Motherhood: Shaking Off the Habits of Past Generations

A pregnant woman stands in a field of flowers, holding her belly and smiling.When Clara told her mother she was pregnant, her mother did not respond with joy, instead she replied, “Don’t ask me to babysit.” Clara said she wouldn’t dream of it.

When she was growing up Clara had never gotten much help from her mother; now she no longer wanted it. From early childhood Clara had vowed to be different, not like her mother, and she began psychotherapy to help her become who she wanted to be. We worked together, with a partnership based on listening, understanding the past, and feeling the present with wise hearts, easing Clara’s path to a more satisfying life.

Unlike her mother, I took delight in Clara’s accomplishments. She was professionally quite advanced. She was satisfied with her marriage. She was a lovely woman, very shy, but at the same time, ready to offer help to others—although it was hard for her to accept help for herself, until she slowly learned that she was worthwhile too.

Much of our work centered on anxiety, depression, rage, and feelings of worthlessness, from which she mostly recovered. When it was time for her to end treatment, we said goodbyes, each of us feeling both regretful and fulfilled. Our relationship had been warm and full. Clara was satisfied with her life and her considerable achievements, and I was proud of all she had done.

Often people need to consolidate their therapeutic gains, and then return, if they want, when their situation changes, or when they feel they would like to renew their explorations at a deeper level. “The door is always open,” I like to say.

When she was pregnant Clara decided to come back to therapy because she didn’t want history to repeat itself—she didn’t want her relationship with her daughter to be like her relationship with her mother, or like her mother’s relationship with Clara’s grandmother. They fought all the time; instead of helping each other, they tore each other down.

Clara had been able to leave treatment and return when she needed, on her timetable, a sign of her growing maturity; she didn’t run away and she didn’t cling, either. Our mutual empathy was a different kind of connection than her intense controlling, demanding, rejecting mother was able to offer. She often told Clara, “They gave me the wrong child in the hospital” while clinging to Clara and demanding that Clara perform exactly as she was told. Clara spent much of her life trying to please a hostile and envious mother.

Clara knew her mother and grandmother hadn’t liked each other very much; she could see how trauma can be passed down from one generation to the next. She dreamed of protecting her child from her family’s sad legacy—that’s what the second chapter of our work was about: helping Clara establish a new, healthier style of parenting, that would not be defined by old nightmares.

© Copyright 2011 by By Lynn Somerstein, PhD, NCPsyA, C-IAYT, therapist in New York City, New York. All Rights Reserved. Permission to publish granted to

The preceding article was solely written by the author named above. Any views and opinions expressed are not necessarily shared by Questions or concerns about the preceding article can be directed to the author or posted as a comment below.

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  • Minson


    May 11th, 2011 at 7:22 PM

    It’s sad how sometimes the people that are generally the closest to us become distanced and issues develop between us and that person. My dad had a strained relationship with his father. It always hurt my mom to see how the father-son duo would never be what they should be like. So she made it a point that there was plenty of bonding between me and dad and yes, it has paid off. Dad and I love each other a lot and although my mother doesn’t say it out, I’m sure she’s happy about the fact! :-)

  • Jada


    May 12th, 2011 at 4:30 AM

    I would be so sad if my mom and I were not close. We have always had such a great relationship, even through the tumultuous teenage years and to not have her to turn to when I needed her would leave me without my best friend. It is hard to imagine those relationships which are filled with such anger and resentment and reading things like this makes me even more thankful for all of the love that I am so fortunate to have in my life with my friends and family.

  • emma


    May 12th, 2011 at 7:20 AM

    a mother’s relationship with her child is a very special one indeed. it is like no other relationship in this world. and when it comes to a mother-daughter relationship it gains even more importance because there are a lot more things that they can share and enjoy together. they can do things together that are predominantly feminine-go shopping,watch the daughter become a mother herself and then partner in the parenting of the new born…just so many things.

    some people are unfortunate to miss out on this wonderful relationship. my heart will always pray for issues in such relationships to be resolved.

  • Lynn Somerstein

    Lynn Somerstein

    May 12th, 2011 at 8:40 AM

    Hi Minson- sounds like your Mom cemented your family- how lucky you all are! Thanks for telling your story.

  • Lynn Somerstein

    Lynn Somerstein

    May 12th, 2011 at 8:41 AM

    Jada, you and your mother are both very lucky- it is so lonely to live without that bond.

  • Lynn Somerstein

    Lynn Somerstein

    May 12th, 2011 at 8:42 AM

    Emma, I hope your prayers are answered. Thanks for sharing your thoughts.

  • D.Tuffy


    May 12th, 2011 at 7:34 PM

    There are relationships n then there are special relationships.A strain in relationship is painful but strain in a special relationship like what you have spoken about can be painful till our last breath.And I am going through this pain every single day of my life.I pray that nobody else has to go through this pain.God bless you all.

  • Lynn Somerstein

    Lynn Somerstein

    May 13th, 2011 at 4:19 AM

    D. Tuffy- I hope that with time this unbearable pain will be assuaged, and that your heart will know more joy and much less sorrow.
    Please take care.

  • Hollis


    May 13th, 2011 at 4:37 AM

    Is there ever a point in time especially in a female’s life that she could ever get past not having that close relationship with a mom? I was never that close with mine, and she passed away before we really had a chance to resolve some issues that had plagued our relationship for many years. I want to say that I have forgiven her upon her death but I know that would be a lie. I want to say that this does not bother me but that would be a lie too. I want to move forward, move past this, but I have a fear that without resolution I will now do the same things to my own children. I do not want to be responsible for bringing that anger and upset into their lives like that that I have always had to deal with in my own.

  • Lynn Somerstein

    Lynn Somerstein

    May 13th, 2011 at 10:12 AM

    Hi Hollis-It’s really hard, but it is possible to recover from a bad mother-daughter relationship, at least enough to stop the pain from raining down on your kids. It’s hard work- like stopping a speeding freight train bare handed.
    I admire your honesty, and I wish you tremendous strength and patience to get through this.

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