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Is It Always Mom's Fault?A Daughter Responds

November 12, 2009 By:
Rita Charleston, JE Feature
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"If you also see your mother when you look in the mirror, you are not alone," says Laura Arens Fuerstein, author of My Mother, My Mirror: Recognizing and Making the Most of Inherited Self-Images.

Fuerstein, an analytic therapist with more than 30 years of clinical experience, explores a mother's influence on her daughter without blaming Mom. "This book does not point the finger at your mother for your problems," she says. "Instead, it highlights a hidden pattern passed on from mother to daughter that distorts each mother's self-image, which she then unwittingly transmits to her daughter."

Indeed, far from a book about blame, Fuerstein shows how a sympathetic look at a mother's own story can actually further a daughter's growth. "After all," she says, "a mother can't take blame for something she didn't know she did, any more than she would take blame for passing along a gene for freckles."

According to Fuerstein, working with a 30-something woman named Jenny sparked the idea for this book.

Jenny restricted herself from an active social life since she saw herself as unattractive, mainly because her mother told her she had a wide nose.

"I tried to explain to Jenny that based on her mother's observation, she was seeing herself unrealistically, through what I call a 'carnival mirror' -- the mirror in a fun house that distorts our image drastically."

But, says the author, "the carnival mirror can be smashed and replaced with a glass that reflects a truer self, mainly by identifying the distortions, confronting their source, safely feeling the emotions they stir, and moving beyond them to a better understanding of the mother who generated the image."

It's vitally important to move beyond stereotypes, especially the stereotypical Jewish mother.

For example, Fuerstein says: "The Jewish mother has long been portrayed as intensely loving, but controlling to the point of smothering, and attempting to engender enormous guilt in her children."

Indeed, Fuerstein continues, the Jewish mother is seen as overprotective, and as far as guilt- producing, well, we all know the jokes.

Fuerstein says that No. 2 is "her view of us. If she saw us through the lens of the stereotype, we will see ourselves that way, too," from her messages."

And No. 3 involves our own view of our mother.

"That example would be that 'my mother didn't see potential in herself as a career woman, because my grandmother told her that a Jewish mother had to be a ballibusta -- a great housekeeper and cook.'

"Today," explains the author, "daughters of those woman have to fight off any inclination to simply stay at home, like their mother did, rather than pursue a career they might want."

Fuerstein says that the main message of her book is not about our actual mother, but the mother in our minds.

"The mother might have passed away years ago, but the image we carry in our mind is always there, distorting our view of ourselves and keeping the distortions going on through the generations unless we become aware of what's happening and get rid of it." 

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