will they be seen or heard by their boss or manager or whatever? And it’s such a wound people carry because they weren’t mirrored.
SR: Yes, they weren’t seen. At the most basic level, I think this is why this mothering practice is so universal. You don’t have to be a mother or be a daughter, it’s being a human. And I think it’s the most fundamental longing to be seen for who we are unconditionally.
TS: So Eliza: I want to switch to the daughtering tool kit.
ER: [Laughs] Ahh, the daughtering tool kit!
TS: Our little toolbox that has the essentials in it for the daughter who wants to engage in responsible daughtering through the teen years.
ER: Who wants to engage in responsible daughtering? Well, that’s the first step. Does she want to engage in responsible daughtering?
ER: That’s the first journey because honestly—[Mom and I] teach workshops together—that’s how we first began our work when I was about 16. It’s been a bit of journey since then, but three-quarters of the daughters who show up at our workshops will tell me straight up, “I don’t want to be here. My mom packed my suitcase, and I can’t believe I’m missing my friend’s birthday party.”
TS: Fair enough.
ER: You know what? [I tell the daughters] straight up: “Well, if you think that it’s so desperately uncool that you’re hanging out with your mom for a weekend—or even reading a book about your relationship with your mom—imagine writing one, sweetheart. [Mockingly] Oooph. I was c-o-o-l in high school.”
But first of all, to have a daughter access this essential daughtering toolkit, there’s a level of engagement that needs to happen. So fundamentally, to even get the key into the daughtering tool kit, the daughter needs to realize: 1) if she has a good relationship with her mom, life is going to be so much easier.
TS: Just purely practical.
ER: Just practical. Let’s talk about logistics here.
TS: Yeah. Sure.
ER: I mean emotional baggage is the whole next one. But like, whoa, what if in this crazy scenario you could imagine that your mom, instead of being your greatest enemy during the teen years—you’re always pushing up against her, she never lets you do what you want to do—could be your greatest ally. [What if your mom could be] like a support system: somebody who had your back. When you and she disagreed, you talked about it and you figured it out. And you knew she had your back, and when she made a boundary, you respected that—maybe after a little push, because I always pushed—but you saw that, “Wow, I bet she knows what she’s knows what she’s doing when she’s holding that boundary. I bet she knows that if I go and hang out with my friends tonight, I’m going to be a wreck tomorrow …” and the yadda-yadda situation unfolds.
So the first step I tell to girls is to just get smart. It’s in your interest. At a certain point it’s not about how mommy would love to have you snuggle in her arms and be best friends. It’s about “this is for you.”
It’s not only going to make it so much easier for you now, but [in the future.] Time and time again we see that when teenage girls are conscious enough to realize that having a troubled or difficult or hateful relationship with your mom—that is something you carry on. That doesn’t leave you when you leave your mom’s house. That is deep-level stuff.
We see that the world round. So part of it is just “Let’s help the girls with their new, budding consciousness,” which is so beautiful to behold. Let’s channel it to where they are in a place to look at and examine their own relationships. Mostly, there’s nobody asking them these questions. There’s nobody saying, “Hey! Pause, let’s just pause.” Because sometimes it’s just a pause button. Let’s pause and examine girl culture and say “What if?” And then [let’s] wait to see what answer is inside, because so often what [we] see is that the same girls who came to that workshop with their arms crossed, who won’t even make eye contact, [who won’t] even touch [their] mom—“Are you kidding me? She’s like disease right next door.” [These same girls] come up [and ask], “Can we stay after lunch?” “Do you think they need help taking down after the workshop? We could stay and help.” [These girls are] so eager to be in that energy and to be in that place and to be in this bubble where they’re allowed to be in this way with their mom.
SR: It’s like we give them permission in the workshop. It becomes the …
ER: … the new norm.
SR: … The new norm that mothers and daughters actually love each other. And it’s really touching. It’s just infectious. Within hours, everybody’s caught it. And everybody remembers that this is the only thing that matters. The bond is so retrievable. It’s just below the surface: the longing and the love. The girls respond.
ER: But the thing that I would add is that it doesn’t mean that there isn’t tension. You know, teenage years are infamous for it. But there is a world of difference between tension and rejection. Tension is necessary; it’s healthy.
I mean my mom [mentioned] before the psychological model of rupture and repair. We need ruptures. If we don’t have ruptures, we don’t learn how to repair. With each repair, we grow stronger.
SR: The bond gets stronger.
ER: It’s like there’s no use crying over a rupture. Go learn how to repair. Repair, repair, repair.
SR: But the mother’s got to lead the way. If she doesn’t know about ruptures and if she doesn’t know about repairs, it’s the blind leading the blind. Blind mother leading the blind daughter.
TS: So even if a daughter is strong in these daughtering skills, it’s really the mother who has to lead this rapprochement or whatever you want to call it.
SR: Yeah. It really is. We see incredibly resilient daughters who do well over time.
ER: [Addressing her mom.] I’d say you’re one of them. Let’s start there!
SR: [Laughs.] I know lots of resilient daughters who’ve been in a lot of therapy and healed and become their own mothers, so to speak. But in terms of our work with mothers and adolescent daughters, it’s really [about] giving mothers the permission to step in and do what they know how to do. I feel that most mothers instinctively really do know how to mother well, and that their mother’s intuition is kind of dormant. In the book, I write a lot about how to find that intuition again—and to trust it. Our culture absolutely does not teach or reinforce that fine sensibility, that skill. So if that’s not there, it’s really hard for mothers to feel grounded in themselves in their mothering.
TS: Let’s say a woman who’s listening to this has a teenage daughter, and they’re distanced from each other right now. It’s difficult. They’ve been arguing and fighting about X, Y, and Z, and there’s a feeling that they’re sort of in opposite camps. What would you say to that mother, Sil? She has to lead the way here in the healing of the bond. What are your suggestions to her?
SR: Well, they’re twofold. One is that the problem lies in pure orientation. We’re attachment creatures. And we orient towards one way or the other, primarily. So when the duckling is coming out of the egg, if the mother duck isn’t there, who does that duckling follow? We’re attachment creatures. There’s a lot of peer orientation now in our culture, more even than when I when I was a teenager …
TS: By peer orientation, do you mean: “I’m going to spend my time with my friends on Facebook or whatever,” and “Mom, you’re old news. Get out of here!”
SR: Exactly. That’s right.
TS: OK, I think I get it.
SR: More than ever.
ER: And intensity too. When you say “peer orientation through attachment,” you’re looking at “Not only are these my friends who I love and want to hang out with all the time, but this is where I get the stuff I need, the advice …”
SR: … or “I try to.” And this is where I take my cues. A peer culture is not a mature culture. It’s a wonderful culture, and it’s rich and creative, but it’s not dependable. So number one: when I’m working with a mother whose relationship with her teenage daughter is quite severed or distanced, I’d want to look at and almost “diagnose” and say, “OK, what’s the issue here?” Is [the daughter] hanging out a lot—actually too much, I would say—online with her peer group? I have nothing wrong with friends, but if that becomes way more [important] than family, there’s a problem in my opinion.
So what I often talk about is mothers retrieving their daughters. And the retrieval sometimes happens in our weekend workshops—and you don’t [necessarily] need to come to our workshops to have that—but I do recommend [that you spend] time away [together], unplugged in nature, at a retreat, on a vacation. Have the daughter involved in choosing the place.
TS: OK, so let’s just say the daughter says, “Like no way. I’m busy. That doesn’t sound like fun. No.”
SR: I would ask the mother: Who’s in charge here? And I would recommend that she be in charge, and that her daughter needs help. And that while [the daughter is] still living in her house, she needs to retrieve her daughter and get her back. I’ve seen again and again when I recommend this in my therapy practice and in the workshops that I lead, that the mother recovers the daughter—sort of like [the Greek myth of] Demeter recovering Persephone from the Underworld.
There needs to be a determination, and there’s a methodical way to actually bring your daughter home—back to the bond that she deserves and needs.
TS: So what is that methodical way?
SR: Well, the methodical way is getting away, for sure—and sometimes for a week. And your daughter might literally be kicking and screaming—and that could be the degree of the problem. But I know that any mother who is knowing and trusting her [own] mother’s intuition knows that her daughter needs her—and needs her more than her peers and more than Facebook and more than the culture at large. That fundamental bond is what her daughter needs in relationship—and that security and connection.
TS: So just to take a little bit of a tangent here: I think it’s interesting that it’s not completely apparent to many mothers that having peer orientation is a problem.
TS: How did that happen do you think?
SR: I don’t know, and I have to say that it’s [psychologist] Dr. Gordon Neufeld out of Canada who has really brought this to the attention of most of us who are working in the parenting sphere. He first named it about 10 years ago, and his notion is starting to really catch on. There’s a lot of research about the increased teen suicides, the bullying, the eating disorders, and that in the places where there’s more peer orientation—sort of Lord of the Flies kind of situations—there’s much more chaos. [In these situations,] the adults in charge are not mentoring or leading or guiding responsibly—whether they’re educators, parents, grandparents, aunties, or whatever. The culture at large has become less and less focused towards the village raising the child. And really, when we’re talking about that maxim—the village raising the child—it’s really about an “attachment village,” where all the adults know each other and everybody’s watching out for everyone else.
When the Tiger Mother book came out, people were criticizing that mode of mothering. I actually wasn’t that critical of the Tiger Mother because she was right in the middle of her daughters’ lives. And I thought, “Cool! OK! They’re close.” I had more of a problem with the values that were being taught in that household: the extreme commitment to A+, A+, [perform at] Carnegie Hall, whatever.
Every family’s gotta do when they gotta do, and I’m loathe to criticize other mothers. But Peter Singer came up with this article about elephant mothers—and his whole notion was that we human beings are more like elephant mothers than we are like tiger mothers. And the elephants raise all the children [in the herd]. There’s like a daycare center, and when you see in elephant herds that they’re watching out—and that’s the original mammals-attachment village. I think that our culture’s gotten so far away from that, and so it doesn’t occur to a mother necessarily that there is something wrong. More and more, I’m happy to say that people in the parenting community are alerted to the problem of kids raising kids.
TS: So you said that there were two main things that you would say to a mother who would be troubled—potentially—by the distance between [her and her] child. So the first was …
SR: … to learn about peer orientation.
TS: Yes, and kind of take back your role as the central adult.
SR: Exactly! To assert that kids don’t come in the back door for the parties. They come in the front door and shake your hand. And you look in their eyes so that all generations stay connected.
When we raised Eliza, the kids who came over knew that we were part of the package. You know? I mean not that Eliza didn’t go off and party in the house, but they came around. We were flipping the burgers, and the kids were all around. It was part of a village. And Eliza tended to gravitate towards other kids who were close with their parents.
[Addressing Eliza.] You got so much from the adults who were in your life, didn’t you?
ER: Absolutely. I call them my aunts and uncles. I’m also a single child, so for me, I was also taking in siblings and family. Families come to mean a very wide circle in a lot of ways, which is a blessing—but through having these other adults really involved in my life. It so happened that some of my best childhood friends, their parents… To see their lives to be let in not only as “OK they’re an adult, that’s their job, that’s great.” But to be let into their inner lives through a real relationship with them just expands not only my worldview but the potential for my own inner journey, you know? I have so many [role] models in the world because my best friend’s mom—Barbara or Jean or Gina or Francie, the endless men and women—have shared with me a piece of their real selves. I go to [friends’] houses to hang out with the parents just as much as with my friends. You know, that’s such a gift. It’s such a gift.
TS: Now was there a second point?
SR: So the second was to get away with your daughter. Period. No matter what. Whatever it takes. And what will happen depends of the degree of the problem, meaning the degree of the separation or the severing of the bond. The bond is there, but it needs to be recovered. And so that means the ideal thing would be to get away, go camping in nature. Your daughter might be kicking and screaming, and you might be hiking through the woods and she’s ten feet ahead of you, but I promise you that over time—if you hang in there—by the end of that week, you guys will have talked things through. You’ll be sleeping in the sleeping bags next to each other and you will get there and be walking by each other again and finding each other again—because that’s what mammals do.
We thrive on relationship and on connection, and it’s what we do naturally. So it would be natural if we could just trust our instincts. When I give mothers permission to do this at our workshops, they just go, “Thank you, thank you!” because that’s what they suspect that their daughter needs—but they’re being told by the culture at large or by their parents, “Oh you’re just too close. You’re just too attached. You’re holding hands too much.”
TS: I wanted to talk about that actually.
TS: So both of you are here in the Sounds True studio, live and in person. And I’ve noticed that you’re very touchy-feely with each other. You hold hands, you lock arms when you’re talking. You know, I guess it does seem a little unusual. It moves me. I think it’s quite beautiful, but it does seem unusual. I wonder what you think that is—that in our world at this time that [closeness] would be considered unusual.
ER: Well first of all I think we’re pretty touchy-feely people. People are on a spectrum. I think that a certain level we all want some mammal touch—and that’s pretty basic. I think people show their love in different ways, you know, and somebody doesn’t need to wrap themselves around their mom. They just need to look in their eyes and they know. It’s like saying “I love you.” I say “I love you” to my mom, but I’m grabbing her hand, and that’s my language. It comes easily to me. It feeds me.
First of all, I think the mother/daughter relationship is certainly not “cool” during the teen years, so any public evidence of that—or PDA—is generally frowned upon. Independence is such a celebrated thing—early independence, rugged individualism, etc.—that the faster you separate or the farther [away] you go to college, or the whatever-it-is is sometimes perversely valued. The child’s desire to leave the nest is in a weird way valued over their desire for closeness. What a twisted thing! That even though your heart or your body might be shrieking, “Ouch, no!” but you’re saying, “Oh yeah, it’s not a problem. I hardly go home anymore. I don’t need to see my parents.”
SR: It’s a great tragedy.
ER: It’s a mind-body disconnect, I think, in a lot of ways.
SR: It’s a great tragedy: the culture’s seemingly absolute concern with independence. I think it’s the myth of maturity. We need each other.
TS: Yeah. Now I’m going to take this moment to go a little confessional, which is what I notice being with the two of you. I’m curious if you’ve seen this come up in the workshops that you teach and how you work with it. One thing that can be evoked—and I feel it in me—is a sense of loss or grief about what I didn’t have when I was growing up. The missing pieces in my own bonding and attachment and how difficult it was to be myself, and [I] moved more toward rejection than healthy tension.
So just by being around you two, and certainly by reading your new book Mothering and Daughtering, I actually think there will be many people who will grieve their own teenage years, their own experience with their mom as they tune into your relationship and your work. What would you say to those people?
SR: I would say to them that I’m not surprised that it gets them in touch with that feeling. That I would hope that on the mothering side, especially, that they will see that I have talked in depth about my own relationship with my mother and about my own mother wound—and how it’s never totally healed and how I’ve lived with that in my life. And how literally my work has grown out of my mother wound. I hope that they will find inspiration and guidance in not only feeling these feelings—mourning what they didn’t have. I still mourn what I didn’t have.
There’s a part in the book where I write that it’s humbling that when I’m with my mother still, I revert to an earlier adolescent behavior that I still am, at 55—that I expect and hope that she’ll approve. There’s a girlish part of me that feels crushed when [my mother] doesn’t approve of my life choices. So I’m still working with it. Absolutely. On the other hand, I have made great headway. A lot of my [part] of the book [deals with] the ways that my work with Marion Woodman really healed much of the pain and blame that I projected onto my mother. [That work] created not just freedom for my daughter to experience her own life and to be her own self, but absolutely have created that for me as well.
But you can’t get away from it, Tami. It feels like the great wound of our time because we are living in patriarchy. Patriarchy is a system that values masculine strengthens and attributes over feminine. It’s not about gender. So mothers and women in particular are carrying a certain kind of burden and a certain kind of self-loathing that if they don’t work it through themselves, they will be projecting it onto their daughters or feeling threatened by their daughter’s freedoms and successes. Does that make sense?
TS: Yeah. It does make sense. Now the way that you’ve written the book together is quite innovative. I’ve never seen this done before.
TS: You each write half of the book, and then you meet in the middle where you share a chapter. Eliza: in your section you made a couple of comments that I thought were just brilliant, quite honestly.
ER: Why thank you. Please do tell me what that was!
TS: One of the comments that you make in the section on daughtering is that we can realize what we are internalizing from our mothers and choose the pieces that we want to inherit. I’m wondering if you can talk a little bit about that, because I think sometimes people think, “Well obviously, I’m going to inherit my mom’s tendency toward overeating or toward overcontrolling—or this or that.” I happened to pick those examples off the top of my head.
ER: And they’re real ones!
TS: So what do you mean that you can choose what you inherit?
ER: Yeah, it’s big one. It comes with consciousness, which is one of the most exciting awakenings of the teen years, and which is why we’re able to start to talk about this. And [consciousness] is a journey that continues from that time onwards. It’s forever.
“Welcome to Day 1,” is kind of what I say to these girls [in our workshops]. “Welcome! You’ve arrived at this journey. In a certain sense this is an initiation of you. You are beginning this journey. I mean, you’ll get to those points whenever you get to those points, but this is the journey.”
Inheritance, and being consciousness of that, is one really big part of [the journey]. In the work that I do with the girls, we start on a very basic level. For example, I’ll have the girls identify two things that they really love that their mom does. Things they want to consciously grow in themselves or be more conscious of in themselves. And [I have them identify] two things they also don’t want to inherit.
So girls can go at different levels with that: “Oh, my mom is so messy, I want to be better at being organized.” Or, “My mom is so sad around her body. She looks in the mirror in the morning, and she always says two or three things she hates about it. It’s just like the worst way to start the day, and I want to try to start my day the opposite way.”
TS: You don’t have any sense that we’re destined to inherit things from our mother that we might not choose to inherit?
ER: I think we’re destined to grapple with them. We can be unconscious, and we can carry them like invisible suitcases we’re lugging around—you know, tied to our tushes. Or, we can say, “OK, this is my journey”—and using as I’ll say a “mother” word—“This is my soul’s journey. This is the piece I was handed. This is what I’m going to work with. It doesn’t need to rule my life. It’s likely going to be part of my life. And it’s likely to be a really big part of my life.”
If you start looking at it early during the teen years, think! I’m sure there are a lot of adult listeners right now thinking back to their teen years and [wondering], “If I had started to awaken then, what could that have meant for me now?” That’s the kind of question—the kind of spark—that I want this book and my work to ignite in teenage girls.
TS: Another comment that I thought was brilliant from the daughtering section is: “Accept the fact that your mom is just another person.”
ER: It’s a scary one isn’t it?
TS: It’s a big revelation.
ER: I found that terrifying, honestly. It’s like a deep level in your gut fear. It’s like “Oh my goodness!” A few years later down the road, it’s one of the most freeing realizations I’ve ever had. So I think initially it’s one of the fears when you enter into the teen years. One of the ways that I describe it is it’s like almost like The Wizard of Oz: when you pull back the curtain, it’s just this guy there. In your childhood imagination there have been all these puppetries flying across the sky. Suddenly you realize—and sometimes it’s devastating and sometimes it’s a relief—that not only does your mom make mistakes, which is kind of part of the process, but she’s a work in progress and she is human and she is on her own journey. Oh my gosh! You can know cognitively that, “OK, my mom was a teenage girl” and then to know it on a deep level, “Whoa, my mom was where I am now. Look how far she’s come!” Or, “Look what she’s still working with.”
Finding empathy or hopefully, later on, compassion—but it’s an empathy now because it’s such a personal thing—for my mom’s own pain, for her loss, for her grieving, for the things that piss her off. Being able to start to understand pieces of that and my own reactions to them is a huge part of what it means to look at my own inheritance. To feel for her a little bit, even if I choose not to take it on.
My mom took on a lot of body-image weight in her relationship with her mom. I can see that dynamic, I can feel sadness for it, and can also go, “OK, I’m going to have my own body stuff, but it’s more mine than hers. OK I can hold the picture.” Sometimes it takes a while for our brains to get to a place developmentally where you can hold the picture. During the teenage years that can start I think.
TS: Now you both talk about, in different ways, about adolescence being a type of birth, if you will.
TS: A type of initiatory phase in life—and really the birth of something new. So what’s being birthed in adolescence?
SR: Well, a new status. With initiation in indigenous cultures, if there was a celebration or ritual in adolescence, you were marking that a child was becoming an adult or making that transition. So, although adolescence is sometimes called a whole decade—from ages 10 to 20—really the very intense physiological changes that are happening with a girl and when she gets her period happen within a three- to four-year period. She becomes a girl to woman, and that is so dramatic. So it’s a different status in the village.
Eliza and I both feel that though [the passage to adulthood] has been marked traditionally in indigenous cultures, it’s just not marked in our culture. We talk about that in our book.
ER: It’s so lost. So therefore you see teenage girls and teenage boys …
SR: “Who am I?”
ER: … running all over the place seeking initiations unconsciously. What’s a tattoo and a piercing? Come on now. Metaphors abound, but I think it’s one of the biggest tragedies that there isn’t this initiation, there isn’t an acknowledgement. I think often what a teenage girl is seeking in her push-back in her relationship with her mom is [a plea]: “Acknowledge that I’m older.”
ER: “Acknowledge that I’m different now.”
SR: “As an elder mother, reflect back who I am and who I am becoming. Please honor that.”
Without that structure or that tradition, it’s pretty hard. Then what happens is that sometimes initiations become diets or shopping. I don’t have a problem with shopping—I like to shop—but there are girls kind of getting initiated into the “women’s club” by saying, “Sorry, I’m on a diet …”
ER: … or, “I hate my body, I’m one of the club.” Welcome.
SR: We know that there are way more profound ways of acknowledging soul.
ER: I’m all about ritual. What is ritual but a great party? A celebration is a ritual. Whether it’s when a girl gets her period for the first time or way down the road, you can celebrate your coming of age whenever! That open period—that time for celebration of you and your authentic self—doesn’t end. There’s not a closing part that you have to do it beforehand.
SR: Even a Sweet Sixteen party can be profound.
ER: More often unfortunately, as reality TV has swept that one away… Where in the Jewish culture you have a bat mitzvah or bar mitzvah, but a lot of my Jewish friends have gone to their bat mitzvahs, and so often it’s about the money that they got [rather than] who the individual is or is becoming. So, when I think of initiations or I think of coming-of-age in adolescence, it becomes much more about the inner life and a kind of the inner journey. I think that’s something that we can still be conscious of. [We can] still mark that transition. As I said, it’s that opening of that curtain; it’s kind of a dramatic opening onto the landscape of like—whoa, holy crap!—and marking that. I think a mother or parent or mentors can play a huge role in that—whether it’s the kind of discussions they have acknowledging them more in an adult way.
Sometimes, for example, when I got my period—I was 14 years old, a few years after most of my friends. My mom and I had been kind of counting down to the day. [When it happened], I was actually thrilled—but it was a pretty unique scenario. I was like, “I can’t wait!”
My best friend had had [her period] for two years, so I was well prepared, and my mom said, “So you want a party? We’ll invite all your friends, and we’ll have a women’s circle.” I looked at her like she was crazy.
TS: Yeah sure!
ER: Now the flip side of that is that I had a really good friend who had a party like that, and the women in her life—her dance teacher, her grandmother—were there. I was there—one of the young girls who hadn’t gotten my period yet. We sat in a circle. I think we had chocolate ice cream, and roses, and we [shared] something that we saw or heard that was beautiful.
Something clicked on in my brain that day. Even though I didn’t want that [kind of party], it is possible and that some girls want that; it’s so important, I think. My mom said, “Eliza, why don’t you want a party like this?”
TS: I’m imagining the party favors as we speak.
ER: Exactly! It would have been a great day. I [answered], “Ma, because I’ve been initiated every day. And looking back that’s true. “I feel acknowledged by you for who I’m becoming.” So just personally, I didn’t want to put it on display. To me, my periods are kind of a private thing.
ER: I think a lot of girls feel that way. Some not. Some like to shout it to the skies. “I need a tampon!”
ER: But for me it was more private. And that was enough. I felt that my change—which was for me quite inner actually—it was more of an inner change, was acknowledged, mirrored, met.
SR: You wanted strawberries for breakfast.
ER: I had strawberries for breakfast. I had a red-themed breakfast. Very private, but perfect.
SR: [Laughs.] And roses.
TS: Now, I just want to ask you both one final question. I have no doubt that any mother/daughter pair who reads this book, Mothering and Daughtering—either together or separately—and who talks about it when they’re on a camping trip together. I have no doubt they will be deeply changed through the process of reading this book. I’ll put a guarantee on it.
I’m curious to know of how the process of teaching workshops together and writing this book has changed you—has changed the two of you—and your relationship.
SR: Oh gosh, so much.
ER: I say this book grew me—because it did. I started writing this book when I was a teenager. When I first wrote in chapter 2, I said, “I don’t know when I’m going to be a woman—although I know I’m not one now.” I [didn’t delete] that part [from the book], even though I feel like something’s shifted, and it was because of the book.
You know, it’s one of the most blessed experiences to say, “Eliza, what do you think a teenager girl needs to know?” Guess what? I figured it out! I figured out what I think, and it’s in a book! Who would of thunk?! It’s one of the biggest, most wonderful, mysteries of my life.
SR: Oh gosh, Tami, my cup runneth over. I feel this [book] is such a labor of love. Initially, when I was teaching the workshops when Eliza was 15 or 16, I was carrying more [of the load], just like in the mothering role. I was doing more of the holding in the workshop because she was …
ER: I don’t know how she fully did it!
SR: [Laughs.] … but Eliza was so naturally skilled and tuned toward these girls, it has been such a blessing. I’ve healed so much in working with her along this path as a daughter and a mother.
ER: I’d say, as for our relationship, that one of the interesting things is people say, “How the heck do you work with your mom?” Gosh, I think teaching together has been one of the best things for our relationship because first of all, it’s taken my mom off a pedestal into a real human being. I have spent so much time with her, pushing back and forth between the nitty-gritty details—whether it’s a schedule or it’s a book page. My mom has become a real living, breathing human who I have a relationship with. That has taken itself out of “just my mother.” She’s become a real friend. That’s what I hope that so many of these teenage girls can get to in their adult years.
Of course she’s always going to be my mom. I’m never going to detach from that—I wouldn’t want to. She’s a great mom. She’s got that mother energy—and who doesn’t want to be held by the mother, archetypal or real, sometimes? But she’s become a friend, and I mean also getting to teach with your mother. My mom is such a skilled teacher that seeing her teach is actually one of the best blessings. It’s like going to work with your mom and seeing what a rock star she is and being like, “Oh, duh? My mom is the coolest! What mom could do that?” As a teenage girl—as sarcastic as I was and still am—it made me fall in love with her all over again. It’s kind of like, “My mom? Oh, I hope I can do that someday!”
ER: So that’s kind of how that part clicked.
TS: I’ve been speaking with Eliza and Sil Reynolds. They have worked together to create a new book called Mothering and Daughtering: Keeping Your Bond Strong Through the Teen Years. This really is a go-to book, I was going to say a bible, for mothers and daughters working through ages 10 through 20, the teenage years, and through the challenges that come with it. So beautiful, so helpful, so practical. Thank you both!
SR & ER: [simultaneously] Thank you Tami! [Laughter.]
TS: SoundsTrue.com. Many voices. One journey. Thanks for listening.