I talked to my friend Jane in a local restaurant a few weeks after her mother died. Her description of her relationship with her mother—and her sense of loss—touched me deeply. Because their relationship had been so good for so long, her grief was normal and expected—tinged with love, not regret or longing. Jane’s mother was very independent and didn’t make Jane responsible for her happiness. In many ways, this is the kind of relationship we all long for—one of ease, without guilt or obligation.
Jane told me that she and her mom spoke every night. She joked, “Mom always called to ask if I knew the final answer on Jeopardy.” She went on to say, “I really miss her. No one else in my life is ever going to care about me the way my mother did. The good news is that I really enjoyed her while she was here. We were really close.” We all want someone who loves us unconditionally and is available to witness the daily joys and sorrows of our lives.
This got me thinking about my own relationships, both with my mother and with my daughters. I realized that Jane’s nightly conversations with her mother were a sharp contrast to my own mother-daughter relationships. We’re all close. And we get along fine. But sometimes, I’ll go weeks without hearing from my mother—or she from me—depending on what else we are doing. My mother is often off on long camping trips across the country with no cell service. And my daughters both lead very full and busy lives. And so do I! So, believe it or not, it would never occur to me to check in with either my mother or my daughters every night.
Every one of us has a rich, social, and happy life. My oldest daughter recently moved home for a break from living in New York City, so she can do her creative work with less wear and tear. I brag that she was fully self-supporting in New York City, but clearly the time was right for a sabbatical. And so, it has been delightful to get to know her again after nearly ten years of her being away from home. We have dinner together most nights and also check in about our schedules. It’s a delight to watch her personal rebirth.
But often we go our separate ways. When she first got here, she asked me if it was all right for her to join my tango community and come dance with us. She loves it, but didn’t want to horn in on the social life that I have created for myself. I love that role reversal! The sophisticated woman from New York City returns home and wants in on her mother’s vibrant social life in Maine.
Earlier this year, I found that I was missing my youngest, who is starting a new business and has recently become engaged. She is often gone for weeks at a time, too. I had started to feel like “Plan B”—the person she would visit when no one better was available. After becoming aware of my discomfort and resentment, I shared my dilemma with her. Part of me was hesitant to ask for her company. I do not want to be a whiny, needy mother. And I’ll admit—being a mother makes me feel so darn vulnerable.
To my great relief, she, like my older daughter, was very enthusiastic about getting together regularly. The conversation with Jane made me realize how much I enjoy regular, fun, quality time with my daughters that doesn’t involve a birthday, holiday, or anything obligatory. So we now book mother-daughter dates into our schedules. And this has been delightful! No guilt. No obligation. Just enjoying each other’s company.
All three of us are living near each other again, enjoying a kind of reunion period. Sharing our lives, but in a new way. I no longer feel responsible for their choices. I speak up when something bothers me, and they do the same. There’s something so satisfying about this. When they left home for college and I was newly single, I realized that I had to “get a life” which didn’t include them. And I did. And so has my mother. And that is the key reason we are all together again—in joy and partnership.
What are your relationships like with the important women in your life? Do you think “getting a life” is a good strategy for having strong relationships? Please leave a comment.
Note: I delve into the very complicated relationship between mothers and daughters in Lightening the Mother Load, one of my live online events.