Shirah Vollmer MD

The Musings of Dr. Vollmer

Mothers and Daughters

Posted by Dr. Vollmer on June 15, 2016

Mothers need to separate from daughters. Daughters need to separate from mothers. Each yearns for a close relationship, and yet, there needs to be a separation before there can be a closeness, as each needs their own identity. Like a figure eight, there are times when their lives are intertwined, and other times when their lives are far apart and so the dynamic, the journey of their relationship, is hardly ever linear. Issues of rivalry, control, and independence, come in and out of the foreground as each party struggles with her own sense of being in the world. Lila and Zoe come to mind. Lila is a thirty-two year old female, insecure, and confused about her future. Zoe is a sixty-year old female, cancer survivor, retired school teacher, who is happily married to Lila’s father, but who feels that Lila needs her help to navigate her future. Lila has mixed feelings. She wants her mother’s help, her guidance, her advice, but at the same time, when she talks to her mother she is left feeling helpless and inadequate. “Why do you seek your mom’s advice?” I ask Lila, knowing that the answer is layered with conflicting feeling, but hoping to begin a dialogue about these issues. Lila understands that talking to her mother dents her self-esteem, but she also feels she has “no choice” because her mother often has “good ideas”. “You have good ideas too,” I say, hoping that Lila can come to understand that her brain is a good resource for her, if she could allow herself access to her own thoughts. Lila struggles, as if she does not quite believe me that she has the  capacity to make good decisions for herself. Our work continues, slowly, with the hope that Lila can learn to trust herself. This will allow Lila to have more self-confidence, and ultimately a more adult relationship with Zoe. The figure eight of their dance continues, now at the intersection, but working towards a separation leading to another coming together, but the figure eight is three-dimensional such that their next connection will be at a higher level.

2 Responses to “Mothers and Daughters”

  1. Shelly said

    Why does it dent Lila’s self-esteem to consult with Zoe? Does it mean that Lila still “needs Zoe?” Of course she does, and she will for the rest of her life. That is part of the mother-daughter bond. Just as Lila has good ideas, so does Zoe. Lila can ask Zoe’s opinion, listen to her ideas, and then decide on her own to take the advice or not. “Separating” from one’s mother doesn’t mean never listening or asking for advice. Becoming an adult means deciding what to do with the advice after it is received.

    • There are different levels to need. As you say there is a life-long need for both parents, but there can also be an immature need based on one’s own feelings of inadequacy and helplessness. I absolutely agree that sifting through advice is the art of living, but along with that, comes the different weight we conscious and unconsciously give to our loved ones, in terms of their judgments and biases. The more we can become aware of how advice lands on our brains, the more mature decisions we will make. In terms of Lila and Zoe, Zoe unconsciously wants to make Lila happy, so that when Lila gives advice, it feels more like a command, and then Zoe feels trapped and helpless. This has more to do with Zoe’s low self-esteem than Lila trying to make Zoe feel incompetent, although both ideas may be at play at the same time. The idea here is to recognize the complicated nature of relationships and one’s strong sense of needing to please or to rebel, often to one’s own detriment. Thanks, as always.

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