Thursday, June 4, 2009

Mums and Daughters, a Bond to Cherish

This journalist made a great discovery. Lying in my hospital bed the day after giving birth, gazing down at the baby on my breast, I thought,
"Motherhood is the great­est news story of all time and I'm going to tell it."

That was the literary birth of Family Matters, which I wrote for 10 years during Justine’s growing up.

In my first newspaper column, I wrote with all my heart about the in­credible experience of giving birth, the falling in love, the passionate bonding and fierce protectiveness you feel for this beautiful baby.

I really wanted a girl. With a seven and a half year old son, I knew what it was to be im­mersed in boy's stuff and a part of me longed for a daughter as a confirmation of myself. What a thrill it was to have a girl! I felt so blessed. Relationships be­tween father-daughter, father-son, mother-son and mother-daughter have their unique nature.

And the child's relationship with the same sex parent is usually the most intense. A little girl growing up needs her mother with all her being. She never gets enough of her attention, approval and adoration. She is insatiable.

A girl sees herself through her mother's eyes. She forms her identity and self-image on what is reflected there; unconditional love or rejec­tion? Copying mummy starts at a very early age. It is quite unnerving to witness your three-year-old dressing up to look exactly like you!

Justine, now seven, wears her fine blonde hair long like me and loves to wear make-up, jewellery, heels and mummy­-style suits and espe­cially likes to carry her brief­case and mobile phone!

What a daunting respon­sibility this role-modelling business is! I am so aware of how much detail she absorbs about me and how I am form­ing her concept of womanhood for the future. I want to give her positive messages that she can be whatever she wants to be!

If identity is formed through a mother's eyes, in­securities are formed through a mother's sharp tongue! I am painfully aware of the importance of communication skills with children. Criticism, put-downs and sarcasm crush self-esteem in children who believe that every word that comes out of parents' mouths is gospel.

If mum says to her daugh­ter "You're silly, lazy, clum­sy, hopeless, a hussy, a smar­tie pants etc" well she believes it. Disparaging words become life-long labels. Often times, such negative words are shorthand for "I'm feeling tired and would real­ly appreciate your help." But a child can't read between the lines. They just get stung and wounded.

As for a little girl's feel­ings, let her have her tan­trums and moods and crush­es and spats without making her wrong. I have found that emotional expression is a basic human need. It keeps us healthy and problems are resolved in the clarity of that release.

As mums we need to lis­ten, respect and validate our kids and resist the tempta­tion to preach and lecture; having the courage to allow the growing child to form her own ideas and values, based on our clear example and intelligent discussion of issues. Sexuality is a major responsibility. Mothers please discuss sexuality and relationships with your daughters.

I believe there are three keys to a teenage girl taking control of her sexuality and having the self-respect to be discerning; that is know­ledge, healthy self-esteem and boundaries and a lov­ing relationship with her mother and father.

She won't go desperately looking for love from an as­sortment of guys if she's get­ting affection, nurturing and support within the home.

And finally there's the cruellest cut of all for mums who cherish their daugh­ters; the art of letting go. Mothers have to allow their daughters to grow up and blossom into young women. It is the natural pro­cess of individuation to be gently assisted, not resisted.

Releasing the beautiful young woman to make her way in the adult world can be extremely painful for both parents. But if you love her you'll let her go and let her grow. And you will replace the parent-child relation­ship with an equal,­ adult friendship.

Mothers and daughters. The bond is intense and the relationship is a precious gift for life.

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