My daughter, myself
October 14, 2014 12:41 PM   Subscribe

Gotta go call my Mom.
posted by The Underpants Monster at 12:49 PM on October 14, 2014 [2 favorites]

Nice article. I'm on the Dad side of the Pre-Teen Daughter Experience, but this mirrors a lot of my thinking and experiences as well.
posted by Rock Steady at 1:29 PM on October 14, 2014 [1 favorite]

Being the father of a 12-year-old son isn't easy either...
posted by Nevin at 1:40 PM on October 14, 2014

An excellent essay, thanks for posting.
posted by Existential Dread at 1:44 PM on October 14, 2014 [1 favorite]

So it gets easier as they get older, huh?

*picks up baby dolls flung in fury around the living room*

posted by gottabefunky at 2:14 PM on October 14, 2014

As the mother of a 20-year-old daughter who is neither my BFF, rival, mini-me or anti-me, I found this kind of beanplatey. You can consciously choose not to see your children as a mirror, and you can choose not to make their growing up about you.

Every mother meets the paradox that the more their daughters are drawn into womanhood, the more they pull away. It is a confusing social induction that appears to obey strange magnetic rules: daughters are attracted to the adult world of women, but repelled by their actual mothers.

This was not my experience as either a daughter or mother. YMMV.
posted by Sweetie Darling at 3:42 PM on October 14, 2014 [13 favorites]

I think it may not fit everyone's experience, but it does fit mine. My daughter is absolutely mirroring me, down to the emotions and the terrible poetry. And it's disconcerting. This hit me pretty hard, great post.
posted by corb at 4:21 PM on October 14, 2014 [1 favorite]

Huh. That was interesting at first, but I found it boring once it delved into Freud and the Erikson's. It was like there were two articles there and I enjoyed the one before the Aeon ad.

I will say it's always disconcerting to mix up my leggings with my daughter's. And today I found my socks in her drawer. She's looking forward to being taller than her grandma.
posted by Margalo Epps at 5:12 PM on October 14, 2014 [4 favorites]

This is a great piece of writing and may mirror my wife to be's relationship with the daughter of our dreams (I can see the similarities with my sisters fraught teenage relationship with my Mother).

Postmenopausal females are almost unique among us animals, and make no sense to a dawkinsian evolutionary back story.

It means these precious women add an indescribable amount of value to us all and should be listened to and respected.
posted by Samuel Farrow at 5:18 PM on October 14, 2014 [1 favorite]

To be fair, the daughter is my dream and Greer wants a son.
posted by Samuel Farrow at 5:19 PM on October 14, 2014

I found this completely beautiful. This isn't much like my mother in a lot of respects, but there are a few very familiar threads. And the dottering off at the end was quite nice, too; very sweet.

Samuel Farrow what about the Grandmother Hypothesis? I'm not much into human evolutionary biology tbh, but there are at least some very plausible hypotheses for life after menopause... modulo how much primacy you want to give to the gene as the unit of selection.
posted by Made of Star Stuff at 5:29 PM on October 14, 2014 [1 favorite]

Made of Star Stuff - few animals have females that survive menopause - Killer Whales and us and Pilot Whales They are all K selected with the ultimate parental investment living in very stable environments.

I was saying menopause is very rare and needs to be respected - which indicates the gene is not entirely selfish.
posted by Samuel Farrow at 5:41 PM on October 14, 2014 [2 favorites]

Also I am not a scientist.
posted by Samuel Farrow at 5:49 PM on October 14, 2014

Nobody needs to give up playing Minecraft.
posted by hellphish at 6:13 PM on October 14, 2014 [6 favorites]

Especially when the gene is selfish, the knowledge doesn't have to be.
posted by unknowncommand at 7:47 PM on October 14, 2014 [1 favorite]

That was good. My daughter just turned 12. I could especially relate to this:

I am overcome by a terrible sadness for my own lost opportunities, and by an ersatz nostalgia for paths not taken – a missing, if you like, of what I never had, and a misplaced anxiety about all the future paths I shall never take, because with middle age comes a shrinking sense of the possible. Since half of me is lost in undifferentiated yearning for what might have been, I’m often unable to reassure my daughter with the right level of conviction.

That feeling really undermines my parenting at times - when I fantasize about certain futures for her which might be totally unfulfilling or unrealistic.
posted by latkes at 8:10 PM on October 14, 2014 [3 favorites]

I really liked this essay. I was worried that it would be too narcissistic (my kid's adolescence is all about meeeeeee!), but it really digs into the introspection to find the reasons behind her troubled identification with her daughter. I've been tussling with the psycho-dynamic forces she calls "ghostly younger selves" -- the natural tendency to imagine my role in potential activities the same way I did when I was 18 -- and when I've reached back in the storehouse of my mind to find What I Want To Do If I Could Do Anything, all I turn up are what I call "Young Man Dreams." Benjamin's essay was mind-opening to an extent I wasn't expecting at all.

But one part felt wrong to me, like a concept introduced mostly for symmetry, or a bit of that narcissism creeping in. It's the idea that an 11-year-old girl feels like growing up == turning into Mom. Benjamin sees herself mirrored in her daughter, but there's no evidence that her daughter sees the same thing. "Oh no, I'm turning into my mother!" is something I hear from women in their 30s or later; from younger than that I hear "I'm annoyed at my mother because she thinks I'm a version of her." As a guy, I definitely remember the trepidation of looming teenhood, and I also doubled down on kidstuff to compensate:
While her classmates experiment with make-up and teenage posturing, she seems reluctant to put away childish things, as if she knows it’s her last hurrah when it comes to Minecraft, Sylvanian Families, secret spy books, and the Winx Club.
...but, as that sentence suggests, it was an association with young men's masculinity, not My Dad.

So, women of Metafilter ... do the feelings suggested by this article ring true with your 11-year-old-girl memories? Did you see yourself in your mother the way the author claims her daughter does? I'm honestly curious how this compares with boyhood.
posted by Harvey Kilobit at 9:18 PM on October 14, 2014 [2 favorites]

I didn't really see myself in my mother, but I also had the sense, as a girl, that she wished I did.

She even confirmed that a tiny bit; she recently confessed to having looked forward to bonding with me over shopping and makeup and such during my teens, and that when she ended up with me being more of a bookish nerd who didn't really give a shit about shopping, she was actually a little disappointed.

I'm past it now - but sometimes some kids can pick up on parents wishing their kids were their mini-me's, and if we aren't it's uneasy.
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 10:56 PM on October 14, 2014 [2 favorites]

(For the record, Mom has also been forthcoming about what she likes about me - she recently said she admired how spiritually "with-it" I am, for lack of a better word, and for my Catholic mother to say that about someone who's essentially a heathen that's kind of amazing.)
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 10:58 PM on October 14, 2014

Did you see yourself in your mother the way the author claims her daughter does?

I took that part of the article as talking about the differentiation process that is so common in girls (and boys) this age, and how that process is commonly understood as including a lot of explicit identification with behaviors or values outside of one's parents. It's assumed that a 12 year old's whole project is divorcing herself from all the parts of her mother (or parents) she sees in herself.
posted by latkes at 6:28 AM on October 15, 2014

So, women of Metafilter ... do the feelings suggested by this article ring true with your 11-year-old-girl memories? Did you see yourself in your mother the way the author claims her daughter does? I'm honestly curious how this compares with boyhood.


Although, I freely admit we're in find of a weird situation. My mother is a twin, and my sister and I are as close to twins as makes no difference (less than a year apart in age, practically raised as twins with rhyming names, matching clothes and haircuts, secret codes, the whole nine yards - our own grandmother couldn't always tell us apart) so we had this whole crazy four-way mirror thing going on. Anyway, the process described in the essay has never completely stopped for us. The untimely death of Mom's twin a few months ago has only slowed it down.

At 11, I saw myself becoming my mother and fought it tooth, nail, and every other body part I could think of. I swore I would never let a man treat me the ay my father had treated her; I would never let anyone push me around the way her parents had pushed her around; I would never let chronic illness hold me back the way it had her... and every day I want to go back and smack that 11-year-old kid upside the head for being such a dumbass.
posted by The Underpants Monster at 7:30 AM on October 15, 2014 [1 favorite]

I felt this essay didn't mirror my experiences either as a teen myself, or as the parent of teens. For starters, the gender essentialism really bugged me. Are camping and watching the Simpsons "male" activities? What if I'm the one in the baggy t-shirts? What if my daughter is into makeup and cheerleading and stiletto heels and also dissecting animals and playing Call of Duty? What if my son had more Barbie dolls as a child than I ever did?

I of course love my kids more than life itself, but I always felt my son and I were more alike, while my daughter and I don't share much more than the basic biological realities of being female. With my son I shared a lot of interests, a sense of humor, an outlook on life, and even a little extra padding on the thighs. I weigh nearly twice what my daughter does and no one is accidentally going to mix up our underwear. My daughter--well, her whole adolescence has been a difficult process of trying to understand the very different way she operates in the world and learning to accept her as the person she is, on her own terms. At the same time, she didn't grow closer to her step-dad in puberty/adolescence, and in fact grew more distant and for a long time cut off contact with her bio dad.

From my own recollection of myself at that age, I remember feeling an affinity for my mom and distancing myself quite a lot from my dad, no so much because of gender I don't think but because of personality similarities vs. clashes.

I've also got no sense of "terrible sadness" for lost opportunities from my youth or young adulthood. Add to that the fact that my daughter faces a different set of issues and challenges that I did, and her version of success is and will look very different from mine.

Her memory is a fine-tuned thing.
Oh Jesus, I wish.
posted by drlith at 8:53 AM on October 15, 2014 [1 favorite]

The article makes me think of this Carrie Newcomer song, with the chorus that ends with "damn the first man who comes to break your heart."

I'm with Underpants Monster with the girlhood spent not wanting to turn into my mother. The determination to not tolerate being treated in that fashion. And I guess I have succeeded in refusing to be her. But 30+ years later I'm also aware of the other potential pitfall: Allying myself with those who treat her that way. Becoming the villain instead of the victim. I suppose it's progress that we daughters get that choice and my mother may even be glad that I have it. But today, sometimes I catch myself talking to her as if I were my dad, and hate it. Those patterns are hard to fight.
posted by elizilla at 10:50 AM on October 15, 2014 [4 favorites]

So, women of Metafilter ... do the feelings suggested by this article ring true with your 11-year-old-girl memories? Did you see yourself in your mother the way the author claims her daughter does? I'm honestly curious how this compares with boyhood.

No. Not even remotely. I would have liked this article more if the author hadn't been trying to act like these issues and emotions are universal. I got the feeling she's rather entrenched in stereotypical gender roles.

Like EmpressCallipygos, my mother was expecting a girly-girl to shop with and teach grooming activities to. I was more of a surly book-nerd who enjoyed getting dirty. We didn't overlap enough to have any confusion over "mini-meness", and I've never felt I had to do anything to distance myself from becoming her. We're just naturally very different, both physically and temperamentally. (And, thankfully, for the most part she was on board with that.)

If my mom wrote this article when I was 11, I think it would have been a lot more about being mystified and trying to find things to connect on.
posted by Dynex at 5:12 PM on October 15, 2014 [1 favorite]

Good article, thanks for posting. Much to ponder there.

I don't think that as an adolescent I felt like my mother and I had much in common. I felt very strongly (and still feel) that she didn't understand me and we had little in common. I certainly resented her and was a typically awful adolescent girl not so much because I was trying to convince myself that I wasn't like her, but because I just didn't like her. I've always felt closer to my dad, even though we probably have just as many failures of understanding as my mum and I do. I think I just like him more as a person. Meanwhile, my best friend was just the opposite - she got on really well with her mum and couldn't stand her dad. We'd get together and have teen complaint sessions about the awful things my mum and her dad were respectively inflicting on us.

I find that as I get older, I have more sympathy for what my mum must have gone through with me, but it doesn't make it any less horrifying when I realise I resemble her. I sometimes hear a particular tone in my voice that reminds me of a particular tone in hers that just gets my goat. I sometimes catch one of her expressions on my face. My brother remarked that he can see that I look like her and my instant response is "no I don't!" Maybe because we don't live in the same country and haven't had much opportunity to forge more of an adult relationship, we're trapped in this barely post-adolescent phase? Not sure.

Back to the article though; initially I found the transition to Erik Erikson and his theories a bit jarring. But I think it was a worthwhile digression that turns out not to be a digression after all, that his theories give the author a framework to make sense of how she and her daughter are both going through such major changes. That it's unrealistic to expect yourself to remain a stable and staid adult simply because of your chronological age, because we never stop developing. Her daughter is going through a stage where the focus will remain on herself for a while. She's going through a stage where she has to shift the focus outwards, away from herself (according to Erikson's theories). This doesn't have to be her daughter, but obviously there's a strong pull there.

I find this really thought-provoking, as I am approaching this generativity stage and have no children or partner to occupy my focus. I think I will have to put in some work to avoid "sliding into unhappy narcissism" and find my "deeper engagement with society". A different kind of hard work than negotiating with a teenage daughter, which I'm grateful not to face. Although it strikes me that treating these things as discrete stages is perhaps a bit simplistic; we all need to have connections with society, consolidate financially, etc. They seem more like themes that recur throughout our lives, although perhaps with greater emphasis at different times and for different people. Living on the other side of the world from my family, for example, I've always had to make more effort to engage with different communities, friends and groups. Similarly people who've been financially independent from a young age would have done a lot of that consolidation earlier in their lives. Still, useful concepts to think about.
posted by Athanassiel at 5:58 PM on October 15, 2014 [3 favorites]

Oh, and also - one of the most fascinating bits of the article: "the brain, it transpired, underwent a second, wholly unexpected, growth spurt in middle age. The implications for cognitive science were huge."

Indeed! This is really interesting and I think does a lot to counterbalance the concept of middle-age as a gradual decline of or disinterest in growth, learning, etc. Very encouraging.
posted by Athanassiel at 6:09 PM on October 15, 2014

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