Q. Your new book is Mother-Daughter Wisdom: Creating a Legacy of Physical and Emotional Health (Bantam, 2005). How did you come up with that title?
A. My working title, believe it or not, was Mothers and Daughters: The Bond That Wounds, the Bond That Heals. I wanted to acknowledge the difficulty of the relationship at the same time I was acknowledging how sustaining and nourishing it can be. The concept of “mother-daughter wisdom” gives a visionary approach to what can be, really, the most difficult relationship of our lives.
Q. Why does the mother-daughter relationship tend to be ambivalent on some level?
A. It is the relationship that … it’s like the cultural waste dump. Because our mothers will love us no matter what, it’s really easy to dump on them, and we all do it. Like when Mom comes home from work and the kids start complaining—and Dad or the babysitter says, “They were fine until you walked in!” Or when mother comes to help after her daughter has a baby, and everyone dumps on her. Why are we doing that? Those of us with daughters need to understand that if we don’t heal this, we’re going to be the mother our daughter is complaining about later on.
Q. How does the mother-daughter bond affect health?
A. We internalize, and then pass on, messages that come right in our mother’s milk. A lot of my work over the past 20 years has been to bring these things to the part of our brains that can talk about it. Otherwise, they remain trapped in our bodies and we keep repeating behaviors.
Q. You describe a powerful energy you call the Mother Bear instinct. What is that?
A. It’s an instinct designed by nature to come up through the birth process, when your body and your psyche are changed forever. With the Mother Bear energy, you know something is going on with your child, even if she isn’t with you—like a friend of mine who sat up in bed at the exact moment her daughter was in a car accident. It’s this link we have, but it has been very much sublimated in our culture.
Q. How can women access that Mother Bear energy?
A. Go with the first feeling you have. I have a friend who told her daughter’s intended husband, “If you ever harm a hair on her head, I will track you down and make your life a living hell.” That’s Mother Bear instinct! I love that—because if we all had that for our daughters, the world would change. I want to give women permission to do that for their children.
Second, instincts need to be tempered with discipline and knowledge. So the other part of Mother Bear instinct is all the processes of your female body. Notice where you are in your own menstrual cycle, where you are in tune with the moon and so on, and teach that to your daughter.
Q. What would you say to a woman who feels she’s too late to be a healthy, positive daughter or mother?
A. It’s never too late. If you change when you’re 85, that will create a shift in your maternal line that will change everybody down the line.
Q. How can mothers let go of guilt they may feel?
A. Part of recovery is to turn any problems you caused over to your higher power. You did what you did; if you had known how to do it better, you would have. You can ask for forgiveness and forgive yourself—usually that’s harder than [forgiving] anybody else. Then let it go, knowing the biggest gift you can give your kids is a healed life.
Q. What should every mother say to her daughter?
A. One: I didn’t mean to say what I just said; please forgive me. Two: I really respect you and your ability to make your own decisions. Three: I know that you have your own inner guidance, and that you can trust it.
Q. What should every daughter say to her mother?
A. One: I know you’d like me to … fill in the blank. But right now, I simply can’t. Two: Thank you for being there for me. Three: I feel your presence with me always.