I come from a long line of women who don’t get along with their mothers. As a child, I watched my mom and grandmother spat–it was mostly about misinterpreting each others words and actions. When I entered my teenaged years, it began with my mother and I. My mom tried to connect with me through music, and it just seemed desperate. She’d go to church to pray, and I’d mock her. She’d try to wear the latest fashions, and–well, it was my mom wearing the latest fashions. (Yes, I was awful.)
But, when I turned 18, she was diagnosed with stage 4 colon cancer. And that really complicated things. I was still annoyed with her, but she was dying.
Mom died when I was 22. Just when I was starting to emerge from the adolescent eye rolling, and just when I started to really need her, she was gone.
So, when I gave birth to my own daughter 11 years ago, I was determined to break the cycle of mother and daughter drama. But, let’s be honest here, that’s easier said than done.
This summer, I’m on sabbatical, so I decided to take a three week trip around the country with my daughter–by train. That is a lot of mother-daughter time. And I was worried about it. I was worried that we’d hate each other by the end of the trip. But if we didn’t do it now, when would we do it?
Today, we are on day 18 of 21 days on the road, and I’m happy to report that we still love each other. I think we still even like each other.
Before we began this trip, I sketched out a few basic parenting principles I wanted to follow. Here they are–maybe you’ll find them helpful:
1–Let her be mad. I knew going into this trip that at some point, she’d hate me. And, I wasn’t wrong. Like the time when we visited grandpop, and she wanted to make baked macaroni and cheese, but she’d never made it before, and she needed my help. Her vision of the recipe was very different than the actual recipe, and I was wrong about how to make this. She was furious at me for ruining the dish, but I patiently showed her how to do it.
Once the dish was in the oven, and the smells of macaroni and cheese wafted through the house, she came back and apologized. We talked about where the anger came from, and what we might both try to do next time.
2–Stand firm. No, you cannot have dessert with that enormous dinner. (I don’t think I need to stay anything else on this, do I?)
3–Don’t take this parenting thing personally. One of the hardest and most important things I can do as a parent is to be all in–heart and soul– and not take the big feelings too personally. So when one of my kids screams at me, “I hate you!”, I have to giggle a little. Because, I already know that they do. Their screaming and stomping were the first indications of that. And, I remember being where they are, and I know they’ll come back.
4–Have fun. The most important thing about this trip has been to have fun. We’ve done night swims in Arizona, where the sky is clear and unsullied, unlike the urban sky we’ve grown accustomed to. We’ve watched the landscape change on the train–from mountains to coastline, from browns and greens to incredible blues–and she’s grown to appreciate them all. We’ve read books together, and she’s shared with great detail the excitement of a book that really speaks to her.
Soon we’ll be back home, and we’ll be back to the rhythms of life. I hope she’ll remember this once-in-a-lifetime trip, even in the midst of the difficulties of school, the challenges of friendships, and the ups and downs of our relationship.