Mothers and daughters have been written about, criticized, publicized, condemned, and praised for a long time. As more and more material becomes available on mother-daughter relationships, it becomes apparent that being a mother and being a daughter means different things to different people depending on race, economics, social status and blood type. This paper will explore the meaning of being a mother and being a daughter by combining all of these independent variables. A definition of motherhood and daughterhood will be clearer, however, as experience will tell us, not everyone can be categorized, or even explained.
In “Choosing Consciousness”, Elizabeth Minnich describes mothers as:
“.The people who take day-by-day care of children, the ones whose lives are intricately involved with their children, the ones who keep the children safe, who wrestle with their souls and fight with them and love them and try to heal them and give up on them and give in to them” (Minnich, 195).
In her opinion, as well as many other authors we have read, a mother does not need to be blood related. She only needs to care for her child, be there for her child, and love her child. She is the dominant woman force in her child’s life, influencing, teaching and setting an example for her child.
This idea is reflected in other cultures as well. In black communities, especially, a mother is not necessarily one who gave birth to her daughter. She is the person who sets examples for the daughter and is there to help coach the daughter through the trials and tribulations of life.
“Biological mothers or bloodmothers are expected to care for their children. But African and African-American communities have also recognized that vesting one person with full responsibility for mothering a child may not be wise if possible” (Collins, 47).
Collins believes that in order to be a mother, you only need to care for a child, and this idea has been central to African and African-American motherhood. Community outreach and the caring of adjacent women have been very important to the raising of daughters in black communities.
Although being a caring and nurturing force in a daughter’s life is central to becoming a mother, other pieces we have read have supported the idea that a mother needs to teach her child to grow, and then let her go to off to find herself and her own understanding.
In “Annie John”, by Jamaica Kincaid, Annie is stunned when her mother suddenly turns her cheek on her in order to let her go and become a “lady”. It is not until the end of the story that Annie realizes that her mother was only acting on what her conception of motherhood embraced; once a daughter reached a certain age, she was to start her own life, evolving into her own identity.
Susan Walters also discusses the concept of mothers enabling their daughters to grow into women, while sending them off to experience independence and break ties with their family. Her article emphasizes societies need for daughters to emerge from their mothers’ care and create their own lives, instead of keeping close ties with each other. In this case a mother is only a notch on the totem pole of their daughter’s life.
The existence as a daughter has been explored in depth as well. Is a daughter just an extension of her mother or is she an individual paired with someone to facilitate her emergence into the real world? Is she a friend or is she a student?
This central idea is explored in the Walters article as well. A story included in the article suggested that a daughter not be afraid to become affiliated with her mother. She said that “the sacrament of ‘separation'” from her mother was based on society’s perpetualization that a daughter must become independent from her mother and that a fondness for her mother was simply a clinging that wasn’t natural or healthy. However, a kinship with a mother is the most natural occurrence ever. The relationship that a daughter has with her mother should be one of the most formative ones of her life, and she should embrace the experience without the pressure to run away from it.
Of course a healthy relationship between a daughter and a mother is not always the case. In the novel “Ellen Foster” a little girl was faced with many woman figures that were not nurturing or facilitating to her growth. Instead of being nurtured, Ellen took care of all the women in her life until she found someone to ultimately fill the mother role in her life. She explored both the mother and the daughter roles in her witty narrative. Not only was she the sole nurturer, but she finally becomes the one that was nurtured and loved.
I think the explanations of what it means to be a mother and what it means to be a daughter also explain how we can fulfill each others needs, fantasies and desires. As a daughter, we need to look at what we would want in a daughter, what being a daughter means to us and reflect that on our mothers. If we feel that we should be students then we need to observe and learn everything our mother has to teach us. If it is a friend we feel a daughter should be than we should confide in our mothers, trust their instincts and also be there for them.
As a mother it is essential to throw out the cultural pressures that are put on us.
We need to explore those things that were missing from our mothers and practice those things on our daughters. We need to create our own definition of mother and emphasize it to our daughter. I think that Minnich’s experience of being a stepmother epitomizes what a mother should do to fulfill her daughter’s needs:
“.being a stepmother means loving the children more than our society expects.less than we (who usually try to hard) fear the children need and often both more and less than we can accept because it hurts to love unreservedly).” (Minnich, 193).
There are many forces that bring us to these realizations as mothers and daughter, the most influential, I think, is our societies views on the roles mothers and daughters have. Walters discusses the effects that the media has on influencing our opinions of mothers and daughters.
“From this venerable Greek myth of Persephone and Demeter to the modern fable of maternal malevolence embodied in contemporary films such as Mommie Dearest, the narrative of mothers and daughters has largely been portrayed in terms of conflict and the ambivalent struggle of separation” (Walters, 20).
These images have manifested an invariable struggle between mothers and daughters that is not close to reality. Through these mediums we have lost the idea that a mother is someone to love and a daughter is someone to respect and cultivated a theory that we need to break free from our repressive mothers and that daughters are “greedy and insufferable.” The Hollywood portrayal of mothers and daughters is not accurate nor should it be thought of as normal.
It is not only this fallacy that the media has created that is the problem. There is little to no research and images of the black mother-daughter relationship or any other race for that matter. In a world that is so diverse and in a country that should be not racist, we are manifesting racism by not acknowledging the diversified mother/daughter relationship.
“We (white women) become complicit in the intersections of racism/sexism by not challenging the treatment of black mothers and by replacing purified images of white ones (nurturing, caring, empowering, ethical, etc.” (Flax, 68).
Our “eurocentric” perspectives on black mothers have debilitated society from seeing what motherhood really is in African-American communities. As Collins put it, “Adhering to these standards brings the danger of the lowered self-esteem of internalized oppression, one that, if passed on from mother to daughter, provides a powerful mechanism for controlling African-American Communities” (Collins, 45).
In all that we have read, I have expanded my knowledge about the mother/daughter relationship into realms that I never knew existed.
Considering my close relationship with my mother, I was unaware that other relationships like mine existed and that relationships so different from mine were possible. I have enjoyed to opportunity to research into the lives and minds of so many scholars. Viewing these relationships from other perspectives, other cultures and other races has shown me what a mother means to different people with different experiences. The only thing that remains central is the idea that mothers and daughters should nurture each other, comfort each other and, most importantly, learn and grow with each other.