The word “powerful” isn’t one that normally comes to mind when we think about mothers or motherhood.
The pastel-tinted vision of mother and child captured by Mary Cassatt or Pierre-Auguste Renoir is what springs to mind, along with words such as “unconditional love,” “caring,” “nurturing,” and “supportive. But “powerful” nonetheless is the right word because a mother’s face is the mirror in which a daughter first catches a glimpse of herself, and a mother’s voice shapes her understanding of how relationships work and whether the world is, generally, a kind and loving place.
This blog is about this most important of connections and its influence on a daughter’s innermost self. I’ve called it Knotted because, at its best, this is a connection of two separate beings, one initially dependent on the other, which is fertile ground for the growth of both over the years. A daughter lucky enough to have a mother who is loving and attuned grows up to be a woman secure in herself and capable of true intimacy, love, and empathy. These two women, one born of the other, are tied together in the best of ways.
But knotted can also mean tangled or entangled, and many mother-daughter relationships are just that. As Deborah Tannen has observed, a mother’s power includes both creating the world a child lives in and dictating how it is to be understood. That power can be abused.
These mothers may be emotionally absent or unreliable, dismissive, hypercritical, or see their daughters only as extensions of themselves. Whether mothers wield their power over their daughters consciously or unconsciously (and sometimes both) is not really the point; what matters is the damage they do to their child’s new fragile and emerging self. Both what they do and what they don’t do, what they say and what they neglect to say, shape their daughters in ways that are both subtle and obvious, seen and unseen. These daughters grow up feeling “less than” or inadequate but, most important, hungry for their mothers’ love and approval.
Being unloved by her mother robs a daughter of her sense of belonging, even if she is cared for by others. That’s how powerful a role a mother plays. Human beings thrive on belonging; we are not, intrinsically, solitary creatures and for some daughters the quest for belonging may dominate their lives. Ironically, they will often choose partners who represent what feels familiar, and experience not belonging all over again.
Yes, mothers are powerful, even though we’d prefer not to talk about it and what it implies. Knotted seeks to change that, and begin a true and open discussion of the mother-daughter relationship, its potential and its pitfalls, the good and the truly ugly alike. The goal is to illuminate and elucidate this most complex of human connections, and I hope you’ll join me.
Copyright 2016 by Peg Streep
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