Strong women breed strong daughters. Sooner or later the younger woman has to define her own territory and rebel.
I did it to my own mother by scampering across the globe to marry an Englishman at the age of 18, giving birth to our first child a year later.
Lydia was born on Mothers Day 1985. I should have known she was going to teach me more about mothering than my other three kids combined.
Determined to protect her from the mistakes I'd made, I raised her a feminist and provided the best education I could afford. After she won a scholarship to a prestigious university her future was assured. She was destined to be a high-powered executive in a glass tower. At least, that's what I thought.
I was outraged when at the age of 23 Lydia turned her back on Western society and everything I thought she'd been given. She shaved her head and announced she was off to war-torn Sri Lanka to become a Buddhist nun. Instead of running a boardroom, she'd chosen to sweep monastery steps and kowtow to nine year old monks, simply because they were male.
By the time I boarded a plane to visit her mountain monastery two years' later, my fury had mellowed into curiosity. When Lydia, along with her guru and a flotilla of nuns, met me at Colombo airport she welcomed me with surprising warmth. I couldn't remember her embracing me so freely before.
Living alongside her in the remote mountain monastery I gradually succumbed to Sri Lanka's charms. It reminded me of Bali in the 70's.
As our tuktuk hurtled down a perpendicular track to the village I told her I could understand why she loved the country. If she was going to stay permanently at the monastery, I'd rent a shack alongside the river and visit her every year.
The tension between us was unlocked at that moment. I'd finally verbalized something we both needed to hear - that whatever she chose to do with her life she'd always be my daughter. My love extended beyond maroon robes and incense. She was stuck with me.
I was happy when Lydia returned home with me to embark on a PhD in Psychology. However, the early months of her re-immersion in Western culture were difficult and at times tearful. She was uncertain how to connect with old friends, let alone make new ones.
Two years on, she has a boyfriend and lives contentedly in a shared house. A secular Buddhist now, she teaches meditation around her studies.
I sometimes wonder why we had to go through so much conflict. We had some terrible rows. There were times when I thought I'd lost her forever.
On a recent trip together to New York, it was a joy to see her revel in entertainments she'd been denied during her devout years. Watching her stand in awe before paintings at MOMA was like witnessing the unfurling of a flower. She shimmered with delight at a Birdland jazz concert, sat mesmerized by Tom Hanks on stage in Lucky Guy on Broadway. As for shopping, are there any clothes her size left in New York?
Mothers, trust your daughters. Love them enough to cut them a little slack. They know more than you think.
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Helen Brown is the author of CATS & DAUGHTERS: They Don't Always Come When Called.
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