Guest post: A Daughter’s Pain, A Mother’s Strength

Num-Num wrote this for you guys, after reading all your kind comments about her post on parenting adult children:

I’ve been thinking about Dorothy Rodham lately. You know, Hillary’smom?

Dorothy Rodham was 89 years old, on June 4th, the day after
her daughter lost the Democratic nomination for president. She looks younger
than her years and centered, with a wide smile. Still…89? You’ve got to hope
that by then your children will have ceased to need you. But she’s never stopped
being a mother and, according to all reports, remains very close to her daughter
and to her granddaughter. The few times I spotted the three women together on
television, they were drawing strength from one other.

Dorothy Rodham had a dreadful childhood and a fifties-type marriage. Hugh
Rodham ruled the roost. The few descriptions of her marriage in print hint at
emotional abuse. The story of her parents’ abandonment of her, and her paternal
grandparents’ cruelty lead you to believe that life with a domineering husband,
if that’s what he was, and her children in a Chicago suburb was light years
better than her past.

So how, I wondered,  would
she deal with her daughter’s great disappointment? In my last post about how to
parent an adult child, many of you liked the idea of keeping one hand lightly on
the small of your child’s back and sending brownies. I’m not sure that would do
the trick in this instance. After reading a bit about Dorothy Howell
Rodham,  I asked some friends what
they would say to Hillary, if they were her mother.

First me:  I’d bring a
mega-box of tissues with me,  and
I’d spend a long time listening. I’d probably need more than a few tissues
myself. I’d bring some good chocolate with hot peppers in it (Whole Foods,
natch),  because Hillary loves hot
peppers and she needs chocolate. I’d tell her to go easy on the Bourbon and beer
now that she’s off the campaign trail. But if a shot of schnapps, like the one
my grandmother downed every night of her adult life, got her through the night for a while,
well, okay. After all, Hillary has a track record of extraordinary discipline.

I’d control myself and not give vent to the anger I would be feeling
because of the way she’s been treated, because she lost, and because I’d do
anything to punish the people who hurt her. I’d keep telling myself that
wouldn’t do any good, not for her, not for me. I’d tell her how proud I am
of her and I’d also tell her that the 17 million who didn’t vote for her were
plain stupid. Others could be easy on them, but I’m her mother.

A good friend, and one of Moxie’s Moms, had an important Don’t:  “Don’t tell her to suck it up, don’t
tell her it wasn’t that important, and don’t tell her she’ll be fine! Don’t tell
her your own stories of disappointment or turn the convo somehow to how her hurt
hurts you.. Help her wallow a teeny bit.”

Another friend who was passionate about Hillary told me that she should
Dump the Chump. Not really, she adds. Really, though, my friend would keep her
away from news and public appearances, she’d bring in some silly films and
comfort food. She’d encourage the tears (after all, you always stop) and she’d
take her on a vacation, bringing Chelsea along.

The women I spoke with emphasized that when Hillary was ready, Dorothy
ought to encourage her to keep on believing in herself and in the causes she
worked for. When your child, no matter how old she is and how old you are, has
processed the hurt, do what you can to help her up on the horse again. Maybe,
just do something outrageous yourself, just to set a good example.

0 thoughts on “Guest post: A Daughter’s Pain, A Mother’s Strength”

  1. Good advice for spouses, friends, anyone.One of the things that really made me certain of Ep for the future was when I got an advance warning of a failing grade in a course in grad school (1/2 the class did the paper entirely wrong, which to me says they didn’t communicate what they wanted well… I can see 1/10th totally missing the point, but HALF the class? Anyway, they told us to re-do the paper or take an F…). I knew I was going to re-do the paper. But the visceral, emotional, psychic wound involved in that event. Totally blew me to bits.
    Ep didn’t tell me it was no big deal, that I’d get over it in time, to buck up, it’s not that important in the grand scheme of things. He told me it WAS important, he understood how much of a blow that was to my self-concept, my image of myself, and my expectations. He let me wallow that little bit. And then he told me he knew I could get up and start again, and succeed at what I intended to do from here. It was important to get good grades, it was a hard blow, but he trusted me to be able to get back up and keep going. He commisserated with the ‘hello, people, if half the class got it wrong, doesn’t that suggest that maybe it wasn’t entirely an individual wantonly declining to read the instructions and follow them?’ gut reaction (after the keening from the knee to the gut feeling was past). And he then allowed the reality check (this really is NOT the end of the world, just the end of a set of expectations – that I’d sail through grad school without a hitch), and stepped back and let me forge ahead again, in whatever direction I chose to take from there.
    Yeah, that’s how you do it. And that’s how I’d do it if I was Hillary’s mom. Or her sister, best friend, or whatever.

  2. Wise words. Wish my mom could read this. She’s guilty of both the “Oh, it’ll be fine” and the “It hurts me so much to see you going through this” reactions, neither of which are helpful no matter how old your child is.

  3. “Don’t tell her your own stories of disappointment or turn the convo somehow to how her hurt hurts you. Help her wallow a teeny bit.” Oh how I wish someone would tell this bit of amazing wisdom to my mother.

  4. What a great perspective to take on this! Thinking of it from how her mother will deal with it. These are all good points, too.It just amazes me how I think of things now that I am a mom. How every child’s disappointment, young or old, makes me think about how I would want to parent that child or help the mother.
    Thanks for sharing this perspective.

  5. At the risk of sounding like I don’t understand the point of this post (I believe that I do), I can’t help but wonder how this conversation between a mother and an extremely successful but frustrated child would be different if the adult child in question were a man. I think it would be quite different.How deep are the differences in emotional responsibilities between mothers and their adult daughters and sons?

  6. I’m with Hedra. I knew T was the one when I got fired not long after we’d started dating. I was in the middle of a divorce, was a few months into a great promotion… and then word got out about a blog I had and I was fired for things I said in it. He was so mad on my behalf. While he said it would be okay (and it was)… he made it clear that my being fired was not okay. While my mother comforted me (in a great way), his anger on my behalf thrilled me. I’d never seen anyone stand up for me like that before.

  7. @attition, that’s a good question.I already do this conversation with my sons, though, so I suspect it will continue into adulthood. But then, I also have different-than-typical assumptions about the emotional processing of my sons. If they’re disappointed, I work the same angles – it’s okay to feel hurt, I can feel angry for you without making it about me, I can validate without minimizing or maximizing the pain, and can then reality check with them as they proceed.
    Interestingly, what I see in what we’re saying ‘a good mom can/should do’ and what some of us would WISH our moms could/would do is more typical of MALE communication than of female in our (western) culture, no? Cut back on the automatic reflecting of same experience (‘oh, that happened to me, too, I remember when …’), cut back on the visceral empathizing (‘when you’re cut, I bleed’). Or maybe it’s a blended model of both – the in and close allowing of the feelings, but then stepping back and staying separate when the lines get close enough to converge and blur identities.
    In our culture, it is the moms who come in close (usually) and mix their identities up with their child’s by accident, not understanding how to be open to the emotions without owning them or dumping their own. And the dads are the ones who usually step back, stay separate, and do the reality check on the tail end. How many times have I done that double-dipping with my parents? Go to mom for the empathy, go to dad for the reality check? Get annoyed with mom for blurring her identity into mine, get annoyed at dad for doing the reality check without the empathy component at all (as in ‘harshly’)?
    What I end up with is trying to balance the process, neither too far in nor too far out, with each of my kids. Interestingly, Ep does the same – he comes in close on the feelings, but also draws back and allows them space at the far end, without sucking his identity into theirs. He’s way better at it than I am (his mom is also very good at it, so it must be a learned skill).
    Huh. So, um, for us, the boys are likely to get exactly the same approach and send-off process as the girls. But then maybe we’re just weird, too. 😉

  8. sweet glorious jesus, num num, i’ll pretend it’s the hormones that are making me cry reading this and wanting to give you a hug and a kiss that would border on being inappropriate. what a wonderful perspective on how our relationships with our children (and parents) can continue to be life-giving and not co-dependent. it’s so true that we need our parents to validate our feelings and we need to do the same for our far as the last part is concerned- when she’s ready to hear it, she needs to remember that she is one of only a privileged few to be called “United States Senator,” and that is no small accomplishment. i’m so proud that HRC is my senator, and i hope she stays that way- she has done good and important things for our state and country and especially for women and their children. keep cracking that ceiling, Hillary. it was an honor for my daughter and i to pull the lever for you and it will be something i will never forget.

  9. Hedra, thanks for explaining the differences between the typical mother response and father response. Particularly the identity merging mothers can do. Seeing it explained so simply and clearly will hopefully help me keep it from getting out of hand, now that I know what is happening. And also lets me see the value in my husband’s different response styles. (Also linking back with your current post on your blog I see).Being raised by a single parent who had to straddle both roles, I am finding it hard to find where to divide the roles into a functional and fair couple-parenting situation. I don’t tend to see some of the traps coming until I’ve fallen in.

  10. Timely, for me, since I just found out that I won’t get the job I interviewed for last week. I’m not that surprised or upset about it; I spent yesterday feeling bad and today I’m mostly over it. I’m far from comparing my disappointment to Hillary’s, but this post made me think a lot about how we set our kids up to process life’s inevitable disappointments.I’m not sure my parents did such a good job. They were so invested in my success, so quick to praise in general, unconstructive terms (“you’re so smart,” “that should be easy for you”) that I somehow got into my head that I could do anything. If I failed, well, it was all my fault for not living up to my potential.
    Alas, it meant they had little useful to say when I didn’t achieve. Cycling back after the fact and talking about how hard I worked or how much I’d learned did no good when I’d fallen short of my goal. My mom’s automatic jump to mother lion mode, trying to protect her only daughter from all the disappointments of the world, just made me feel more vulnerable.
    So what I want to do with my kids is focus more on the getting there and less on the end result, because that’s what you end up winning and taking away, no matter what. I will freely admit to them that sometimes it’s one cruddy consulation prize, but it’s still given.
    Which isn’t to say that I won’t acknowledge the pain and disappointment, and I think the advice to help them to “wallow a teeny bit” is wonderful.
    And chocolate. Definitely chocolate.

  11. My mom has always been the person who I go to when I am disappointed or feeling discouraged about something in my life – sometimes even before I talk with my husband. I’m 33 yrs old and my now 61 mother is still my parent – she’s certainly more of a friend to me now but it’s not the same as my friend down the street, ykwim?I nurture my own dd in the same way as my mom nurtured me; except that I purposefully do not use food of any sort to make things better. A lifelong weight struggle made me realize I do have to do something different.
    I believe that any parenting-related blog that does not touch occasionally on our own parents is not likely to be a good blog.

  12. I don’t know. Sometimes I rely on my Mom for the “you’re going to be fine” stuff.For me, I’m mostly looking for empathy from my Mom. And babysitting. 🙂

  13. Hi guys.I could get up and start again, and succeed at what I intended to do from here. It was important to get good grades, it was a hard blow, but he trusted me to be able to get back up and keep going. He commisserated with the ‘hello, people, if half the class got it wrong, doesn’t that suggest that maybe it wasn’t entirely an individual wantonly declining to read the instructions and follow them?

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