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copyright 1999, Lois Wickstrom

Daughter Therapy

by Lois June Wickstrom


My older daughter was born without the ability to suck. Breasts don’t require sucking, like bottles. A baby doesn’t have to be able to suck to get milk out of them. Simple pressure, applied by gumming works. And if the baby is too tired for gumming, all the mom has to do is use a little pressure with a finger against the breast above the nipple and the milk squirts right into the baby's mouth. Since my daughter couldn’t suck, she couldn’t use a bottle. I nursed her until she was one-year-old and asked for a cup.

She never looked back. She’s slow to develop, but she sticks with her decisions, especially when I disagree with them. She seem to be always leaving me with breasts full of milk.

She has always cared more about anybody else’s opinion than mine. She had to have little alligators on her shirts when I told her she could get an equally pretty and well-made shirt for half the price without the alligator. She had to eat at junk food restaurants when I told her she could get more and better food for her money at a real restaurant. The only battle I ever won with her after infancy was making her wear her bicycle helmet.

My daughter’s motto has always been “you can’t make me.” She’s right, so where do we go from there? Despite our frequent battles, she did go to college which I paid for. She even went on to graduate school which I refused to pay for. She got a scholarship. Then the trouble began in earnest. For the first time in her brilliant life she had trouble in school. And I wasn’t there to blame.

Suddenly she sent a letter: “You may not know this, but we have an artificial relationship. I do not want you to try to contact me in any way. Communication with you is painful for me. I will contact you if I ever want to hear from you again.”

I called her sister, my younger daughter. “I’m not supposed to talk to you about her. She is in therapy. She doesn’t want you to know that, but I told her I have to tell you something.”

Therapy! I’d rather she ran off with a California guru! I phoned my mother, who is a California therapist. “There’s nothing you can do. She’s an adult. Her therapist sounds unethical, but it is your daughter’s choice. I know it hurts, but all you can do is wait it out.”

Several months later the hate mail started coming. My daughter seems to remember every time I wouldn’t let her do something, wouldn’t give her money, sent her to her room, spanked her, or behaved or didn’t behave in ways she didn’t approve. She and her therapist had made up a fantasy of me as Hitler going off to my room to chortle in glee after sending her to her room. She called me “limited, cruel, and unloving.” She said her therapist loves her more than I do. Frankly, I think her therapist would dump her if she said those things to her.

I wasn’t sure this kind of communication was better than her non-communication. I love my daughter and I’ve lived through many of her phases. This one, being carried on by mail, was the worst ever. As a teenager, I could see her pain when she yelled at me. I could tell from her face and tears and voice tones that she knew she was rebelling and deep down we were still family. But this! The distance, the lack of possible communication — I was still forbidden to call her, and all her letters would be filtered through her therapist who told her that my letters are “cold and uncaring.”

Bottom line. I knew I didn’t deserve this. Aside from hating her mother, my daughter is a good citizen. She does volunteer work. She is a college graduate. She is supporting herself. She isn’t on drugs. She isn’t in jail. She’s just doing the latest California fad, again giving in to anybody’s opinion other than mine. And I still hope she’ll outgrow it. But it’s awfully hard to live with. I’d had fantasies of a good relationship with a grown-up daughter who led an interesting life that I could share.

Then it hit me. I did the best I could and I raised a wonderful daughter whose only flaw is hating her mother. Suddenly I saw how silly and meaningless were the resentments I still harbored against my mother for some of the mistakes she made while raising me. I wrote my mother apologizing for all the mean things I’d ever said or thought about her over the years. She didn’t deserve them. I felt a bond with her that I’d missed throughout most of my rebellious childhood. And my mother called me, crying. “This was what was supposed to happen in our lives.”

I wrote my daughter thanking her for her angry letters — they had brought my mother and me together. And I hoped some day she would have a revelation like mine without having to have an angry daughter of her own first.

She wrote back, “I don’t believe Grammie and you could ever get along and I will never forgive you for the terrible job you did raising me. I am damaged and will never live a whole life.”

Some therapist — telling my daughter that she’s damaged. A good therapist would help my daughter live a full life — not tell her she’ll never have one. I was reminded of Marianne Williamson’s story in which God is talking to her and says, “I’d love to give you a wonderful life, but I’m sorry, your mother was so terrible, my hands are tied.”

After awhile the hate letters stopped. My daughter is getting married next May. She says I can call her once in a while — but not every week like we used to. Her therapist was a student who has now graduated and moved on. She says she will never forgive me but she wants me at her wedding.

I thought I was good at letting my child grow up and live her own life. I gave her a clothing allowance so she could buy the little alligators. I gave her spending money so she could go to junk food restaurants. I sent her to a college over a thousand miles from home. I did all this because I wanted to help her become an independent adult. While these weren’t things I enjoyed, I saw them as growth steps. And they happened by my choice.

I had no choice letting her go to that therapist, which I think was a backwards step for her. But, I would not give up my new close relationship with my mother, or the wisdom I’ve gained by totally giving up any expectations of my daughter, even that she will love me. This too was supposed to happen in this life. I could not have had one without the other.

My daughter still calls, angry that I’m not the mother she wants. She’s not the daughter I wanted, but she has given me a great gift. Again my breasts are full.