Sons are great, but there is something special about the mother/daughter bond. And there are specific challenges as well as joys when raising daughters. Yes, opportunities for girls have never been greater, but many teenage daughters pull away from their mother right at the time when they need guidance and support the most.
Two moms in Topanga, California are working to help moms stay connected with their girls, so they will feel comfortable and safe talking about all the issues that can come up as they journey through adolescence to become happy and healthy adults.
Spiritual psychologist and family counselor, Kamakshi Hart, stepmother to a 9-year-old daughter, and art teacher Jenny Griffiths, mother to two teenage girls, are members of mother-daughter project groups.
They were surprised how many mothers they talked to felt alone and unsupported, and were struggling to help their daughters thrive during adolescence instead of just surviving it. So Hart and Griffiths formed Moms Raising Girls. In their workshops, they found a crucial need to dispel the myths of the supermom and the perfect daughter, and recommend that the mother should become a consultant rather than a manager of her teenage daughter's life, and to trust her.
"The most important thing we can do for our daughters is to make sure they keep talking to us," Griffiths said. "When daughters see their mothers making an effort to connect, they really appreciate it."
Mothers are often out of touch with what their daughters and their friends are going through. Twenty-four percent of 14 to 17-year-olds know at least one student who has been the victim of dating violence, yet 81 percent of parents either believe teen dating violence is not as issue or admit they don't know if it is an issue. 1
Having survived childhood cruelty and sex abuse, Hart has an extra sensitivity to trauma. "Moms sometimes unconsciously project tremendous fear on their daughters and want them to hide in a closet once they reach puberty. There's a tendency in our culture to marginalize abuse and think it only happens when you're walking in a bad neighborhood."
This is just a small aspect of what they cover in their eight-week workshops. The moms get support, plus practical ideas and tools to understand what's going on with young girls and what they're up against in today's society.
Art projects led by Griffiths are surprisingly popular. "There is a general resistance to doing art from people who don't think of themselves as artistic, but it's a profound opportunity to get to the bottom of feelings and issues. We're usually more verbal as a culture and to express something with color and image creates a whole other dimension. It's actually best if you're not good at art because you need to be intuitive."
Western society has lost the tradition of rituals. Hart and Griffiths take their moms on a hike to reconnect with Mother Earth, where all the women have a chance to let go of negative thoughts and patterns. They throw rocks over the hillside and release resentments and judgments, but also say out loud what they do want. A common wish is to be more compassionate and become the best mom they can be.
One group had a night-time experience where they lay on blankets and looked up at the stars as Griffiths read aloud the tale of the Greek goddess Demeter, who lost her daughter Persephone to the dark side. There's a happy ending; mother and daughter are finally reunited. The lesson is that sometimes we have to let our daughters follow the wrong path and make mistakes, but they usually come back to us in the end. The important thing is to keep the lines of communication open and the conversation going.
"The moms felt they were being nurtured as they were being read to. It was extremely powerful," said Hart. "It's heartbreaking to me that many mothers feel they aren't getting it right and are so hard on themselves."
Mothers, aunts and grandmothers are welcome at these workshops (which are geared toward moms with daughters aged 8 to 14), but no one is turned away. It doesn't matter if a girl turns to her mother, aunt, grandmother or family friend in time of need, as long as she knows she has a loving and nurturing female figure to lean on.
Shelley O'Connor, mother of an 8-year-old daughter, says the workshop redirected her focus and she feels changed by it. "I hadn't realized so much of the mother-daughter relationship is really about self. How our grandmothers parented our mothers had an impact on how they mothered us, which impacts how we are with our own daughters. The most growing experience for me was to create a sacred space of love for myself. It made me realize all the good things I'm doing and to hold onto those aspects of my mothering, rather than the few negative things."
1. Feb. 2005, Liz Claiborne, Inc, Study on teen dating abuse conducted by Teenage Research Unlimited. This source is cited in The Mother-Daughter Project by SuEllen Hamkins, MD and Renee Schultz, MA