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Mothers and Daughters: Love, Honor, and Negotiate

Family therapist Betty Carter is the founder of the Family Institute of Westchester. She is also the author of Love, Honor, and Negotiate and co-editor, with Monica McGoldrick, of The Changing Family Life Cycle.  Melinda first interviewed Betty 20 years ago in an article for New York magazine about family therapy.


Relationships live and breathe, just like people. They also change over time. When I wrote my book in 1997, my emphasis was on couples’ relationships. But it’s just as important for a mother and daughter to “love, honor, and negotiate” so that their relationship can mature and, hopefully get better, over time.

When a child is born, it almost doesn’t matter whether a mother and daughter have had smooth sailing in the past or rough seas. Their relationship requires a renegotiation–to now include the daughter’s parenting and the new baby. Some renegotiation happens when the daughter gets married, but having a child requires even more.

Any effective negotiation requires both parties to bring willingness and good faith to the table. Mother U has asked me to pinpoint what mothers and daughters need to keep in mind:

Mothers…
…Accept that you no longer have first say in terms of parenting. This baby is your daughter’s child, not yours.
…Don’t give advice unless you’re asked for it. If you try to tell your daughter what she should do or not do, what kind of mother she should be, you’ll be in deep do-do – and deservedly so.
…Recognize that your daughter’s priorities have changed. Maybe she always had dinner with you on Friday nights, but now that might not be so convenient for her.
…Share your own experience rather than tell her how to live her life.
…Remember how hard it was when you were parenting.
…Remind your daughter about family traditions–say, during the holidays–but be open to making changes that will accommodate the way her husband’s family celebrates.
…Spoil your grandchildren–do special things with them, buy them presents–but (especially as they get older) don’t collude with them behind their mamma’s back.

Daughters…
…Appreciate your mother as a woman, not just as a mother.
…Think about your new role–not just the joys and surprises,
but also how difficult and complicated being a mother is. Compare notes with your mother and ask her what it was like for her.

… See your mother in a new light by paying attention to how she acts around your child. You probably remember her telling you to “get down” or “watch out” and all the little nudges she gave you, but you’re less likely to remember the tenderness. Some daughters are thunderstruck (“Did you used to hold me that way?”) and others are disappointed

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