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  • Mothers, Daughters, Identity, and Impossibilities
  • Rhona Justice-Malloy (bio)

In her disturbingly misogynistic book Oh, NO! I’ve Become MY MOTHER, author Sandra Reishus promises the reader, “You are not doomed to become your mother. You can change the script and live happily ever after, not by asking ‘What would mom want me to do?’ but rather ‘What’s best for me?’” The back cover declares, “Escape your mother’s emotional grip and make your life your own. You love your mom—you just don’t want to be her.” In her introduction, Reishus describes what she has coined “the mom gene” as those “similarities, traits, and qualities passed from mother to daughter.” All depression, sadness, confusion, and failure can be blamed on the “mom gene,” and there is no greater insult than a partner remarking on the fact that you have “become” your mother. The introduction promises tactics to locate your “mom gene” and eradicate it, effectively removing your mother’s influence from your life and thus allowing you to live up to your full potential. The reader is encouraged to think of mom as a spider, and daughter is caught in her web: “It’s all about separation, separation, separation and once you learn about her web and start to disconnect from your mother’s personal issues and live your own life, you’ve got the cards stacked in your favor.” Reishus celebrates the fact that in today’s society it is entirely appropriate to ridicule mom, making her the butt of jokes and laughing about her behavior with your friends. With regard to mother-daughter relationships, mothers are categorized in the following niches: absent, critical, drama queen, helpless, intrusive, and jealous.1 [End Page 219]

It would seem that it is necessary for a daughter to resolve mom issues (and that these are always and already mom issues is a given) before she can work on her personal issues and identity. This resolution must always include some value of separation. There is the overarching trope throughout popular self-help literature that mother must be distanced to some degree. In her book Lives Together/Worlds Apart: Mothers and Daughters in Popular Culture, Suzanna Danuta Walters convincingly makes the argument that “the dominant contemporary discourses—stressing struggle and separation as well as the importance of mother/child bonding in infancy—have emerged out of a variety of cultural, political, and psychological discourses, [and] these discourses themselves grew out of substantive shifts and contradictions in the social fabric. The shift to discourses centered on a relationship constructed in conflict has its origins both in social shifts as well as in the cultural practices that developed alongside and within those structural changes. To define this relationship psychologically and within terms of a simple dichotomy (bond/separate) is therefore not ‘natural’ but actually quite contrived.”2 We would do well to keep this in mind in a study of mother-daughter relationships, especially as they are portrayed on the contemporary stage.

One of many titles in the self-help genre, Mama Drama has a subtitle that describes mom as “The One Woman Who Can Push Your Buttons, Make You Cry, and Drive You Crazy.” Certainly moms have earned this right as they “ought to know how to push our buttons—they were the ones who installed them.” The author opines that the relationship between a mother and her adult daughter is something to be tolerated as “there is nothing like a visit from the mother to push your buttons. To say the least, it’s an endurance test dodging the bullets of guilt, criticism and control.”3 It would seem that the best way to negotiate the mother-daughter relationship is by eliminating it, or at least distancing it as far as possible from everyday influence.

These publications about mothers and daughters begin with the assumption that the mother-daughter relationship is problematic and that the source of the difficulty resides in the mother and her “mothering” techniques. In Daughters and Mothers: Making it Work, the authors offer strategies for both parties to negotiate a truce. They promise that as a daughter you’ll learn how to:

  • • Stop blaming your mother and...


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pp. 219-232
Launched on MUSE
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