A Mother Daughter Relationship ~ Part Six


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?”

~Debbie Dippel~

16 response to "A Mother Daughter Relationship ~ Part Six"

  1. By: Ginger Posted: 28th August

    Hi Darlene,
    Thank you for answering me – both here and on the other post. Firstly I want to tell you again how liberating this site is for me. I’ve spent years with only my sister to talk to (lucky I have HER) so to find out there are SO many others… wow. AND to have the acknowledgement that no, I’m not the only one who’s wrong (in regards to my mother and my relationship, I mean). She’s had me convinced it was just me for so long…

    Secondly, I wanted to let you know I’ve already had a talk with my daughter (a very bright 15 year-old!) about my past and our own relationship and my tendencies towards unhealthy over-attachment with her. I think as long as we keep our lines open – which we do and have – we can grow into having a solid friendship as she grows into adulthood.

    Thirdly, can I tell you how fantastic I feel that my mother told me to pretend I don’t have a mother anymore???? Is it odd that all I can think to say back is “THANK YOU!” What a load of crap off my back!!!! No more worrying whether she’s going to be yelling or bawling. No more ruined holidays! No more waiting for her to get ready/show up/arrive only to have her pissed off at everyone else for rushing her! Woohoo!

    Thanks again.

  2. By: DXS Posted: 28th August

    I’m proud of my sisters for how they raised their children. I sent them both a letter telling them that.

  3. By: Ginger Posted: 27th August

    I see this emeshment in myself with my own daughter and sons and it’s nearly bringing me to tears. I was so discounted as a young person in my own mother’s eyes that I have come to worry over every emotion my children have. I want them to be happy continually and if they’re down or quiet or upset – even if it lasts for just a few hours – I am emotionally ruined. I have spent many sleepless nights worrying over their well-being when, intellectually, I know they’re well-adjusted, intelligent, happy people – and my daughter, the youngest, is still just a teenager but is already kind, strong, smart, independent – you name it, that’s her.

    What terrifies me now is that I could’ve scarred them (esp my girl!) with this over-attentiveness. Or hurt our relationship. My own mother tells me someday my kids won’t want to be around me – (the same way I’ve abandoned her) so – How can I stop this? My kids are too precious to me to lose!!!

    I need to know how to stop my behavior before I hurt my daughter (and sons, as well) more than I may already have. I didn’t mean to devalue her, I just don’t want her to ever hurt – which, I know, is impossible, but… I just want to keep my relationship with my kids good.

    • By: Darlene Ouimet Posted: 28th August

      Hi Ginger,
      I was like you as well in the way that I parented my kids. And my biggest fear was that one day my kids would dump me or that they would feel about me the way I feel about my mother. (I have to remind myself all the time that I am NOT my mother or anything like my mother) First I had to heal from the damage that had been caused to me. Then as I got stronger I was able to see the emotional damage happening and that happened with my own kids because of the damage done to me. As I grew stronger I was able to change the way that I was parenting and become healthier. 2 of my kids are adults now and all my efforts and continuing effort paid off!
      hugs, Darlene

  4. By: Carla Posted: 8th August

    Oh, and what you say about your family wanting you to quit so you can “be close” again- ugh, I don’t see wholeness working that way! There have been times when I’ve felt like I should quit growing so that people would feel “comfortable” with me again. But then I get this dead feeling inside and I know that I would be sacrificing “myself” to squeeze myself into their definition of “close” and it wouldn’t be worth it.

    What does it mean to be “close”? For me now, I want relationships where each person is free to grow and change. If someone wants me to stay the same all the time, to be predictable and catering to their definition of how I should be, I am suffocating myself. I think saying things like that is a way to keep us boxed in and shut down. It’s not the true, loving way…

    I just thought of a really great book that you might find really encouraging- “Codependent No More” by Melody Beattie. It is fantastic.

    Hugs to you Kim,

  5. By: Carla Posted: 8th August

    Kimberley, thank you for reading and for sharing your heart here… My heart goes out to you. I can relate to those feelings- that I was the “bad one” for making changes, and I know that my family felt really uncomfortable at times as I learned to set new boundaries. I had learned this rule that if I made other people feel uncomfortable, then I was doing something wrong… But now I see it differently. I see that if I have to make changes and set boundaries for myself, it isn’t because I am “bad” or intentionally trying to hurt others or be difficult. Far from the truth!! I had to set boundaries because someone else was acting poorly towards me in the first place. I think that’s part of the process that can be really tricky to see. The people in our lives who are feeling uncomfortable with our new behaviour look at the person making the tough changes (us) and blame them for the problems instead of seeing that they have caused the problem in the first place (whether they realized it or not). We are not the problem for making changes.

    The really tough thing is that we don’t know how others will react… There’s no guarantee that our family will stick with us and decide to change too. It is such a big risk and can feel so hard to take. I feel the pain in your words, and I want to say that I see and feel now that losing my own self, even for the sake of my own family, is the worse tragedy. There’s that bible verse about “gaining the whole world but losing your soul.” Every day I work on not losing my own soul and I can take bigger risks in losing the parts of the “world” that could rob me of that. God knows my true heart, my true intentions, and he helps me through all the risks I decide to take to pursue what is best for me. The outcome works out differently for everyone… Your family may reject you for a time and then have a change of heart later, or some might and others won’t, or the change of heart may never happen (which is tragic)… But the absolute truth is that whether we are rejected or not, our value doesn’t change. Our freedom and value is not bound to our family’s view of us, ever. As hard as it can be to believe, our parents are not on the same level as God- they don’t have the power to determine our value or to tell us the best way to live our lives.

    Darlene has been writing a lot of posts about the other kind of story (different than mine) where her family ended up rejecting her because of her choices to pursue her own recovery. I hope you can read them and find more nuggets of hope and truth to relate to. Finding a good counselor to help you through this could really help too, someone to empower you and help you see with clarity the dynamics that might be going on. You deserve a life of freedom Kim, and know that I for one am cheering you on whole-heartedly. Love, Carla

  6. By: kimberley Posted: 7th August

    carla, i just finished reading this post – a couple of months late, and find myself hardly able to breathe through the tears. what happens when you try so hard to set boundaries but your mom and dad don’t want to change? what do you do? i find it affecting my marriage, my children, my other relationships. there is so much brokenness and i’m labelled the “bad one”, the “one they don’t recognize anymore”, as if breaking out of this is all my fault, and they are waiting for me to recognize how wrong i’ve been so we can “be close” again.

    what do you do?

  7. By: Susan Posted: 12th June

    You said “I believed that my power, value and even my safe existence all depended on men; not just men but men who desired me and part of the problem is that therefore, I tried to make men desire me.”

    I had the same feelings and even after I identified their root they kept on creeping back up. What settled this once and for all and gave me freedom was loosing my looks. I hit menopause hard. My once young and attractive self became wrinkled and old. I also was diagnosed with a chronic disease that put the kabash on many of my physical activities. I have cellulite, ugly arms and wrinkles and I finally feel free. I am sure that time and self realization also had something to with my change of focus but it is certainly great to be looked at as something other than a sex object.

    I really love your blog. You are showing the way to all who read while putting my experiences into words. Thank you.

    • By: Carla Dippel Posted: 13th June

      Hi Susan! I think you meant this comment for Darlene’s previous post “Dysfunctional Family Contributes to Sexual Coping Methods”. Please feel free to cut and paste it over there, and I can delete it from this post “behind the scenes”. 🙂

  8. By: Debbie Posted: 11th June

    Hi Marie and Patricia,

    It has been a good experience for me to put down in words what has been taking place. It helps in the healing process as well and works as a reminder to keep on going in the right direction.

    Thanks for your words of encouragement! It has been wonderful to hear the feedback from others.

    With appreciation,

  9. By: Patricia - Spiritual Journey Of A Lightworker Posted: 11th June

    Debbie and Carla, thank you both for sharing this wonderful series. What a great example of healthy growth for both of you. Seeing our children as individuals who need to make their own set of mistakes is so hard for any parent, especially those of us who did not have healthy role models in our own parents.

  10. By: Marie Posted: 11th June

    Hi, Debbie –

    Thank you SO MUCH for sharing your side of this healing journey! How exciting that the two of you get to help each other in a healthy way!

    Cool, cool, cool!!

    – Marie (Coming Out of the Trees)

  11. By: Debbie Posted: 11th June

    Hi Christina,

    I think so many parents tend to try to do the opposite of the negative things their parents did and then go to the extreme.

    I can relate to your experience. For me, seeing them become more independent while they lived at home was one thing. I knew that I would be seeing them when they arrived home at night or else in the morning. I would have my chance for discussion then. But once they moved out I felt more vulnerable. An intentional effort must be made to make contact now.

    I really like how you have compared celebrating their independence when they were children and learning to do the same thing as adults.

    I used to think that if I had faith, they would eventually see things my way. Now I believe that having faith means hoping and believing they will live to their full potential whatever route they choose.

    It’s great to hear that you are enjoying your children “where they’re at” now.

    Thank your for visiting and sharing your thoughts!


  12. By: Debbie Posted: 11th June

    Hi Cyndi,

    Taking a look at myself is what helps to free me from the tendency to angst over my children. It helps me as well as them.

    I have appreciated your openness. Thank you so much for your comments.

    Wish you the best,


  13. By: Christina Enevoldsen Posted: 10th June

    Really great post! I just love how transparent you are. I wish more mothers could read this.

    I had a lot of the same issues with my own parents, but in a different way, and was determined not to do the same with my own kids. I remember when my children were in their late teens and I still felt obligated to talk to my parents as often as they called, which was everyday for my dad. I told my children that I NEVER wanted them to call me out of guilt. A few years later, I really regretted telling them that! lol.

    I know that their childhood didn’t provide them with them best foundation for adulthood and it was hard not to try to ‘help’ them. I’ve had to learn that their lives are their own now and that lesson has been painful. I never had any kind of separation issues with them while they were growing up. I was happy about every rite of passage. I welcomed it, even though I knew it meant more and more independence from me.

    Then adulthood came and I was surprised by how ‘out there’ they could get. Sometimes I had to cover my mouth not to say anything, but I knew they knew what I wanted to say. It didn’t help our relationship that I didn’t have confidence in them.

    I’ve had to deal with a lot of fear, both for them and for me. I had to face my own issues and see victory over my own weaknesses before I could have the faith that they even could do the same for themselves. I’ve learned to really let go and celebrate their independence again—no matter if they choose to deal with their baggage or not.

  14. By: Cyndi Posted: 10th June

    Yay, a happy ending!! It is truly amazing that you (Debbie) were able to take a look at yourself instead of endlessly trying to get Carla to maintain the status quo. Again, I’m a bit jealous. 🙂

    I’m truly happy for both of you though! Great series.

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