Family Relationships

Join other women in the sandwich generation - share ideas and solutions as you learn to nourish family relationships without starving yourself.

Friday, January 22, 2010

Questions and Answers: "Too Close for Comfort"

Plenty of sandwiched boomers tuned in yesterday to take part in our interview with Susan Shaffer and Linda Gordon. We had a spirited discussion with the authors of Too Close for Comfort: Questioning the Intimacy of Today’s New Mother-Daughter Relationship. Our thanks to Susan for being so generous with her time – here are a sampling of questions and her responses:

Several Readers had specific questions about their relationships with their daughters.

Reader: I hear you! Some days my 20 year old daughter and I are so close and others it's as if she hates my guts. If I try to talk about what's going on, it gets worse. What can I do short of keeping my distance and letting her work it out?

Susan: It is important as our daughters grow up to let them start coming to you for advice. This is the time to step back and practice active listening. This approach gives our daughters the message that we have confidence in their ability to take care of themselves. At the same time, we support them in a healthy way for them to begin to chart their own course.

Reader: My daughter used to be my best friend but since she left for college in the fall I hardly hear from her. What's going on? Sylvie

Susan: Your daughter's job is to become more self-sufficient. Our job is to give her the opportunity to do so. We also learned from working with mothers and daughters that they can't be best friends because the relationship is never equal. You can share characteristics of friendship, enjoying each other's company, empathy, loyalty, caring, etc. but mother always trumps best friend. Your daughter will come back to you. Also, think of this as good news. She is adjusting well to her new environment. If she was unhappy, you would hear from her more frequently!

Reader: Deep in my heart I know my relationship with my 29 year old daughter isn't that healthy. She comes to me instead of to her husband or friends. But I love what we have together. Is it really so bad?

Susan: It's all about balance. However, once your daughter gets married, her husband should be her first go to person. It is important that they establish a solid foundation for their marriage. You may have to help her to do this by encouraging her to go to her husband as her "first responder." This is not an easy transition, but it is an important one in order for your daughter to create her own family

Another talked about how her relationship with her daughter changed when she had a daughter of her own.

Reader: My daughter and I went through some rough times during her adolescence & early college years. But now that she has a daughter herself, she understands & values our relationship very differently. as do I. Though she has moved far away, we are closer in heart--something I never had with my own mother.
I profoundly miss my daughter's and granddaughter's almost daily physical presence in my life,but I still feel an incomparable connection. I am grateful that we have achieved a healthy balance that transcends the miles.

Susan: I am so happy to hear that you and your daughter have remained close even though you don't live close by. One daughter said to us that after she had her first child she forgave her mother for everything!

Others commented on the mother-in-law role.

Reader: I don't have any daughters - only sons, and the relationships with them are complex in their own ways too. When they married, I hoped to have some of the feminine friendship closeness you describe with my daughters-in-law. But that hasn't really happened. Any thoughts about the appropriate level of closeness with DILs?

Susan: I don't think there are any easy answers with in-laws, whether they are male or female. A new person into the family changes the dynamics and brings a different lens to the family system. This can be very helpful in forming close relationships and it can also make it difficult to be close. There isn't one type of appropriate relationship. It depends upon the personalities, interests and sharing similar values. What we have seen is that over time and with great patience and shared experiences relationships grow and you can have a positive friendship with your daughters-in-law. Don't give up!

Reader: All of us Moms should often remember that the mother-in-law is NOT the only person who should wear beige and zip it up. Savtie

Susan: Dear Savtie, In our book we write about the benefits of duck tape! I don't know about wearing beige...not my favorite color.

Provocative questions and thoughtful answers, don't you think? You can order Susan's and Linda's book through And click on the title of this post to learn more about the other books these smart women have written.

If you want more of these kinds of events, please add your comments here or email us at And visit our website by clicking on the first link on the left below, "Her Mentor Center". You can also sign up for our newsletter, Stepping Stones, by clicking on the link below marked "FREE Newsletter." We publish a monthly newsletter that focuses on helpful strategies for coping with children growing up and parents growing older.

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