The mother-daughter relationship is a complicated one fraught with highs and lows, intense emotions and words unspoken. There are many ways mothers and daughters deal with the challenges that undoubtedly arise in their relationships: sometimes we argue uncontrollably and other times we keep silent. In the best of times, we are able to calmly talk through our differences until we come to a state of understanding, respect and love. My daughter and I have found yet another way to reflect on and resolve issues: we co-author a blog called My Mother, My Daughter, My Friend. Reflecting and writing has helped us understand each other's innermost feelings, create a healthy dialogue and dramatically improve our relationship.
Jenna is my only child and we were close throughout her childhood; however, beginning in her high school years, Jenna retreated and our relationship became not so much adversarial, but simply distant. In fact, she spent so much time in our home's basement that I had a sign made and hung it at the bottom of the steps -- "The Cave".
While becoming more independent (and testy) during the teenager phase is natural and healthy, we both began to keep our feelings inside to protect ourselves and each other from hurt, and our communication suffered. Our conversations were short and perfunctory, and our bond weakened until we were little more than two people who happened to live in the same house.
After Jenna went to college, our relationship improved because we appreciated each other more from a distance: Jenna enjoyed having an active and private life, sharing the highlights with me on weekly calls, and I was able to help her through some tough times like only a mother can.
Still, Jenna harbored anger and hurt from childhood experiences and when she was 23, she felt compelled to express her feelings. I will always remember the day we were in the car together and Jenna exploded. Her emotional confessions were shocking to me and I responded by denying her thoughts and feelings. To me, they sounded like exaggerated and distorted perceptions. I knew that being an only child of a hard-working mom was tough and living with a stepdad who had a different parenting style was even tougher. But Jenna had seemed to adapt reasonably well; after all, she grew to be a well-adjusted, happy and sociable young woman.
After many heated and hurtful discussions, I learned to understand and accept Jenna's view as her reality. I worked with her to respond to her needs and heal her wounds. Looking back, I am so thankful that Jenna had the courage and confidence to tell me things that she knew would not be received well. Her ability to speak candidly and ultimately, my compassionate response brought our relationship to a higher level of intimacy and trust. It's this renewed, strong connection that has enabled us to address subsequent challenges with candor and remain very close.
We have learned to effectively deal with many issues that other mother-adult daughter pairs tell us they experience too: What is the best way to keep our bond long-distance? When and how should we offer advice to each other? How can moms learn to "let go"?
These questions spurred Jenna and me to start our blog, My Mother, My Daughter, My Friend. We wanted to share what we were learning about mother-daughter relationships and celebrate with like-minded women the 'complicated, but oh-so-worth the effort' relationship we share.
After three years of blogging together, we've found that our written exchange has helped nurture our relationship more than we ever dreamed. While we were close when we started writing, we've been a lot more open through our written conversations. For us, blogging has been sort of a reality show -- we write about what's happening to us in the present. We identify relationship issues (that we might have otherwise ignored or not addressed) and write about them from each of our perspectives.
Unlike with a conversation, writing allows us to think about how we feel before expressing ourselves. Therefore, our communication is more thoughtful. And we probably "hear" each other better when we read each other's entries because we can reflect, re-read and then respond.
Typically, we choose a topic to write about together and I'll write my blog post first; then, Jenna will read mine and respond. Often, after reading Jenna's section, I think "Wow, I never knew she felt like that!" and often, her words are complimentary (i.e. "I admire my mom because..."). Not only does writing allow us to vent, it also gives us time and space to appreciate each other. Jenna is not as affectionate as I am, and it seems easier for her to express her love for me in writing than in person.
Being honest and direct come naturally to both of us -- it's part of our personalities. That may be why writing is such a powerful medium for us: it allows us to be direct with a sensitivity filter. Where we might have blurted out something to each other in person that was hurtful, our writing allows us to choose our words more carefully so we can articulate our thoughts in a way that will be better received.
That doesn't mean that we sugarcoat things. In fact, we've written a few blog posts that have gone unpublished because we felt they were just too personal and "hot" to share -- at least, right away. We used those posts to express ourselves when we were angry and needed the distance of writing to be really honest. Ultimately, our writing becomes the door opener to subsequent real-time conversations.
Sometimes I wonder if our blog writing is a poor substitute for talking things through -- a way to say things that are too difficult in person. If we're so close, shouldn't we be able to speak our mind face-to-face? I've come to the conclusion that, in our relationship, both are critical: our writing opens a conversation on the page that is almost always continued on the phone or in person. And likewise, we learn about the subtleties of real-time experiences by writing about them afterwards.
If we have learned one thing from writing our blog, it's that every mother-daughter relationship is unique. The most rewarding part of blogging has been the opportunity to connect and learn from mothers and daughters who come from different cultures, geographies and ways of thinking.
Some mothers and daughters bond through shared activities and quality time with one another. Others connect over the phone and via text throughout the day. And sadly, some mothers and daughters have not yet found a way to uncover their deepest feelings, talk through their differences and share their true selves. Whether it's sitting over coffee, getting away on a trip, or writing down your thoughts, don't wait. Take the time to work through the ''stuff' that keeps you from having a strong relationship with your mother or daughter. It might be uncomfortable and hard, but we can attest it is more than worth it in the end.