MOTHER'S Day celebrates one of life's richest...

Salmagundi

May 06, 1994

MOTHER'S Day celebrates one of life's richest relationships, and sometimes one of its most difficult. Psychologist Paula J. Caplan attempted to unravel some of this complexity in her 1989 book, "Don't Blame Mother: Mending the Mother-Daughter Relationship." Here is an excerpt:

"Mothers are either idealized or blamed for everything that goes wrong. Both mother and daughter learn to think of women in general, and mothers in particular, as angels or witches or some of each. Our normal, human needs, feelings and wishes are distorted in ways that erode our relationships by making us expect too much of each other and by making us exaggerate the bad or mistake the neutral and positive for negative. As many mothers and daughters admit, one minute they can overflow with love and admiration for each other, thinking of each other as positively perfect, and the next minute they can be overwhelmed with rage and contempt.

"The polarized images have long and complicated histories. In part, in our predominantly Anglo-American culture, for instance, the idealized ones stem from our heritage from the Victorian era, when the mother was supposed to be the 'Angel in the House' who soothed husband's and children's tired feet and fevered brows, spoke sweetly and gently, and considered meeting their needs her life's mission.

"The 'Wicked Witch' mother-images familiar to most of us come partly from fairy tales about horrid women. Although they're rarely called mothers, they are often stepmothers or characters who harm children while filling mother-type roles, like the witch in 'Hansel and Gretel' who lures the children with food, or the horrid stepmother who appears in motherly guise and offers (poisoned) nourishment to Snow White.

"Both extremes cause trouble: How can you have a relationship with a perfect being who's way up on a pedestal, but who would want to get closer to a person you believe caused all your problems? . . .

"As daughters and mothers, we have for generations been trapped in a dark web we did not spin. But once we are aware of the myth-threads that form the web, as we tell our mothers' stories and our own, we can begin to sort them out and pick apart the web. Daughters have to go beyond both kinds of images, taking away the masks of motherhood, as they try to see who their mothers really are."

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