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How to Repair a Mother/Daughter Relationship
A wedding dress is at the center of a heated mother/daughter battle. Jamillah thought her mother Muriel bought her wedding dress as a gift until they had an argument. Jamillah says Muriel stopped taking her calls and refused to give her the dress! Muriel made her intentions clear in a letter: Send the money and I'll send the dress. Otherwise, off to eBay it goes!

"I bought the dress because I felt that I had to buy the dress," says Muriel. "Because I'm a mother and I should. I had boundaries for how much the dress should cost. The dress was way over the budget. The reason I want her to pay for the dress is because the dress was purchased out of a deep and abiding love that I no longer feel."

It's been nearly a year since Jamillah and her mother Muriel have spoken. With the wedding date quickly approaching, Jamillah wonders, can she have her dream dress and her mother at her wedding?

Expert Advice
Syndicated advice columnist and author Harriette Cole says that Muriel, 54, and Jamillah, 30, have reached a crossroads in their relationship that is normal for many mothers and daughters at these ages. The main challenge is to meet each other where they are now, in the moment. Muriel is a woman who has come into her own. Jamillah is a woman who is growing into her own. What happened in the past has to stay in the past.

"You have all this history," says Harriette. "But we're at a point where you [Jamillah] are about to change your life. One of the most sacred times is the time when you get married. It also can be a changing point. Instead of dwelling on the past, why don't both of you try to love each other in ways that will touch each other."

More Than Buyer's Remorse
Jamillah and Muriel have unresolved issues regarding money, which is a huge issue for many people. After years of supporting Jamillah and not receiving the kind of love that she wanted, Muriel regrets having bought the dress.

"The problem is that it's not about the dress, it's about the relationship," says Harriette. "The dress is just a symbol of something bigger between you. Your daughter is getting married and you haven't talked to her in a year. It sounds like both of you are holding something back so [your love] is not unconditional."

Advice for Mothers
  • You don't have to accept every problem as yours, but don't hold grudges that years later will turn into holding onto "the dress."
  • You've taught your daughter how to treat you. If you are feeling unappreciated, tell your daughter how you want your relationship to change.
  • Be clear in your intentions. Saying "Don't call me" and then being upset because she doesn't call sends a mixed message.

Advice for Daughters
  • Your mother wants to feel loved and appreciated for making you the wonderful adult you are. She wants you to call and sincerely say, "Momma, I miss you," or "How are you?"
  • Realize it's difficult for some mothers to stop seeing their adult daughters as teenagers.
  • Be clear in your intentions; you want to be talked to as a full-grown woman. Continue this dialogue, which is very tender right now, woman to woman.

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    How Do You Get Your Daughter to Talk with You?
    Being a teen is tougher than ever! Times have changed, and your daughter's going through troubles, doubts and concerns that you couldn't have imagined when you were her age. So how can you help? Every month, actress and philanthropist Elizabeth Berkley will answer your questions and offer advice to guide you along the way.
    Elizabeth Berkley and teenage girls
    Photo: Josh Lehrer
    I wonder if my daughter is really happy? How do I discuss the recent mood change in my once-lively girl? How can I ask my daughter how she is handling pressures in school? How do I show interest in my daughter's problems without being perceived as intrusive? How can I really get my daughter to open up about her relationship with her boyfriend? How can I know if he is respecting her?

    These are just some of the questions so many of you have wondered or worried about. After receiving thousands like these, I thought I would start this journey we are on together in this column with the real question underneath: "How do I get my daughter to talk to me about what's going on in her life?"

    So many moms have told me it would bring them peace if they could have a closer relationship with their daughters, with lots of open communication and sharing. Well, I've been hearing you on that and guess what! Your daughters are telling me they want that, too. But as we remember from being teen daughters ourselves, it isn't always easy, right? So whether you already have a good relationship but just want a few more tips, or you feel like the door between you and your daughter is firmly nailed shut (I promise, it's not...it's never too late to regain your daughter's trust!), let's help you figure out how to make that communication flow happen.

    As I shared with you before, I've put together an advisory board of amazing Ask-Elizabeth girls—ages 14-19, from all across the country—who offer their stories, insights and from-the-trenches advice. Together, the girls and I are opening up the treasure trove of teenage girl experience and giving you a peek inside, revealing what has worked best to make them feel safe enough to open up to their mothers. They'll also talk about what your daughter will actually be more receptive to when it comes to the great guidance you have to offer her.

    Here's their collection of ideas about what works, what doesn't and why—and of course some thoughts from yours truly!

    First: How to open the door gently

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      Improve Your Mother-Daughter Relationship
      Why is the mother-daughter dynamic such a complex one? Some mothers want to walk and talk just like their adult daughters. Some daughters need their mothers' acceptance before they make any move.

      Linda Perlman Gordon and Susan Morris Shaffer, authors of Too Close for Comfort? Questioning the Intimacy of Today's New Mother-Daughter Relationship, explain why mothers and daughters can have a close bond but should never take it to the level of being best friends. Plus, find out how to get your mother-daughter relationship back on track if you feel you've become more friends than family.
      Happy mother and daughter
      © 2009 Jupiterimages Corporation
      Stephanie Mitchell: Can you define some traits of a good best friend? A good mother? Why can't mothers and adult daughters be best friends as well as family?

      Susan Morris Shaffer: A best friend is different than a mother-daughter relationship. It requires having common experiences: You raised your kids together, you went to the same college and you're in the workplace together. Mothers and daughters are never in the same stage of life at the same time, so the relationship is never equal.

      The other thing that's important is that unconditional love exists only in the parent-child relationship. You'd put your body in front of a truck for your daughter; you'd probably call 911 for your best friend.

      SM: How do mothers and daughters find a balance between being too attached and being individuals?

      Linda Perlman Gordon: Boundaries are such an important thing. The way mothers and daughters can [create boundaries] is that mothers, for instance, can let their daughters fail and not fix everything for them. They can make sure that if their daughters are upset about something, they can do active listening, rather than feel their daughters' pain. They give their daughters the opportunity to step back and try to fix the problem themselves.

      The problem when mothers fix things for their daughters is that it erodes daughters' self-esteem or it doesn't allow it to develop. It makes daughters feel like they can't do things by themselves. Or, if their mothers overemphasize and feel the pain too much, daughters have to start making their mothers feel better about it and they start to worry about their mothers and parent their mothers.

      A mother's job is to manage her own feelings so that a daughter doesn't feel that she's taking care of her mother, but that she can deal with whatever her own issues are.

      How technology and the economy affect mother-daughter relationships

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        An Excerpt from Hungry: A Mother and Daughter Fight Anorexia
        Hungry, by Sheila and Lisa Himmel
        LISA'S BLOOD GLUCOSE DIARY: BINGED. One-half chocolate banana. One-third vegan apple nut pastry. Pita chips (about 10—12).

        SHEILA'S WORKDAY: Taste-testing french fries at seven restaurants.

        On a postcard-perfect June afternoon, green hills going gold, I am driving around Silicon Valley to sample french fries. It is my job. In another universe, my daughter, Lisa, records each bite she takes in her Blood Glucose Diary, a booklet from her nutritionist. She is frantic about veering from anorexia to binge eating. We don't understand each other at all.

        As the restaurant critic of the San Jose Mercury News, I had noticed french fries popping up on high-end menus, many more than the three instances needed to call it a trend. Was it merely another cheap thrill that posh restaurants could overcharge for, or were these frites really that much better than at McDonald's? After all, no less an authority than James Beard, the dear leader of foodies everywhere, had approved of McDonald's fries.

        Food reporting's serious aspects concern safety, fraud, and consumer protection, but this story was just fun. It was also an escape. While I was out judging America's favorite vegetable for flavor, texture, and price, my daughter was home, starving herself.

        Lisa spent much of her nineteenth year in her room, like a child being punished. Her struggles with anorexia and bulimia had become apparent two years earlier, in 2001, starting with an interest in diet, nutrition, and exercise that was healthful before going very wrong.

        Lisa grew up with a lusty appreciation of food. My husband, Ned, is an excellent cook. When we get together with friends, it's in a kitchen or a restaurant. Our vacations are food pilgrimages. Food to us is home, health, family, fantasy, entertainment, education, and employment. Heart disease in the family, yes. Anorexia, never. And bulimia? What was that?

        We had experienced none of the common triggers often associated with eating disorders: divorce, death, job loss, sexual abuse. As for the anorexic family stereotype—domineering mother, distant father, perfectionist daughter—um, no. We come closer to the opposite—quietly supportive mother, loving father who cries easily, creatively disorganized daughter. We forced the kids to visit distant relatives and to write thank-you notes, but when they tired of piano lessons and soccer we didn't argue about jeopardizing Ivy League prospects.

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          The Fat Fight
          What's the most treacherous ground for a mother and daughter to navigate? Robin Marantz Henig and daughter Jess Zimmerman weigh in.
          Robin Marantz Henig and Jess Zimmerman
          Photo: Alessandra Petlin
          The Mother's Story
          "I wanted to spare her pain."


          Watching my daughter belly dance last year brought tears to my eyes. Jess was 28 at the time, and she was splendid. She wore a costume of bright blue and a gold hip scarf with jiggling coins. Her midriff—also jiggling—was bare. She was graceful in her shimmies, graceful with her arms, graceful when she flicked her naked feet. I loved watching her.

          All the years of sitting through the plays of Jess's childhood came back to me, plays in which she spoke her lines in a sweet, clear voice but could never get over the awkwardness of being herself. I had thought that at the heart of Jess's discomfort, on stage and off, was the fact that she felt bad about being fat. Yet everything I did to spare her insecurity about her weight turned out to be a source of pain for her—and a thorn at the heart of our relationship that we're still trying delicately to extract.

          As a baby, Jessie was spectacular. Huge blue-gray eyes, a corona of golden curls—my husband, Jeff, and I were delighted with the way she looked, the way she laughed, the way she smelled. To us, she was perfect.

          Which is why I was so surprised by an offhand comment made one evening at a local restaurant. The owner's wife was fussing over Jessie, who was about 9 months old. "Ooooh," the woman said happily, "I love fat babies."

          Fat babies? What baby was she talking about? My baby? I had a fat baby?

          I was 26 at the time, and I had body issues of my own. Growing up, I was always aware of being chunkier than other girls, and the misery that came with that awareness had never quite left me. I didn't want my little girl to grow up with that kind of unhappiness. Maybe—smarter in 1980 than my mother had been in 1953—there was something I could do to spare her that psychic pain.

          By the age of 4, Jessie weighed ten pounds more than the charts said she should. Not fat, just chubby—and I knew I shouldn't overreact. "I'm trying very hard to ignore it," I wrote in my journal, "so I don't make her self-conscious and create a problem where there is none."

          Of course, that's exactly what I did: create a problem where there was none. I was on the heavy end of my own lifelong weight-seesaw then; our second daughter, Samantha, had just been born, and my postpregnancy weight was stubbornly hanging on. When I dreamed one night that I was shopping at a plus-size store, I woke up in a panic. In the grip of this self-disgust, I turned to my beautiful Jessie and decided I had to fix her.

          Meals soon became a battleground. I packed abstemious school lunches—half a sandwich, a fruit, no junk—and used smaller plates at dinner to limit her portion size. I hid the cookies I bought for Sam, and wouldn't tell Jessie where they were. And when Jessie asked for seconds, I'd say, "Are you really hungry?" I thought that sounded supportive. I see now how harsh it was. If she asked for the food, she was hungry. I should at least have trusted her to know her own body's cues.
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