'Mama Drama' and relationships with mom
Web posted on: Wednesday, June 03, 1998 4:38:17 PM EDT
(CNN) -- She gave birth to you. She nurtured you all these years. She fed you, clothed you, listened to your heartbreaks and headaches. And she guilt-trips you like no one else you know -- You love your mother, but ... she drives you crazy!
In her book "Mama Drama", author Denise McGregor shows women how to free themselves from the hysteria that defines their relationship with their mother. McGregor was a recent guest on a one-hour long chat with CNN Books. Here is a transcript of that visit.
HOST: Thank you for joining CNN Author Chat. Tonight our guest is Denise McGregor, author of "Mama Drama". She explores the tension-filled relationships between mothers and daughters.
QUESTION: What is a 'Mama Drama'?
McGREGOR: A mama drama is that ongoing argument we have with our mothers that never goes away. There is an element of addictiveness to it, and we try to recreate this from generation to generation. There is also a sense of pervasiveness. A sense that it affects all of a woman's life, work and family. There is a sense of hopelessness and isolation; a sense that daughters will never have what they want from their mothers.
QUESTION: I'm afraid that I haven't read your book, but being a daughter, I know, can be tension-filled. My mother and I get along far better now -- any suggestions for the older daughter and mother?
McGREGOR: It is interesting ... is mama drama age specific? It spans all ages. I have a girlfriend in her early 50s, and she is still waiting for her 80-year-old mother to apologize! What is it that you want to create with your mother before she dies!? Ask yourself that question ...
QUESTION: What is the worst drama trap?
McGREGOR: So many dramas ... so little time! The worst is giving your life over to your mother -- where you have no autonomy and you lose all your power to her! In chapter five of my book, I give specifics about how to not lose power. I suggest you slow your responses to your mother down, or donŐt respond at all! Giving yourself some leeway when speaking to your mother is powerful. The no response works as well. Loaded questions maybe don't deserve an answer.
QUESTION: What kind of impact can a mama drama have on a woman's self esteem?
McGREGOR: That's a good one! Women, and men too, judge themselves by how much love they feel from their mothers. That primary relationship has impact on every other relationship you have in life! It is very important that mama dramas get settled early on so that they don't become toxic to us all through life.
QUESTION: What are the warning signs of a Mama Drama?
McGREGOR: Mothers know all of our vulnerabilities. The warning signs include anger and frustration. Also, you can feel like you are in a guilt loop. A woman might blame her mother and she might get a sense of being in the same old argument. There can also be some physical cues, like a pain in the neck, back pain, etc.
QUESTION: Can boys and their mothers have mama dramas too?
McGREGOR: Little boys can have issues with their mothers. I think their are differences between how boys and girls are raised, and I hope this is changing. Boys are encouraged to go out and be something in the world, whereas girls are asked to hold back in a sense. But if a mother treats boys and girls the same, certainly the mama drama can apply to both girls and boys.
QUESTION: What about the 83-year-old mother afflicted with Alzheimer's? What about a situation where all the patience in the world is not enough?
McGREGOR: That is a very difficult situation It goes back to the core belief system I talk about in my book. If you are dealing with an ailing mother -- you have to look at her abilities now. With Alzheimer's you have to stay very close to the moment; you have to find out what is redeeming about the relationship in the moment. It is not the time to do bedside therapy. You have to ask yourself what your motivation is to try to ask questions you might not have asked before. If you have an ailing parent, it is not the time to try to resolve things you haven't resolved before. You have to look at your motivations.
QUESTION: Denise, what is your comment on normal, wonderful mother/daughter relationships?
McGREGOR: Good question! I wrote the book so more women can experience a good mother/daughter relationship Good communication and contact are some of the qualities I look for. There should be a sense of honor -- honoring each others vulnerabilities. You should know each others vulnerabilities, but know that you all would never prey on those weak points.
QUESTION: Does the drama continue in the absence of the mother, and if so, how can a woman resolve these issues if she has lost her mother before addressing them?
McGREGOR: I suggest mothers and daughters who have lost their way look back to a special time in your relationship. It is the emotion of that time that will last you through all the bad times. The drama can continue because we internalize our mother's voice. In my chapter on facing your mother's death, I outline some specific ways to deal with this. Go to your mother's gravesite and chat with her again. Try to build an ongoing relationship. Also, write a letter to your mother and mail it to your girlfriend for her to keep for you. There are many options for women to work out these mama dramas after your mother is gone.
QUESTION: Denise, have you lost your mother?
McGREGOR: Yes I have, and that is why I wrote this book. I experienced peace with her six weeks before she died. My mother encouraged me to write about this message. I know the satisfaction making peace gave me, and I want other women to share that same feeling.
QUESTION: You talk about "clickers" in your book. Do you use them with your daughters?
McGREGOR: Yes I do. This is kind of funny. Clickers -- you can buy them at the fair .. at shops, etc. I suggest that mothers and daughters all get one and keep them in the car. It is helpful when either you or your mother get into that closed loop of communication ... simply click twice and that quiets the conversation. It helps you to get back to the real issue. It quiets the conversation. My kids click me, and it helps me listen to my kids. I think it is a great technique!
QUESTION: What is the best way to overcome a mother who is dominating, intolerant and frustrating?
McGREGOR: That is a really controlling mother. Your best strategy is to not give her a lot to control. You can easily feel out of control. Resist the urge to control back. Stop announcing and explaining your decisions to her. It is a definite power struggle. You cannot jump into the chaos with your mother. Slowing everything down ... and become aware of what the situation is really about.
QUESTION: What are the five beliefs that will change a woman's perception of her mother?
McGREGOR: The five beliefs include: 1) Perception. Finding a new way of looking at your mother. You and your mother both want the best thing for you . 2) Your mother is not evil. She is not out to get you! You could say that there are some mothers who hurt their children ... and those mothers are certainly lost ... they do not see any options for themselves. They do not know any other way of handling a painful situation. 3) Your mother is doing the best with the options she sees for herself. Sometimes you are left with a gap as a child. You feel like your mother could have taken different roads, different options. It is important to realize that she didn't see those options. 4) Your mother's criticism is a communication misfire. 5) Your mother's criticism is more about her than you! SOmetimes when you talk to your mother you find out about her lost dreams, and you can begin to see how her dreams affect her relationship to you.
QUESTION: What is the single most lasting event that made the most impression on your life, that came from your mother?
McGREGOR: The single most lasting event from my mother .... ahhh, that's a good question! I asked my mother ... while she was dying in a nursing home ... what her greatest accomplishment had been. She just lifted her finger and pointed to me and said, "you and your brother." I was so surprised. I always knew that my mother loved me, but it didn't really come across to me. I suddenly felt that I had an honored place in her life, and I knew that I hadn't disappointed her.
QUESTION: Does Denise have any advice for woman who have lost their mothers at an early age? Do any specific problems occur?
McGREGOR: Our mother is our primary keeper, and she is the primary example of how to act in all our relationships. I think there may be other authors who have addressed that issue in a better way. Hope Adelman wrote about this in "Motherless Daughters". But again, whether a woman has lost a mother or made peace with her mother ... I want to fire women off in another direction. I want women to ask themselves what it is they want from the relationship.
QUESTION: Is it normal when there are a great deal of sisters in the family for them to be really closer than Moms and daughters?
McGREGOR: I think that really depends on the family. I can't comment so much on the sisters, but in terms of sibling rivalry and getting attention from a mother, siblings tend to keep score! Siblings count what mother does for each sibling . It depends how each sibling was raised ... You can ask what is it about your relationship that works with your sister that I could apply to my relationship with my mother?
QUESTION: Are some mamas more prone to the drama then others? Do mothers in different regions have different dramas?
McGREGOR: Each group can probably claim the "top Mama Drama" award! I have had people tell me that in the South the mother/daughter relationship is most intense, but I have also heard that New York mamas have their schtick too!
QUESTION: Denise, were you ever able to actually tell your mother how much you loved her while she could still understand?
McGREGOR: Yes. I definitely was. My actual story with her is recounted in the epilogue of my book. In my last communication with my mother ... we sang a childhood lullaby to each other. I sing that lullaby to my daughters, and it is a great tradition. I saw my mother dying in that bed and I thought, "What legacy do I want to leave? When I am lying here and my daughters are at my bedside, what do I want to leave? Why can't we create a new emotional legacy?"
QUESTION: Is it possible to experience Mama Drama with a mother-in-law?
McGREGOR: Oh yes, definitely. Mother-in-laws are like double trouble. If they haven't let go of their child, they can really create trouble in a marriage!
QUESTION: What do you think of biological mothers who try to get back in touch with daughters after many years?
McGREGOR: I think if a daughter could allow a mother like that back into her life ... even though there is much pain ... it could be a beautiful thing! Again, you have to realize the options your mother saw for herself at the time. If she has taken the time to find you, there is hope. Maybe she feels capable of having a relationship with you now. You may never be able to forgive her, but if you can let your mother back into your life -- it can work.
QUESTION: How can understanding of the martial art Aikido help relieve Mama Drama?
McGREGOR: Wouldn't we all like to get mother out on the mat! just kidding! Akido is a softer martial art, and students pair up to work on conflict resolution. It teaches you how to blend with what is, and it helps to create harmony. Instead of seeing you pitted against each other, this martial art teaches you to understand each otherŐs vulnerabilities. When you change your role in the relationship, you force her to change as well. You work with each otherŐs vulnerabilities instead of against them.
QUESTION: I have one sister, and we are complete opposites. I am outgoing, and she is quiet. My mom has always wondered where my personality came from, since the rest of my family tends to be on the rigid side. :) I wonder how complete opposites are borne into one family?
McGREGOR: Yes, that is a very interesting question. Much of the research on siblings indicates that siblings are parented very differently. Some children appeal to different emotions in mom. It sounds like the chatter is also asking how she can have a good relationship with her mom, even though she is not like the rest of the family ... I hope the chatter sees her won beauty. It is a trap to compare your self to your siblings.
Keeping score is dangerous. My brother and I had very different experiences of my mother as children . I grew up hating to cook ... my brother is a great cook. It was his way to bond with mom. We really have to allow ourselves to connect in our own way.
QUESTION: Are you familiar with the old bestseller "My Mother, My Self" by Nancy Friday? How is your philosophy different from hers?
McGREGOR: Yes I read it years ago. My philosophy is a down-to-earth approach. I honor her book, it is a classic. I am an advocate, however, of whoever makes the first move; the mother or the daughter. We do not need universal understanding of mother, we just need some simple rules! I honor every author who has tackled this subject. I think it is most important to remember that the relationship you want is closer than you think The relationship is not a struggle, it is about allowing that relationship to happen!
QUESTION: Thank you for joining tonight's book chat. We thank our guest, Denise Mcgregor for her time and insightful answers!
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