I recently saw an article from The Huffington Post floating around entitled, “11 Images Capture the Emotional Stages of the Mother-Daughter Relationship.” I must say, when I saw the featured image I felt repulsed. Perhaps that seems like too strong a word, but that is how I actually felt. The mother and her grown daughter, facing away from one another, daughter peering uneasily behind her toward her mother, clearly afraid to disappoint yet again, and the mother looking like a cold, regal queen staring in the opposite direction. It chilled me.
I looked at the article and then through the artist’s entire collection on her own site. NOT. ONE. SMILE. Not one!!!!!!! No hugging, no laughing, NO SMILING! Why???? The photos were beautifully done. I will gladly acknowledge that. Crisp, colorful, artistic. The work of a true artist. But, my word, they were cold.
Now, I am not naive, I do realize that there are plenty of unhappy and dysfunctional mother-daughter relationships. Growing up I witnessed some from a very short range with some close friends. I ached for them then, and I ache for them now. I can’t imagine the pain that a mother-daughter relationship riddled with unhappiness must feel like. I do not write this to diminish or dismiss those mother-daughter relationships. I write this because in not one single picture did I see MY mother-daughter relationship represented. Shouldn’t some joyful mother-daughter relationships be celebrated as well? Isn’t joy and love and friendship at least one of the emotional stages of at least SOME mother daughter relationships?! As a friend of mine who also saw the article said, “If motherhood was this dreadful no one would do it!”
Our family has had our share of trials, first and foremost being my mother’s thirteen year battle with breast cancer prior to her passing away at the far too young age of 48. However, the loving relationships between my mother and her daughters was never one of those trials. The love that she showered down on all of us unceasingly was the glue that held our family together through all of those long, scary years.
I am not going to lie to you and say that my mom was perfect and we were perfect and everyone was happy all of the time. Not so much. We were naughty, hyper little toddlers who turned into teenage girls who once had a flailing-and-slapping-hands catfight over a dress, just like something from the movies. True story. She lost her temper with us at times, and we slammed doors and yelled and acted irrational. We were just a normal family. But, despite our quarrels and teenage sisters drama, with the exception of my teenage years and the last moments of her life, I don’t think we would ever take a picture representing our relationship that didn’t include a smile. Even then, the picture would have shown love and desperation and the raw emotion of people wanting to hold on a little tighter and connect a little bit better.
The article mentions that the artist had the subjects themselves help define the poses that typified their relationship. I suppose that is what made my heart feel the most heavy. All those unhappy mothers and daughters. I ache for the relationships they missed. I ache to think that not everyone had the unfailing love of a warm and affectionate mother like my own.
I mentioned above that the teenage years and the end of my mother’s life would have been the only times that our photos may not have been full of smiles. I would venture to say that my teenage years were by far the roughest thing that my mother had to endure in her role as a parent, not to mention my father, whom I am sure would back up that claim. I was a train wreck. A combination of typical, hormonal, selfish teenage girl stuff and undiagnosed mental illness led to some serious strife in our home. Peace and joy were much harder to find during those years, and it was definitely my actions that were to blame. Did my mom react perfectly all of the time? No, she didn’t. Believe me, she didn’t. But who does, really? We are all of us human and flawed, even my courageous and inspiring mother. But no matter what I did or how frustrated I made her, she refused to give up on me. Our picture during that dark time in my mind and life would not have been smiling. Maybe to the outside world it would have been happy smiles all around, but if we were being truly open and raw, the picture depicting our relationship at that moment would have been me facing the camera and screaming as hard as I could, eyes squeezed shut, face turning red, hands in fists by my side. And my mom would have been wrapping her arms tightly around me in a bear hug from behind, a desperate look on her face as she tried to connect with me and screamed to Heaven for help. Even in that moment, she would be fighting to connect with me, fighting to be allowed to show just how much she loved her flawed daughter.
As it always does, life moved on. Time passed, I made a conscious decision to make better, more selfless choices, and I started to grow up. Things started to mend, and when I left for college I realized just how much she loved me, and just how much I loved her. I acknowledged and confronted my mental illness, and I moved forward toward finding a proper diagnosis and treatment, her rooting for me with all of her might. I didn’t truly get the answers that I was looking for until a decade after her passing, but I still feel as if she is rooting by my side during my darkest moments. She has always been, and always will be, my biggest cheerleader, even when I was determined that I didn’t want her to be. THAT is a mother-daughter emotional relationship stage worth capturing to me. A daughter overcome with gratitude for her mother’s love that is so rich and so deep that it transcends the grave.
I think it is obvious that in the last moments of her life we would be far too overcome by fear and grief to be smiling. I think it more likely that a perfect image to capture that emotional moment would be all five of us (Dad included!) squished onto a bed, bear hugging one another with mom in the middle, desperately crying out for even a few more minutes. As desperate to keep her as she was to help me. I am fighting tears even as I type now. We were all so very helpless. And yet . . . this picture of her was taken with my sisters only a few weeks before she passed on. Look at her smile. Radiant. So grateful for every second with her precious daughters. So very grateful.
I would like to show you some images that capture what the stages of OUR FAMILY’S mother-daughter relationship was all about. I love the way that my mother looks at her children. This is a woman who relished the opportunity to be a mother, even before, but especially after, she was diagnosed with cancer. You will see sadness in our eyes during those years, but we still longed to be near her. Longed to have her go trick-or-treating with us. Longed to snuggle her a little bit longer. As we still do. There is sadness at times, yes, but there is far more warmth and smiles and giggles and snuggles. There is far more JOY.
How lucky I am to have had such love in my life?!?! Now I have my own daughter, and it is my utmost goal to pass on this level of unfailing love to my children of both genders.
Does my daughter make me nuts sometimes? OF COURSE! She is three! Do I sometimes lose my cool and have to run and hide in the bathroom and shed a few frustrated tears before I can compose myself and try once again to reason with a three year old diva in a rotten mood? Why yes, yes I do. But do I also love her so much that when I walk into her room to kiss her tiny, soft cheek at night I sometimes feel as if my heart might explode on the spot? You bet I do! She makes me smile everyday. She is affectionate, she is imaginative, she is as girly as girly can be! She is happy, she is outgoing and friendly, she is the life of the party! She is sassy, she is dramatic, she is independent. And she is mine. My precious little one to love and cherish throughout my life, even when she dramatically throws herself on the ground at the store and sobs over not being allowed to buy gum, which she has never even tried. Even during her teenage years when she is screaming and slamming doors in my face because she is an awful lot like her overdramatic mama. It is my privilege to love her through all of those things, and she and her brother are the absolute light of my life.
I am far from a perfect mother. So, so, so, soooo far. And yet, she adores me. They both do. And this picture right here is how I would represent our current emotional stage. Snuggly adoration and unfailing love and forgiveness.
For more posts about my mother see Motherhood: It’s Worth Fighting For! (written by my sister) and What My Mother’s Battle With Cancer Taught Me About True Beauty (written by myself).
For more embarassingly personal posts about me, Sarah, see the post mentioned above, Small Victories, or SNAP: A True Tale of How a Blogging Conference Inspired Me to Be ME.