"Did I just say that?!" Is a thought that comes out of every daughter's mouth when she realizes she has uttered the exact same words spoken by her mother. Usually these are words we as daughters despised, rolled our eyes at, or felt embarrassed by hearing, but here we are uttering them as quite literally, our mother tongue. Often those words from mom were thoughts, beliefs, and mindsets that we couldn't stand to hear. and perhaps our ears are still graced with them. Regardless of our age and whether we've entered motherhood or not, we catch ourselves, speaking the same horrors of criticism, self-doubt, judgement, or self-deprecating commentary and we wonder, "Why am I saying this, I don't think this way!?" The hard truth of the matter, is in some way you do.
Back to your mother tongue. No, I'm not referring to your first language whether it was English, Farsi, Spanish or Mandarin. I'm referring to the languages of self-worth, self-acceptance, and unconditional love for the self. Yep, we're getting self-ish in here! No matter what language you grew up with, you were exposed to the language that expressed the way your mother felt about herself and the world. She tried her hardest and she really was the best mom she could be (this is not a mom bashing zone and we acknowledge that some moms were not well or safe for some people). Still, she inadvertently handed down what's known as internalized sexism, which includes shame, insecurity and self-doubt, for starters. Growing up in a world where we have yet to balance out power between the sexes and everyone in between, women have undoubtedly, learned to play small, "be nice", don't ask for too much, lose yourself in your children, earn less money, earn more money and be a supermom, get it right, look good, but don't look too sexy, look thin enough, thick enough, light enough, young enough, don't be too opinionated, but be smart, be supportive, and above all, DON'T BE SELFISH! You get the point.
Mom shaming (sadly, a global past-time, it seems) is not the way to transform this self-diminishing language; that would be the opposite of empowering women. Those words you uttered in your mother tongue were handed down to you through the generations and you've likely internalized them in some way despite intellectually disagreeing with it. This is normal and yet most of us want to be, more at peace, happier, more confident, and not pass this on to the next generation.
How do we actually change our mother tongue? It’s complex but, simple. Rosjke Hasseldine a therapist and expert Mother-Daughter relationships, recommends we begin to see each other as whole people in the context of time and place. I couldn't agree more and here is how we begin to make the change.
1. We must honor our own wounds, name them, talk about them, perhaps with a support group or skilled therapist, process the emotions and grief you carry.
2. Consider the wounds of the women who have gone before us. Think of your mother as a person, your grandmother, your great grandmother. Think of her whole world and what she was or wasn’t supported in.
3. Recognize the collective message from society and the pain women have endured over the centuries, hell, over thousands of years. We can begin to understand why that self-deprecating humor, the martyrdom, and even the neglect or abandonment among mothers and daughters exists. We were all taught in some way, if not by family, then in society, or in some religions, that somehow as a woman, you're not enough and you need to make up for that innate deficit in some way.
4. Develop and new inner language. Speak to yourself the way you speak to your dearest friend. Support, encourage, accept, value yourself. Your relationship with yourself is the only one you have complete charge of.
Through the mother-daughter sessions I've led with clients I've witnessed mothers and daughters open up to a newfound compassion and respect, seeing the other as a whole person understanding her story. Through individual work, I'm amazed at the breakthroughs that transpire when women can map out the generations of women in their family and break free from patterns and perpetuating the cycle. They can give themselves permission to name the hurt, anger or sadness. I am honored to help women learn a new language of self-love. We may not be able to heal the women who have gone before us, but we can heal ourselves and create and new mother tongue, a language that is beautiful, empowering and one we want to pass on. Whether we have children or not, the young girls around are listening; what words do you want them to utter?