A daughter's desire to please her mother is matched only by her desire to be separate from her." - Stasi Eldredge, Captivating
This quote may sound cruel to you. You may love your mother intensely and plan on living next door to her your whole life. Or you may have a pretty good relationship but wish for a little distance. Or maybe you don't want anything to do with her, if she's even around.
But I think something we can all agree on is that the yearning for the approval of our mothers (and fathers) is something incredibly difficult, if not impossible, to escape. Even now, as a mother myself, I am constantly wondering what she thinks even though I know she has lavished me time and again with kind words denoting her love for and pride in me. In this sense, I am truly blessed.
Why then, do I prepare for a critique when changing my son's diaper in her presence? Or blush when she notices my makeup isn't blended properly? Is she demanding perfection of me? Or... am I imposing my own insecurities on her innocent commentaries?
I have come to find the latter is true. My mother has been remarkably encouraging and loving to me my entire life. But she has also been honest. And at times critical, wishing to help me become the best version of me I can be. I won't pretend she's NEVER EVER said something that hurt me. I've let a few snide remarks slip myself that I'm none too proud of. But I do know that the hurt either of us inflicted on the other was unintentional. So I constantly remind myself when she offers advice or expresses an opinion that her words are not an attack on me or the ability to play well my roles as a daughter, wife, or mother. That she is and always will be "just trying to help."
So why do we as daughters get defensive?
The things mothers often forget or fail to see is that a daughter's identity is (at least in the early years when we live under the same roof), largely dependent on mom's stamp of approval. Even the most doting mother may make a seemingly harmless remark regarding a daughter's choice only to be met by tears or a turned up nose.
"You're wearing THAT skirt AGAIN?" my mom once said to me when I descended the stairs in my favorite denim skirt for probably the third time that week.
We all have that piece of clothing we feel like a million bucks in. But in that moment, I looked down at my favorite fashion staple and found my cheeks aflame. I shrugged and said nonchalantly something along the lines of, "Oh, yeah... I guess I have been wearing this a lot lately." The piece got hung back in my closet and I soon went on the hunt for a new denim skirt that my mom might like better. My old skirt never saw the light of day again. And I never did find its replacement.
Did my mother intend to make me feel ashamed? Of course not. She is one of the most kindhearted people that exists in this world. Yet with all the affection she poured over me in my "identity building" years, it's scenes like this one that many daughters remember clearly - because the teen age is exactly that - a time for "identity building" where so many of us are caught between wanting to be "just like mom" and independent enough to never admit it. And this vulnerability makes our skin a little thin, a little more bruisable.
A favorite book of mine on identity explains that one of our greatest desires as daughters is to be told by our parents that we are beautiful, that we are enjoyed, that we are enough. If that need is not met, our lives turn into a cycle of seeking approval while trying to rise above the need for it and ultimately attempting to get the need met elsewhere. For some daughters, this leads to a destructive, promiscuous path. For others, it leads to shyness and incessant masquerades. But no matter what, it most certainly leads to the number 1 joy-kill among women - insecurity. And all the while, the devil rejoices because women have been scaring the pants off of him since the Garden of Eden (remember that bit about the Savior of all mankind coming through a WOMAN? Yeah, he didn't like that too much. He's been trying to bring us down ever since).
The reality I have come to find in these past 6 years since living outside my parents' covering is that no parent is perfect - but every good parent does their best - and even in those hard moments where they unintentionally made me feel uneasy about myself, they loved me. Wow, did they love me. And THAT is golden.
So what to do about those parental "wounds" you're carrying around? Let me offer some suggestions based on my road to recovery...
1) Recognize where your true identity comes from. Even the best parents can unknowingly inflict wounds on their children whether by the things they say / do or forget to say / do. Our Heavenly Father is the perfect parent and able to tell us who we truly are.
2) Recognize within your "wounds" the lies the devil has twisted out of proportion and kick them to the curb. No matter what comments or critiques you've been tallying up over the years, you need to remember you are beautiful and you are good enough!
3) Recognize opportunities for healing. If you are comfortable enough in your relationship to reveal your wounds (past or current) to your parents, do so in a respectful, connection-honoring way. When I told my mom the denim skirt story, she remembered with surprise that her mother had done the same thing to her when she was younger. It is important to remember our mothers were also once young daughters fighting to grasp their unique identities and gain their parents' approval - and sometimes they still are.
4) Recognize the need to forgive. Whether you're able to cry (and laugh) over your wounds with your mother like I did or are unable to share them at this time, whether they were inflicted intentionally or unintentionally, you need to let them go. In the words of Corrie ten Boom, "To forgive is to set a prisoner free and discover the prisoner was you." By forgiving your parents, you also restore them to a standard of goodness and can no longer hold their actions or inaction against them (which isn't a nice thing to do in the first place!).
5) Recognize your role in the current struggle. When you've paid such close attention to your parents' criticisms and opinions, it's SO easy to live always on the defensive even well into adulthood. Know when YOU are the one placing unreasonable expectations on yourself or projecting your own insecurities on them. Be able to step back from the situation and ask, "Am I defensive because I am being attacked or because my insecurity is causing me to FEEL attacked when in fact, I am not?" A defense rooted in insecurity is fear disguised as self preservation -resulting in an identity armored with lies.
Becoming a mother has affirmed what I always have known to be true - parenting is not easy. My son is only 7 months old and I make choices every day and wonder if they are the right ones. I wonder if I will be as good a mother as my mother. I wonder if I will make the same mistakes, because I WILL make some. I wonder if I will have the same humility she had when she recognized her mistakes. And I wonder if I will be as tender and full of grace as she was when I recognized mine.
I can only hope that despite my silly moments where I feel I do not measure up, my identity will remain rooted in the love she has fought to make known to me, reflective of the Father's love - the life force behind all that I am as His child - beautiful and more than enough, a daughter in whom He is well pleased.
As you contemplate the "burden" of a daughter, give your parents some credit and remember that while we carry that burden, our parents are carrying us.
"I have heard it said that having a child is like having your heart walk around outside of your body. How a mother aches to protect her child. And yet all the while, from infancy to adulthood, a good mother is training her child to move ever more away from her, to need her less and less. Mothers love and long for their children. Their hearts ache for them, over them. A woman bleeds when she gives birth, but that is only the beginning of the bleeding. A heart enlarged by all a mother endures with and through her child's life, all a mother prays and work and hopes for on her child's behalf bleeds too." - Stasi Eldredge, Captivating