The difference between being 18 and 54 years old

One of the worst arguments I ever had with my mother was on my 18th birthday. That’s when I told her I was getting my own apartment.

I had graduated from high school the year before, was working full time as a television reporter , and planned to enroll in college that summer. But my mother insisted that I was too young to live on my own.

The ensuing argument caused us some pain for quite awhile, but we managed to work through it. Eventually, we forgave each other for the things we had said.

We still don’t agree on everything. However, we would consider our relationship to be a good one. The relationship has evolved and improved even as we have remained independent and opinionated.

Former Virginia first lady Anne Holton said she; her mother,  Virginia R. “Jinks” Holton (also a former first lady); and 14-year-old daughter, Annella, also are all very independent.

Anne Holton said that means the three of them have to be willing to listen to one another’s opinions and have to know when to step back if there are disagreements.

Suzanne Hanky, a family/parenting educator with Commonwealth Parenting in Glen Allen, said communication is essential to strong mother-daughter relationships.

Her advice for mothers is to learn to be good listeners.

“It begins with a still body, quiet mind and lots of eye contact,” Hanky said. “Good listening requires that we convey to our daughter, ‘I am hearing everything you say. I am not preparing my retort or thinking about the things I still need to do. I can feel what you’re feeling.'”

Hanky, who has five children including two girls, said that as young girls become teenagers, mothers must work to prevent adding to the drama that almost always occurs.

She said the goal is for mothers to remain calm.

“When we match drama with more drama, the resulting emotional climate in our homes becomes so stressful for our daughters that they are encouraged to seek support elsewhere,” she said. “When our daughters lack the ability to remain logical, we must step up and fill that void.”

Spending time with your daughter will also help as you work to build a good relationship,  Hanky said. She suggested becoming involved with your daughter’s activities and perhaps working together on a hobby or service project.

Doing a service project together creates “a sense of the level playing field where you both have the same role and you need one another to accomplish a common goal,” Hanky said.

Even if mothers manage to do everything right, conflicts can still develop,  Hanky said.

“The best advice I ever received during a difficult time my daughter and I were having was, ‘When you just don’t know what else to try, just love her. Make the decision to love with the intent to love and nothing else.'”

Once I understood that my mother’s opposition to me moving away from home all those years ago was out of love, I appreciated her concern. Knowing that helped me to forgive and be able to move forward.

And even though I moved out on my own that day, I made sure to stay in almost daily contact and I tried to show her I was mature enough to be on my own.

(I wrote this column two years ago for the Richmond Times-Dispatch. As  I approach my 54th birthday, my relationship with my mother has moved into a new, different phase. She was recently diagnosed with vascular dementia.)

Watch a video of Anne Holton talking about her relationship with her daughter and mother at: www2.timesdispatch.com/lifestyles/2010/feb/21/s-holt21_20100218-180602-ar-6991/

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