Given the stressful and uncertain times we are in, I decided to tackle a simple, unfraught topic that should bring levity: the mother-daughter relationship. While I clearly cannot unpack this topic into a digestible sound byte, I have been thinking about it more than usual as of late, and wanted to explore my thoughts. I’m currently reading Glennon Doyle’s new memoir, Untamed, and in it she says, “A woman becomes a responsible parent when she stops being an obedient daughter.” In an interview with her, she extrapolates and says, “We become women when we stop being obedient daughters.” Although I take issue with a good portion of the book, I haven’t been able to stop thinking about this line and what it means.
As I explore my own mother-daughter relationship, I realize it is impossible to separate from my relationship with my sister. When you are the youngest sibling, you spend a good portion of your life, if not all of it, trying to live up to your older sibling. If that sibling is smart, successful, beautiful, or really anything you are not, you are forced to try extra hard. The older sibling is out there in the wild, forging their own path, while you are stuck following their trail of breadcrumbs. In some respects, this is a blessing; theoretically, you should have an easier time than your sibling, since your way is already illuminated. But while this path is brighter, it also has a dark side: How can you be your sibling, in every successful respect, while also not being them?
As someone with a highly intelligent and successful older sister, I struggle with this constantly. My sister is quiet, but also fiercely independent. I don’t think she cares too much what my parents think of her choices, and she always seems to be living for herself. Despite being a high achiever, this independence inevitably led to conflicts with my parents when we were growing up. At a young age, I realized that while I might never be as smart or successful as my sister, I could still please my parents more than she did by simply doing what they wanted. It was an easy way out. I asked what they wanted, and then I delivered. No path forging necessary.
The upside of this dynamic is that I have an incredibly strong bond with my mom, whose advice I typically accept as law. The downside is that instead of looking inwards and deciding what I want my path to be, I instead ask others for advice on a journey they will never embark on. While I have been trying to figure out what I should do for a living, I keep asking my mom what she thinks. Inevitably, I am disappointed by her suggestions. The only person who can really know the answer is me, yet here I am, still asking. I am terrified of making the wrong choice and letting her down. The problem is, every choice that seems right feels wrong.
In my effort to be obedient, I lost sight of what is truly important to me: what makes me happy, what I am good at, what brings me fulfillment. If we are always wondering if others will disapprove of our choices, how can we live our lives fully as ourselves?
Recently, I have been reminding myself that all a parent wants for their child is the least difficult life. For a mother, this can manifest as presenting your child with an outline for their life, a clear set of steps to follow. Each step is one step closer to the ultimate goal of a happy, easy life. As a daughter, pleasing our mothers and following these steps is the most obvious course of action. I don’t think it is the easiest, though. Obediently following the life that is set out for us can actually present a hopeless struggle if it goes against what we truly want or need from life. Obedience is hard.
I agree that we become women when we stop being obedient daughters. Living life according to someone else’s plan will never allow us to be fully ourselves. Our pursuit of obedience is undoubtedly motivated by trying to be “good” daughters. But what if in our struggle to be obedient, we are actually inadvertently being bad daughters? If all our parents want for us is the easiest possible life, then our quest to be obedient to them will also end in disappointment for them as we make our own lives much, much harder than they need to be.