Sometimes it's hard to hear yourself think above the din: Working moms battle non-working moms for moral supremacy, moms and teens snipe at each other, moms and tweens even argue in anticipation of the teen years they've heard so much bad news about. Everywhere you look, female family squabbles. I once speculated that this might be a conspiracy perpetrated by men, who knew that the only way to stay in charge was to perpetrate infighting among women, and I was only half-joking.
The older I get, the less it seems like comedy. When my daughter was ten, anyone who saw us having a good time warned me that bad times were coming as sure as gray hair, as sun freckles, as any other indignity of advancing age. We had another two years, maybe three; every time we passed a milestone without wanting to kill each other, the forecasters moved the finish line. We were fooling ourselves whenever we enjoyed life, because sixteen was going to be a nightmare.
Next year, seventeen-year-old Sarah will go away to college, and the only nightmare here is the one involving separation, and missing her. Even that falls short of apocalypse: It is supposed to happen at this point; my job is not to cave in, as painful as it's undoubtedly going to be. I stand near the end of the full-time residency phase of my daughter's life with us, ready to respond to all the naysayers who seem to think that generations of women are doomed to bickering and back-biting, to all manner of emotional histrionics.
With the weight of experience, I say to them: Knock it off.
Here is what I think: Life with Sarah has been far more engaged and far less root-bound than adult life otherwise might have been, and anyone who buys the party line about mother-daughter hell is going to miss some great opportunities for fun and enlightenment.
I have on my desk a little inspirational sticker from some sports psychologist whose presentation we attended together, years ago, and it reads, "Attitude is a decision." He was talking about horses and riders, not mothers and daughters, and I usually find slogans to be anathema, but in this case it's such a nice, crisp antidote to Paris and Lindsay and whichever twin doesn't eat and that bald girl with the little kids. Why would any of us think the worst of our daughters in advance of cold proof? Don't we have more faith than that in our parenting skills? Aren't we smart enough to read things like the recent Newsweek cover on wild girls, and see that the statistics tell a completely different story than the headline and the photos?
To get back to the conspiracy theory: What would we do with all our prodigious energies, mothers and daughters alike, if we stopped acting like adversaries and tried, extremely hard, to see what there is to like about our relationship?
I'll tell you what: A mom who sees her daughter for what she is stands to maintain her citizenship in the larger world, and has a better chance down the line of being invited out to dinner after her daughter's board meeting or her granddaughter's soccer game, or both. A girl who lets herself like her mom might learn a whole lot about what it means to be a woman in a culture that doesn't always make life easy for us. Daughters have potential and moms have history. It's a potent mix.
Anyone who argued with her daughter this morning is going to dismiss me as a Pollyanna, and likely dismiss my daughter as the exception that proves the hideous rule. Don't hide behind adversity. We argue, we endure stony silences, we snap at each other, we apologize and have to wait a while before it takes. I won't be backed into the perfection corner, any more than I'll allow the Chicken Littles of the world to have the final word.
Attitude is a decision, indeed. I will not waste my precious time - nor will I insult my precious daughter - by anticipating anything but love, however complicated it gets.