Cover image for When you and your mother can't be friends : resolving the most complicated relationship of your life
When you and your mother can't be friends : resolving the most complicated relationship of your life
Secunda, Victoria.
Personal Author:
Publication Information:
New York, N.Y. : Delacorte Press, 1990.
Physical Description:
xxii, 406 pages ; 24 cm
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HQ755.85 .S43 1990 Adult Non-Fiction Central Closed Stacks
HQ755.85 .S43 1990 Adult Non-Fiction Open Shelf

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This, the first book ever to say that mother is not always a girl's best friend, is based on a landmark study of the mother-daughter relationships. Secunda offers breakthrough advice on understanding, and improving, what could be a woman's most critical relationship.

Reviews 3

Booklist Review

Generally, as Secunda relates, adult daughters grow closer to their mothers as they mature, forming a unique adult friendship. In some families, for a variety of reasons, the mother is unable to let her daughter mature. Upon becoming an adult, the daughter remains emotionally dependent on her mother and the relationship becomes destructive. Such dysfunctional mothers range from the "smotherer" and the "doormat" to the "critic" and the "avenger." The tactics these mothers use range from extreme overprotectiveness to outright physical or emotional cruelty. Secunda examines the various types of "bad mommies," the types of daughters they produce, and ways for the daughters to escape perpetuating the cycle. This important book examines social pressures that reinforce the sanctity of the mother-daughter bond, often at the expense of both parties, and the type of mind-set a daughter can cultivate to see her mother as a human being with both positive and negative qualities, without devaluing the woman's childhood experiences. Notes, bibliography; to be indexed. --Jill Sidoti

Publisher's Weekly Review

In her well-researched study freelance journalist Secunda draws on 100 interviews with grown daughters in which they describe early painful relationships with their mothers, protracted in their adult emotional lives and memories. To help repair the damage done to the psyches of daughters whose mothers are characterized as, for instance, the Avenger, the Doormat, the Smotherer, the author suggests a measure of separation from the mother--``divorce'' if need be--designed to rid the daughter of guilt, restore her self-esteem and prepare her for her own motherhood. Secunda advises daughters to forgive their fallible mothers, ``who did the best they could,'' and attempt a balance based on generosity and self-preservation. Nevertheless, this study tends to treat daughters as hapless victims, underestimating the pressures imposed on mothers of yesterday and today. Major ad/promo; first serial to Redbook; BOMC featured alternate; author tour. (May) (c) Copyright PWxyz, LLC. All rights reserved

Library Journal Review

Extensive research went into this detailed study of troubled mother-daughter relationships and how these relationships can be improved, usually through the efforts of the daughter. Dysfunctional parents usually raise dysfunctional children who pass the same behavior on to their children unless a conscientious effort, often with the help of therapy, is made to break the chain. Practical advice on how to come to terms with, and often improve, unhealthy mother-daughter bonds is offered through excerpts from many interviews and quotes from experts. Serial rights to Cosmopolitan and Redbook will bring additional attention to this book.--Marguerite Mroz, Baltimore Cty. P.L. (c) Copyright 2010. Library Journals LLC, a wholly owned subsidiary of Media Source, Inc. No redistribution permitted.



1 Natural Allies, Natural Enemies   I have always tried to be all the things my mother wanted me to be: ever the lady, always polite, never inconsiderate. I run my business the way my mother ran our house--everything just so. In some ways I am my mother--full of life when I'm happy, very cold when I'm angry. People say I look just like her.   I'll tell you a secret: Every time I pass a mirror, I gasp.   I wonder if there's more here than meets the eye.   --Karen, thirty-nine   Few comments strike as much terror in the female heart, or more rapidly raise a lovers' tiff to the boiling point, than the comment "You're getting more like your mother every day."   You may love your mother. You may even like her. Nevertheless, there resides within each daughter the need to be different, to improve on the old model, to be a composite of all your own unique goodness and take total credit for it. Woven into the mother-daughter tie is a built-in and unavoidable tension that goes with the territory of being someone's child.   And so the suggestion that you are your mother's clone cuts to the very heart of independence; it suggests not only that you are still a child and incapable of standing on your own but, worse, that you may be a composite only of her flaws--all of which you know intimately and in excruciating detail.   At the same time, there is a genetic booby trap in trying to carve out your identity when your mother shares much of that identity. For a daughter to withdraw entirely from her mother is to reject her role model, her mentor, her template; love-hate is the natural order of things--we can separate, but only so far.   There is for daughters a limit to how different from Mom we realistically can be because, damn it, in many ways we simply are like her, ways that we cannot change--and when we're feeling good and able to see her as a whole person, might not even want to.   Besides, who has known us longer than she has?   The truth is, in moments of crisis or tearful self-doubt, we need her--somehow, magically, we want to believe she is capable of making it all better, there, there. So we don't want to hurt her feelings and we don't want to risk her disapproval. On some level, rejecting Mama feels like shooting yourself in the foot.   And yet she can make us crazy.      I am standing in the sun-splashed kitchen of Martha, a friend since college, sipping a cup of coffee. While she is momentarily out of the room, her twenty-five-year-old daughter, Debby, visiting for the weekend, pads in for breakfast, her face shrouded in gloom. She pulls a mug from the cabinet, pours herself a cup of coffee, and says with a sigh,   Mom sure is "off" today. Every time I ask her what's wrong, she says, "Nothing." I've spent the whole morning making nice, wondering if she's mad at me. My brother's much smarter than me. He sees her in a snit, asks himself, "Did I do something wrong?" decides he didn't and that it's her problem, gives her a big kiss, and goes about his business.   Why can't I be like him? I know I didn't do anything, but still, I feel as if I did.     We do, still, very much want our mothers to love us; indeed, our mood, even our well-being, often depends on it.   So much so that we sometimes think we've erred even when we haven't.   So much so that she can shatter our day with a single phrase: "Nothing's wrong."   And she can do it, whether she is a saint or a monster.   Like Mother, Like Daughter   Mothers and daughters--they are, as journalist Liz Smith puts it, "natural allies [and] natural enemies." Loving your mother represents the best and the worst of times.   I remember once remarking to my mother, when I was in elementary school, that a friend of the family reminded me of Miss Havisham in Dickens's Great Expectations.   "That's very well put," she said.   Set aside, if you will, the fact that I had plucked the analogy from something I had read because it sounded good to me, too. The fact is, I have never forgotten the compliment--indeed, it was the moment at which my ambition to become a writer first began to take shape.   But I have also never forgotten the time when, at sixteen and, no doubt, in high adolescent dudgeon, I disagreed with her in front of guests about something. My mother, as though struck, whirled around and snapped, "Sit down in front of your elders and your betters." Even in decades-old recollection, the rebuke still stings, like a raw sunburn.   No relationship is as highly charged as that between mother and daughter, or as riddled with expectations that could, like a land mine, detonate with a single misstep, a solitary stray word that, without warning, wounds or enrages. And no relationship is as bursting with possibilities of goodwill and understanding.   What is it about the attachment that gives it such power? Why is it so different from the relationship between mothers and sons, or fathers and sons, for that matter?   For one thing, there is no human being who is, literally, as similar to us--indeed, mothers and daughters mirror each other right down to genes and sexual engineering. We may even look like her. Like mother, we have breasts, can bear children, and feminist revisionism notwithstanding, are usually our family's, or partner's, emotional caretaker. And like her, we are vulnerable to sexism and rape.   Nor is any relationship as competitive: like Mother, we compete for Dad's attention. And, both spawned in female vanity, we are encouraged to be vain, vying for a favorable report from the mirror on the wall and the bathroom scale on the floor. We try to tailor ourselves to at least keep pace with her--if not best her--on the work path or in our choice of mates.   She is the yardstick against which we measure ourselves: have we done "it"--education, career, sexuality, marriage, thinness, popularity, chic, motherhood, the gentle arts of homemaking--as well as she has? Better? Differently?   Because if we have done "it" both well and differently, we are then prepared to survive without her. We have completed the course.   But there's a hitch in the mother-daughter separation process: We want to survive, but not entirely without her. We want to detach, but not defect. Because, like it or not, we are still very much bound up with her.   Whether our relationship is strained or easy, hostile or amiable, we need her, if only in memory or fantasy, to conjugate our history, validate our femaleness, and guide our way; we need to know she's there if we stumble, to love us no matter what, to nurture the child that resides within us even now without infantilizing us. It is a need that never leaves us in the best of mother-daughter attachments and, in the worst, yawns wider than the heart can bear.   A mother sets the tone for her daughter's life, provides a road map and role model, continues through the daughter's middle and old age to be her example, particularly her genetic and emotional example. So we ask her: When did she menstruate? Begin menopause? How did she feel about and deal with love? Friendship? Work? Sexual longing? Loneliness?   But if mother and daughter have no connection, we cannot ask the one person whose psyche and body have programmed our own. That's why the loss is incalculable when a daughter has to figure it out for herself, trailblaze rather than follow her mother's example or learn from it. Such a daughter has to discover herself, alone.   Women may define themselves ... in terms of their work roles, but the pull in the opposite direction, to merge blissfully and symbiotically with the mother, is as strong as ever," writes Dr. Jane B. Abramson in Mothermania: A Psychological Study of Mother-Daughter Conflict. "It is inherent in the human condition."   That merging becomes evident in ways that are expected and very much conscious, as well as at the most unexpected and surprising moments.   Joan is by any measure an independent, achieving woman. President of an advertising agency, she is the pride of her physician husband and her two grown sons, who adore her. She is invited to give speeches and to receive awards all over the country. But at forty-nine, Joan still calls her mother for advice at least once, sometimes twice, every day, no matter where she is. Says Joan,   I can't be with my mother five minutes without wanting to kill her. And yet I really believe in my heart of hearts that I would be nothing without her.   She has always said, "In the end, no matter what happens--you could murder, you could steal, you could be a disgrace--no matter what happens only your mother really loves you. Your mother will never, never turn her back on you. "You can't trust anybody but your mother" And I believe it.     Excerpted from When You and Your Mother Can't Be Friends: Resolving the Most Complicated Relationship of Your Life by Victoria Secunda All rights reserved by the original copyright owners. Excerpts are provided for display purposes only and may not be reproduced, reprinted or distributed without the written permission of the publisher.