I once heard that having a child is like ripping your heart out of your chest, then watching it walk around and encounter scary things and make questionable decisions. And while there’s no question that fathers love their daughters and mothers their sons with that same fierceness, I can only imagine that being a mother to a daughter comes with its own particular set of overwhelming emotions. Here is a person who is both you, and not you; a person who may have your exact likeness, but might do things to that likeness (purple hair, anyone?) that are definitely not you.
And while I don’t have any experience mothering a daughter, I have lots of experience being a daughter to a (particularly lovely, supportive, and wonderful) mother. My mom and I have a pretty awesome relationship, but it's changed a lot over the years. I’m sure that you and your own mom — or your own beloved maternal figure, whomever she may be — have grown together, too, as each of you have matured.
Once a daughter, always a daughter. But despite the constancy of that role, there’s always work to do on being a better one, especially when handed life's mixed bag of challenges and triumphs. These 8 literary mothers to literary daughters are particularly inspirational: even though many of these relationships are far from perfect, their challenges can teach us invaluable lessons to bring with us into our own relationships with our moms. Sugar-averse, beware: things are about to get sappy up in here.
Caroline Ingalls and Mary, Laura, and Baby Carrie, Little House On the Prairie by Laura Ingalls Wilder
Who they are: Caroline Ingalls is the ideal old-school homemaker: while her husband worked on the prairie and her children were in school, Caroline ensured that the house was cleaned, the ribbon candy cooked, their home exuded peace and warmth, and their constantly moving sh*t was generally kept in order.
What they can teach us: It’s true that there’s no place like home. But, at least for me, “home” just means wherever my parents are; wherever I can feel the presence of their love and warmth (which doesn't mean I want to still physically live with them, btw). And it doesn’t matter whether or not you grew up with a stay-at-home-mom like Caroline: a home isn't a home without the presence, either physical or emotional, of our loved ones. So if you don't live with your parents, invite your mama over to your big-girl pad for some wine and a chat. (And if your mom is anything like mine, she will likely clean up a little for you and offer to make you dinner, too. To which I will never say no.)
Katie and Francie Nolan, A Tree Grows in Brooklyn by Betty Smith
Who they are: As a child, Francie Nolan is enamored with her handsome, charismatic father — a self-destructive alcoholic — and struggles to connect with her mother, Katie, whose meager wages earned from several jobs keep the family afloat.
What they can teach us: As Francie matures, she understands that her mother’s fiercely self-defensive nature, which discouraged Francie from ever getting close to Katie, was exactly the quality that kept a roof over the family’s heads. Your mom would do literally anything to keep you safe — even if that means sacrificing her own happiness. And as you get older, you can begin to appreciate those sacrifices she made for you in your childhood, which may have caused you pain or confusion at the time. Maybe now you can even return the favor.
Bobbi Lambrecht and Cheryl Strayed, Wild by Cheryl Strayed
Who they are: At 22, Cheryl Strayed suddenly lost her 45-year-old mother to lung cancer. This is what Strayed has called her "genesis story," the foundation-shattering event that forced her to confront her own shortcomings, fears, and demons — which she very famously did by hiking the Pacific Crest Trail solo.
What they can teach us: If you have a mom whose constant presence (read: constant nagging and/or excitable texting) you often take for granted, take a moment to appreciate that you're lucky enough to be able to take her for granted. Not in a morbid way, but in a way that makes you see that presence in a different light. Our moms are so full of wisdom, but, like anything we see or experience every day, that brilliance inevitably dulls with time and routine. Strayed remembered something her mom used to say only after she passed: "There's a sunrise and a sunset every day, and you can choose to be there for it — you can put yourself in the way of beauty."
Molly Weasley and Her Brood, The Harry Potter Series by J.K. Rowling
Who they are: Throughout the HP series, Molly Weasley mostly retains a behind-the-scenes presence, allowing her many children to take the lead on the action (but never failing to reprimand them when need be). But we'd certainly miss Molly if she weren't there to gift orphan Harry with chewy fudge and fuzzy sweaters; and we'd definitely miss her if she weren't there to save Ginny from Bellatrix Lestrange during the Battle of Hogwarts with one of the fiercest lines of all of literature: "Not my daughter, you bitch!"
What they can teach us: Whether her powers are best displayed through baking a particularly kickass coffee cake, the uncanny ability to say the exact right thing at the exact right time, or by murdering the deranged dark wizard who's out to get you, all of our moms are superheroes in their own ways. We can only hope to be a superhero to them, too (even if it's a really lazy one).
Kat and Mia Hall, If I Stay by Gayle Forman
Who they are: Gayle Forman's bestselling tearjerker tells the story of Mia Hall, a teenaged cello prodigy who survives a car crash that kills her parents and little brother. We see several retrospective snippets of Mia's life with her non-traditional parents, during which Mia seriously wonders whether she was adopted by drummer Denny and nose-ringed Kat.
What they can teach us: Classical music lover Mia is desperate to separate her reserved sensibilities from those of her Stooges-loving punk parents. But Mia comes to realize (tragically late) that it was precisely her mother’s open spirit that not only accepted Mia’s tastes and talents, but encouraged them, too. And, as it turned out, Mia benefitted from Kat’s fearless inspiration: when Mia asks Kat to deck her out in Blondie-worthy duds, Mia feels liberated enough to open up to Adam, the soon-to-be-love-of-her-life. Even if you can’t understand your mom’s obsessions or hobbies or personality in general, make a little room for those differences. You just might become a better person for it.
Coraline and Her (Real) Mother, Coraline by Neil Gaiman
Who they are: Coraline Jones is often ignored by her busy parents and often very bored. In a quest to kill her boredom (and in an unconscious cry for attention), Coraline travels through the mysterious door she's just discovered in her living room. After traveling through a portal which in the movie looks curiously like a hallucinogenic birth canal, Coraline discovers a horrific Other World, wherein her Other Mother has buttons for eyes and a stash of kidnapped children hidden behind a mirror.
What they can teach us: Think your mom’s boring? That she doesn’t get you? That she doesn’t pay enough attention to the You Show? Try having a soul-devouring animate puppet for a mom. At the end of the day, your mother is yours, and she's yours for a reason. Don’t try to change who she is (or escape from her through a portal to an alternate dimension) — maybe try rethinking how you relate to her instead.
Kate Clephane and Anne, The Mother’s Recompense by Edith Wharton
Who they are: Kate Clephane returns to New York society after abandoning the place — as well as her husband and baby daughter — years before. She returns to find her daughter Anne engaged to the man with whom Kate herself was once deeply in love (weird). Kate questions whether to share her past with her daughter, or to keep her secrets hidden.
What they can teach us: While it’s unlikely that you’re engaged to your mother’s former lover, Kate’s struggle to reconnect with her daughter may resonate with you. Kate is torn between her role as a mother, which she willingly gave up; and her role as an independent freewheeler, which she willingly assumed. Our moms might struggle with these roles on some level, too: on the one hand, they feel a biological (and hopefully emotional) imperative to protect their daughters, either from predators or from their own pasts. On the other, they might crave the freedom they enjoyed before having us. Appreciate that that selfless impulse usually wins out; but respect that the latter deserves to be supported, too.
Lu Ling and Ruth, The Bonesetter’s Daughter by Amy Tan
Who they are: Ruth, a first-generation Chinese American, struggles to understand her mother Lu Ling's erratic behavior — like, for instance, why Lu Ling was convinced that Ruth could channel the spirits of the dead as a child. But when Ruth learns the truth about Lu Ling's difficult upbringing in China — as well as the secrets Lu Ling herself had to unfold about her parentage — Ruth better understands Lu Ling as a person, and particularly as a mother.
What they can teach us: Our mothers have motivations of their own, many of which are fueled by histories that may be unknown to us. Although we’re indelibly connected to our moms, we have to remember that they, too, are independent people. Just like us walking hearts have our own, individual lives to deal with, our moms are also fighting their own internal battles, even if they remain hidden from view. The realization that — shocker! — you might not be your mother's sole concern might rock your foundation a bit. But it’s important to keep in mind when our moms make their own seemingly questionable choices.
Mary Poppins and the Banks Children, Mary Poppins by P.L. Travers
Who they are: While posh Mr. Banks was out doing banker-y things, and posh Mrs. Banks was out securing the vote for women (respect), Jane and Michael (and later John, Barbara, and Annabel) while away their posh time at Seventeen Cherry Tree Lane with nothing to do, nowhere to go, and no adult supervision to stop them ruining the drapes. That is, until Mary Poppins swoops in on a strong breeze, then promptly swoops the children away on exotic adventures in faraway lands (while ensuring that they take their medicine and brush their teeth, of course).
What they can teach us: A woman doesn't necessarily need to have given birth to you for you to consider her your mother. Even if you did grow up with a great mom, there's always room for strong, kind, maternal women in your life. Whether she's your beloved aunt, your wise yoga teacher, your trusted hair stylist, or your childhood babysitter, we can always benefit from more moms in our lives. Because moms are the best. And we love them.
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