When talking about mothers’, daughters’ stressful relationships, Someone Not Really Her Mother by Harriet Scott Chessman always comes up for me. On the surface this story is the turmoil of a daughter whose mother’s mental and physical health is failing. Going deeper, the story is about a mother who fled Europe in 1940 but lost her entire family to the Holocaust. It’s about a mother who lied about her identity to her husband and children. It’s about a mother who was emotionally absent, and hypercritical, and nevertheless, loved.
As a psychotherapist, it’s tempting to sanitize pain staying with professional jargon saying Hannah’s daughter Miranda is suffering from the intergenerational transmission of trauma. Better said, unacknowledged trauma is a festering boil in family relationships. Trauma many women attempt to leave behind when they immigrate. Miranda reaps the consequences of her Hannah’s inability to be close because Hannah lost everything once and isn’t willing to risk it again. As Hannah avoids attachment in her new culture and family, she transmits fear of emotional intimacy to her daughter.
My own emotional trek parenting across cultures lead to a research project interviewing mothers who raised their daughter’s in a culture they weren’t born to and their adult daughters born in the mother’s adopted land. Over and over the theme of loss, identity, criticism and control swirled through my interviews. The good news is many twenty first century women –of all ages- are seeking clarity about experience and relinquishing anger in favor of understanding and healing. Gayle is leading the way in film. Both “My Nose” and “Look at Us Now Mother’, bring humor and honesty and focus and on healing. What a gift.