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"A son's a son till he takes a wife, a daughter's a daughter for the rest of her life."
By and large, this old folk saying still rings true. Generally, young men are raised to become autonomous beings, and the act is regarded as mandatory to their adult development. On the other hand, young women are raised to become moms themselves and remain close to their mothers, setting off what many psychologists maintain is the most intense relationship in a woman's life.
The mother-daughter bond is essential, and 80-90 percent of women report good relationships with their mothers during their midlife, despite wanting an even stronger relationship.
What Happens When a Mother Passes
When her mother dies, the adult daughter loses her security touchstone. As long as her mother is alive, even if she's halfway across the country, she's often only a phone call away. Even if a daughter doesn't always reach out to her mother when she has a problem, knowing her mother is around can be reassuring. Alternatively, when mom dies, the daughter is starkly alone.
Women with close mother-daughter relationships may feel the loss more acutely, but the dynamics are the same for women who report conflicted relationships with their mothers-there is a prevailing tendency to feel unmoored.
According to a 2016 article by psychologist Susan Campbell, 92% of daughters say that their relationship with their mother is positive, and over half of women say their mother was more influential than their father.
Coping With a Mother Who Has Died
Many adult daughters hold a story of their mothers that is based more on the daughters' wounded memories than on the real truth of their mothers' lives. For the brave at heart, the immediate aftermath of a mother's death can be an opportunity for a more objective, compassionate understanding of her and, in turn, a resolution of long-standing differences. Clues to a mother's true narrative can be found by listening attentively to stories told at the funeral, studying her letters and personal writings, and reviewing her choice of reading materials and entries in her calendar. Even the contents of her closet can help to fill in the gaps of her life.
Daughters can take this time to learn more about their mother, and cope with the grief by expressing their feelings, remembering and cherishing their mom, and allowing themselves to grieve properly.
Learning About Mom Through Memories
Often, there can be a real disparity between a mother's public self and her private self, or the one portrayed in the family. Many women lead much more accomplished lives than their mothers, which can mask their gifts. A mother's death can be an excellent time to revisit her teachings.
For example, Hillary Clinton's mother, Dorothy Rodham, was cast off by her parents and sent to live with harsh grandparents. She never got the opportunity to attend college, but when Hillary phoned home from Wellesley, worried that she wouldn't make the grade, Dorothy encouraged her to stick it out, something she had learned the hard way.
There's no doubt that Hillary Clinton's reputation as a tenacious candidate and negotiator owes a lot to her mother's support. Embedded in this example is the knowledge that mothers want the best for their daughters. We can return the favor by rediscovering our mother's stories and honoring them.