In this conclusion of our series “A Mother Daughter Relationship ~ From Broken to Whole” my Mom, Debbie Dippel, describes what our enmeshed relationship felt like for her, how she started making changes, and what things are like now. We thank you so much for following this series and for sharing your heart-felt responses with us along the way.
I used to describe the relationship I had with Carla as “very close”, which sounds so warm and desirable. But it was not a healthy “close”. She needed me to be her sounding board, comforter, advisor and rescuer. I needed her to live her life a certain way so that I would feel fulfilled and happy. This enmeshment felt as if I carried Carla around in an emotional backpack everywhere I went. My mood would be determined by her mood. If her day started out well, I would prefer not to hear from her in case it went downhill. I wanted to stay at that level of contentment and if she called to say something happened to cause her upset, then my day would take a downturn. She carried my level of well being around with her. When I worried about her weight I wished I could get inside Carla’s skin and manage how she ate, exercised, dressed, and took care of herself. I saw her as a naturally beautiful person with many talents and reasons to be happy. I felt sure I would be a better caretaker of all those attributes since she didn’t seem to appreciate them. I tried to live my life through her and it was doing damage to both of us.
When Carla started seeing a counselor changes began in her. She stopped sharing every thought with me. She became stronger and started to draw boundaries. She made some decisions that were hard for me to handle. I often crossed the line with prying questions or statements that I knew were subtle hints in order to control. But now Carla responded to these in a way that said, “I will decide for myself”. I knew that I was obsessed with Carla but I felt helpless to break free from it. This was when I decided to begin counseling for myself. What surprised me was that we didn’t spend much time at all talking about Carla. I learned that I needed to become emotionally healthy myself in order to have a healthy relationship with my daughter. My marriage came under the spotlight and I started to pay attention to what my relationship was like with my husband. The more I learned about the lacking I felt in my marriage, the more I realized that I had channeled my desire for relational intimacy through Carla, hoping that she would find what I was missing and be happy enough for both of us. As I continued to grow, I started to see myself as a person who deserved to live in freedom and wholeness all on my own, not depending on someone else for my identity. Having a better understanding of all these things empowered me to begin making changes in my own life. I gained a new sense of confidence and clarity and began to value myself as a person. I started to believe that I deserved a meaningful relationship in my marriage and began making changes in that area. I started taking pottery lessons, a delightful new experience for me, which has opened up new possibilities and enriched my life.
Carla and I enjoy a much more fulfilling relationship today. I still feel empathy for her when she struggles but I know that she is strong and will work them out as they come along. We are both continually growing in better ways of relating to one another, experiencing both the joys of our successes and learning from our mistakes. This is the new essence of our relationship. Carla is a wonderful encouragement to me as I grow independently from her and find interests that are truly my own. She inspires me to look for what is true and good in myself. I am so grateful for what we have learned and that our relationship has become what it is today.
One of my favorite movies is “Yentl” with Barbara Streisand. She sings one of my favorite songs at the end of the movie and these words have often come to mind and brought me inspiration:
“What’s wrong with wanting more? If you can fly then soar! Why settle for just a piece of ground?”