Saturday, May 30, 2009

Mothers and the Daughters Who Leave Them

Beth Groundwater (Guest Blogger)

The relationship between mothers and daughters is one of the strongest and most loving of human connections. At the same time, it is fraught with conflict as the push-pull of adolescent daughters “leaving the nest” chafes both them and their mothers, rubbing emotions raw. The daughter needs to separate from the mother to become a self-sufficient adult. It’s very difficult to accomplish this without the two becoming estranged or at least strained as they find new ways of relating to each other.

I wanted to explore this tug-of-war between mothers and maturing daughters in To Hell in a Handbasket
after writing about the husband-wife relationship in A Real Basket Case. Both books are mysteries, where the plots focus on who-dunnit, but a significant subplot in each is the relationship issue that the amateur sleuth, Claire Hanover, must resolve. In both books the relationship issue is entwined with the mystery plot, so the resolution of one affects the resolution of the other.

This scene where Claire and her college-aged daughter Judy argue about clothing, one of the issues that mothers and daughters fight over the most, is a good example.

When Judy appeared with bleary eyes and tousled hair at the breakfast table the next morning, Claire asked her what she planned to wear to the memorial service.

“I don’t know. I hadn’t thought about it yet, with all the turmoil around here.” She plopped a ladleful of oatmeal into a bowl and started slicing a banana.

Ignoring the barb about the previous night’s argument, Claire asked, “Do you have a dark-colored dress?”

“On a ski trip?” Judy stopped her knife. “Are you kidding, Mom?”“What about black or navy pants and a subdued top?” Most of Judy’s tops could be described as lingerie, though if Judy had a dark-colored ski turtleneck, that might do.

“All I’ve got is ski clothes, jeans, and some strappy tops that I know you won’t approve of. But why’s it matter what I wear? What’s important is that we’re there to honor Stephanie.”

“And part of honoring her is showing the family that you care enough to dress respectably.” Claire mentally reviewed the clothes that she had brought with her. “Maybe I have something you can borrow.”

Judy tossed a skeptical glance over her raised spoon at Claire. “C’mon. All your stuff would hang on me.”


I wrote To Hell in a Handbasket while my own daughter was taking steps toward independence in her senior year of high school and freshman year of college. While I hope I wasn't as neurotic as Claire was over letting go of her daughter, it wasn't easy! I had nightmares about my daughter being abducted, raped, tortured, ensnared in the white slave trade, and whatever other horrors my fertile imagination could devise. I told her when she left for college that I needed to hear her voice at least once a week so I knew she was still alive.

Some of my critique partners, especially the men, didn't particularly like Judy, saying she was too cruel to Claire. But women who have gone through this stage with maturing daughters nod their heads and say, “been there, done that.” These emotion-fraught, struggling young women have to take their anger and disappointments out on some target, and they usually choose the safest one—their mothers. Our job as mothers is to absorb the onslaught with a wry sense of humor, while wiping that sly smile off our faces, knowing where the anger comes from, remembering doing it ourselves as adolescents, and realizing that this, too, shall pass.

Beth Groundwater’s first mystery novel, A Real Basket Case, was nominated for a Best First Novel Agatha Award. The second in the Claire Hanover gift basket designer series, To Hell in a Handbasket, has just been released. Between writing spurts, Beth defends her garden from marauding mule deer and wild rabbits and tries to avoid getting black-and-blue on the black and blue ski slopes of Colorado. You can visit her website at


Beth Groundwater said...

Hi everyone,
Just a reminder that anyone who leaves a comment will be entered into my blog book tour contest for an autographed set of Claire Hanover gift basket designer mystery books.

I'll be taking a short break from monitoring comments from 2-4 pm MST today for my book launch party for To Hell in a Handbasket at the Barnes & Noble North store in Colorado Springs. Wish me luck!

Elizabeth Spann Craig said...

The mother-daughter relationship is such a tough one, isn't it? I wouldn't say it was love/hate, but it's definitely love/dislike. My daughter and I already butt heads and she's only 7! Can't imagine what the teen years will be like.

Good luck with your party!

Mystery Writing is Murder

Sandra Parshall said...

A big part of the problem is that females are taught from childhood to compete with one another. Young girls can be absolutely vicious to other girls. And Mom is just more competition, one more female standing in the way. You think today's young women don't feel competitive with one another? Throw an attractive man into the mix and see what happens. Human nature never changes.

Donnell Ann Bell said...

Beth, congratulations on To Hell in a Handbasket. Our daughters are around the same age and at 24, I still need to hear from her at least once a week ;) Good luck with those mule deer!

Jenny Milchman said...

My daughter is five at the moment, leaving me snugly in the, Maybe-it-won't-go-like-this-for-us stage!

But I guess the wisdom of your post, Beth, is that it *has* to go like this--for the mental well-being of everyone. I'm excited to read your book and see how Claire handles it--sounds like I'll be able to veer back to my snug stage for a moment and say, OK, I won't be quite that crazed!

Have fun at the launch, Beth! Book sounds like a winner...

Joyce said...

Hi Beth, This was great. I have a grown son, but it's still tough to let them go; although with a boy, it is expected. That doesn't make it any easier tho. But this post reminded me of my relationship with my mom too, and it brought back tons of memories and big smiles. Thanks for that.

Helen K said...

Thanks for a thought provoking post. My daughter has college age children so I am coming at this relationship issue from the other side but like reading about the daughter's viewpoint.

Congratulations on the new book & I hope your book tour is a grand success.

Auntie Knickers said...

Great little essay (which is what the best blogposts really are!) I've been there and done that too. My 24-year-old calls nearly every day, though, so we did get through it. And good luck on the book launch party!

HelenSS said...

Excellent points. I do remember the 'clothes' and 'hair' arguments with my mother. You brought back memories for me because you captured that so well.

I find your comments about your male critique partners interesting. I was in a writing seminar where a man had written a scene with a daughter and mother where they both got along. I just couldn't see it, it didn't ring true but I couldn't articulate why until now. Your analysis is spot on. Look forward to reading more in the book.

Vicki Lane said...

Nice post, Beth! I have sons but have given my protag daughters so I'm always on the lookout for insights into the mother-daughter relationship. I wonder if it's changed all that much since I was young.

Anonymous said...

I sometimes think the mother/daughter relationship is two halves of the same unit. My daughter and I (she is 33) are nearly one person in so many ways. I have to step back and let her be a person in her own right, not demanding that she be a clone of me. I don't know if I have felt competitive with my daughter. I admire her, and am proud that who she is, is a reflection of who I am. She is an amazing woman.

housemouse88 said...

Hello Beth,

Don't have a daughter but know what it is like to be one. LOL Good luck on your blog tour. Have a great day.

Maryannwrites said...

Beth, what a great post. I am one of those mothers who are nodding in agreement.

What is really neat though, is that once the daughters are adults and we mothers let them be adults, the relationship shifts and we can be good friends. I am pleased to say I am close to all my daughters

Joyce Elson Moore said...

Beth: I could really relate to what you said about themother-daughter relationship. It's a roller-coaster ride, but when it's over, when they are young adults themselves with families, the bond can become a source of strength to you both. Don't know what I'd do without mine, now that we're best friends.

Joyce Elson Moore said...

Beth: What you said about mother-daughter relationships is oh so true. It's like a roller-coaster ride until they have families of their own, and then you become friends, and realize a daughter is a special blessing.

Beth Groundwater said...

I'm looking forward to that time when my daughter has her own family, but I'm willing to wait a few more years to become a grandma! She's only 21, after all. My daughter graduates from the Univ. of Oregon on June 13, which is the primary reason for my 2-week northwest book tour June 6-21.

My main problem nowadays with my daughter is that I don't get to see her often enough, with her being so far away. I'm looking forward to her 2-week visit home late June-early July. It will be bittersweet, though. She'll be packing up her last things to take back to Oregon with her because she plans to live there and has become a resident of the state.

Karen Laubenstein said...

It seems easier reading about the conflicts with others than when you're in the midst of them yourself. Great job in capturing it, I think! Thanks!

Anonymous said...

With four daughters (and one son, but who's counting), I can relate. Oh, do I remember their teen years - and hee, hee, hee, the next generation is in, or approaching those teen years.

Your post got me thinking. Thank you.

Norma Huss

Annita Woz said...

Looking forward to reading the book. Be Proud! It is a great thing to launch a book, yes?

Anonymous said...

Hi Beth,

So nice to see you at your book signing. I have to agree with the mother-daughter relationship. It is a touch one especially when they are in their later years of high school (that's where it starts anyways) Mine are now 22 & 26, I'm not so sure things have changed. The issues just get a bit more complicated.

judyalter said...

My two daughters did the "I hate you" routine in high school and were over it by the time they graduated. Now we're all so close--and so are their brothers--that I'm richly blessed. My sons never did go through that but as adults the've told me stories I really didn't want to hear--about, for instance, parties held when I was out of town on business. You're right, you just have to live through it with the girls, mustering up the best grace you can and a sense of humor. I remember once when one daughter said, "I hate you!" and I asked her how she would feel if I said that to her. She lowered her eyes and said, "Not very good."

Anonymous said...

Oh, gosh, the mother's offer to loan clothing to her daughter reminds me of the time my daughter and I traveled to London. She needed to look professional, but her suitcase was lost. I offered her anything she wanted from mine. Nothing worked. British Air finally offered a monetary payment, and she bought enough professional clothing to look, well, professional. (Her suitcase was finally found, ten days later.)

Shannon said...

Hi Beth,
I was one of those unfortunates who lost her mother at an early age (she died when I was 4) and I was raised by a single father which is a completely different dynamic. I always enjoy reading stories that have mother-daughter themes because it gives me insight to what life may have been like, both the good and the ugly. And by reading the comments, it looks like both the good and ugly prevail.

Daryl a.k.a. Avery said...

Beth, I have to tell you that mothers of sons go through many of the same issues. When my son went off to college, I, too, wanted to hear his voice once a week. When he went overseas for a summer school program, oh, my! And he can break my heart with a word. But his successes also elate me. Watching him grow and mature is a wonderful thing. 30, I've decided is the magic number when they return to the "fold" and realize how wonderful you are! Note, my son is not there yet. ;)
Daryl Wood Gerber
writing as Avery Aames
The Cheese Shop Mysteries
Berkley Prime Crime 2010

Barbara Monajem said...

Heh. Whenever I hear a discussion like Judy and Claire's, I want to say, "Pick your fight, Mom!" The daughter's going to wear what she wants. Why sweat it? Take her on only when it really matters.

Of course, the mom thinks it really does matter, but regardless of whether she's right or wrong, it's a losing battle.

Elizabeth Zelvin said...

Considering that "mothers and daughters" are half the human race, I think there's a lot of variation. I wasn't taught that females are competitive with each other, and my relationship with my mother wasn't about clothes, hair, or sexuality. OK, one hair incident when I was 15--she wanted me to cut it, I didn't want it cut; I won because the hairdresser was on my side. :)But whenever I tell the story, I say, "It wasn't at all like her to insist that way."

Beth Groundwater said...

I'm loving all these mother-daughter, and overall parent-offspring, stories! Keep them coming, folks. If you'd like to read a short, short story I wrote on the subject, one of my favorite, check out "Lucky Bear" at:

Let me know what you think!

Susan Breen said...

What a resonant topic! Just dropped my daughter off at the airport yesterday. She's going to Berlin and I said, Do you have everything?
She gave me a big grin and said, "I have my self-confidence and that's all I need."
I wasn't sure whether to hug her or curl up into a ball.
Hope your launch party went well!

Linda Reilly said...

I'm so fortunate that my mom, at 82, is still going strong. We're immensely close and I treasure our relationship, but I can well remember those years when I was a pain-in-the-butt teen, always arguing with everything she said. In my first novel (not published, but maybe someday I hope...), the mother-daughter theme plays a major role.

Wish I could be at your book launch, Beth. Good luck, and I hope you sell a ton of books!

bluspider said...

I think we all go through this whether daughters OR sons. I have two sons and remember the teen years well. I do recall my mother moaning to my sister while upset again about her youngest son. "All SIX of you were impossible". to which my sister replied "Then by the last one, you should have been prepared." I thought it was a great come back.

Sheila Deeth said...

I never had daughters, but I was one, and that rings so true. Poor Mum, but we're best of friends these days. (btw, sons can be pretty cruel too on occasion.)

Unknown said...

I remember mule deers in Colorado where the signs read 'Don't feed the deers' but they came right up to the picnic tables where we were eating and helped themselves! In Ohio my big problem is squirrels.

Anonymous said...

Beth, I love this guest blog. I appreciate your candor about your relationship with your daughter. Mine's 33 now, and we're closer than ever before. But her teenage years were horrendous for both of us.

The excerpt from your book reminds me I really need to get a copy. But I'm sorry to learn your heroine is named Claire - so is mine, in Eldercide and the upcoming books in my series. And so is Julia Spencer Fleming's, I learned after the fact.

What is it about the name Claire that attracts us so? The only Claire I knew in real life was an elderly woman I worked with when I was an art therapist at Hudson River Psychiatric Center in Poughkeepsie!

Beth Groundwater said...

I want to thank the members of the Poe's Deadly Daughters for allowing me to guest on their blog. I've enjoyed reading all the thoughtful comments, and I hope readers found my article and the comments interesting. I'll continue to check over next couple of days for late comments that might need a response from me. Thanks, everyone!

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