As many a woman can attest, one of the most complex relationships is that of the mother and daughter.
Moms can be – and I speak from experience – totally unprepared when their compliant, doting, little princess grows into a hormone-fueled, stubborn, independent teen.
My relationship with my daughter, Elissa, now 22, was so positive throughout her younger years. It was shocking when she dared assert some independence from me as a teenager. She even had the nerve to have her own opinions – some of which differed wildly from my own.
I won the belly-button piercing battle, and she won the cartilage-piercing war.
Fortunately, as she finished her teen years and moved into young adulthood, we became closer than ever, with our mutual respect intact.
In a new book, Side by Side – The Revolutionary Mother-Daughter Program for Conflict-Free Communication, psychiatrist Dr. Charles Sophy says, “Mothers and daughters can go from best friends to mortal enemies in breakneck speed.”
He emphasizes that mothers and daughters must carefully tread through learning how to communicate in a positive, rather than critical, way.
Brown Kogen, who grew up in Memorial as Lynn Mandell and now lives in Los Angeles, is a contributing writer to Sophy’s book. Her mom, Jeanne Mandell, had three daughters to raise, so she knows a bit about the complexities of the mother-daughter relationship.
For one, Jeanne says, “girls always tell you when they are mad.”
It was while writing the book that Brown realized she could have used a reference guide to navigate her past problems with her mother.
“We now have the talks we should have had then,” said Brown, “and I could have showed her more respect.”
In the book, she and her mom come across as having a flair for comedy that turns conflicts into funny tales. One ongoing debate is whether Brown should be called her given name of Lynn, or the college nickname that stuck.
“Don’t call her Brown,” mom Jeanne instructed me. “Her name is Lynn, which I think is a very nice name.”
The humor both helped and hindered their communication, because the laughter would stop any further conversation. Still, it helped Brown develop the tools to begin a successful television comedy-writing career, including writing several episodes for the hit sitcom Friends.
“We called my mother Pollyanna, because she always wanted to sweep all the bad stuff out of the way,” Brown said. “There were so many topics that were off limits because she was afraid of us knowing.”
In fact, the plot of an episode of Friends came from a story Brown tells about Jeanne.
“I wrote that Phoebe Buffay (Lisa Kudrow’s character) didn’t know that Old Yeller died because her mother didn’t let her watch that part of the movie,” Brown said. “That came from my own mother, who would not let me and my sisters watch The Sound of Music past the music competition (where Nazis start to chase the family). We had never seen the end of the movie, and I didn’t even know that until I got to college!”
According to Suzanne Penley, she and daughter Catherine Cooper are the exact same person, save for some hair color. She describes their relationship as loud and tumultuous but loving.
Suzanne explains that they are so much alike in their fiery, independent personalities that, as the mother, she could anticipate trouble before it happened.
“I was always one step ahead of her, whereas my own mother was clueless,” Suzanne said. “There were lots of challenges in the teen years.”
The police officer that picked up her daughter more than 10 years ago for underage drinking at a party became Suzanne’s husband. Officer John Guerra didn’t arrest Catherine, who was bartending but not drinking, during that party in eighth grade, and Suzanne said she didn’t have to say a word to her daughter because she already knew she had done wrong.
Today, with Catherine 25 years old, their spats can be over something as simple as how to cook something.
“We both love to cook, but we spend a lot of time trying to do things our own way, and we start hollering and throwing things at each other,” Suzanne laughs. “People come in and get concerned about us, but that is just how we get into it. We go toe to toe on an argument, and then we give up and say we’re both right, and move on.”
My grown daughter, Elissa, is now studying to be a therapist. She practices on me, which means we do a lot of talking things out.
Whether you talk, laugh, or shout out your differences, remember that, at the end of the day, girls need their mommies. And vice versa.