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Question of the day: how can I make peace between my warring daughters?

You and your sister have written frankly about the difficulties between you. I’m the mother of two young daughters whose relationship is full of pain. I have tried to mitigate my older daughter’s rage and resentment but seemingly to no avail. Do you wish your mother had done something to lessen the pain between you and your sister? Am I unknowingly adding to my daughters’ pain?

Sounds as if you’re in pain, too. When children have have troubles, parents tend to blame themselves. Especially mothers. Even in the 21st century, most of us still believe that keeping everybody happy belongs at the top of our to-do list. We’re so quick to ask that killjoy question, “What have I done wrong?”

Maybe not a great deal. Before I get into the Maynard family’s situation, I should point out that how kids behave has more than a little to do with how nature has wired them. Some kids are just more prickly than others (I was that kind of kid, easy to startle and slow to adapt to new situations). Perhaps your older daughter is just harder to raise. What you do may be less important than who you are in her presence.

Rona Joyce FredelleWhich brings me to my mother. She had two daughters and alcoholic husband, essentially another child in the family. She was ashamed to admit the truth to anyone, so we never discussed the reason why Daddy blew up without warning or offended his colleagues at parties. She pretended to be happy, but the tightness in her voice and the arch of her brow sent a very different message.

Before I could read my favourite books, I read my mother’s emotions better than anyone. Her unease made me terribly anxious. At least half a dozen times a day, I must have complained that Joyce got more than her share of something (ginger ale, cookies, control of the TV). What I really wanted was not ginger ale or cookies. It was my mother’s undivided attention. I didn’t get it very often; she was too busy trying to stop my father from drinking.

She looked the part of the perfect 50s mom who couldn’t do enough for her children. Homemade Halloween costumes, baking lessons, craft projects…we had it all and more, a frenzy of doing. But I longed for the moments when we just sat and talked about whatever came to mind. Hanging out together, being ourselves with no pressure to be different…that was the all-too-fleeting glory of my childhood.

I wish she had told us the truth about the strangeness in our family. We couldn’t have prevented our father from drinking. But at least we’d have known that it wasn’t our fault and our dad wasn’t crazy. Kids have much more courage and resilience than many adults realize, even high-strung kids like the one I used to be.

My mother regularly compared Joyce and me to each other. She inherited this habit from our grandmother, who unwittingly raised her and her aunt to be rivals by casting Mother as “the clever one” and Aunt Celia as “the pretty one.” In the Maynard family, Joyce was said to be vivacious and brilliant, but devious. I was always described as grave, conscientious and honest to a fault. These misleading, black-and-white comparisons implied that neither one of us had everything it took to succeed in this world. What a discouraging message to us both!

Whatever’s going on in your family, a wise professional may be able to help you understand it and find constructive ways of addressing it. You can’t change who your daughters are, but with the right supports in place you can create a climate where it’s easier for them both to be themselves. Family therapy has been a huge help to me and my husband as parents (you can read more about this in My Mother’s Daughter).

Meanwhile, here’s something to remember. No matter how angry your older daughter appears, you are her number one role model and the queen of her heart. You always will be.

 

Posted by Rona

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