An insightful look at the relationships between senior mothers and their middle-aged daughters.
Butler (Cancer in Two Voices, 1991, etc.) and Gefen (Clear Lake, 2013, etc.) are both mothers in their 70s, navigating the shifting dynamics with their adult daughters. They note, in an introduction, the current lack of resources for older mothers and the lack of books on motherhood in general that simply describe experiences rather than criticize them. For this collaborative work, they interviewed 78 mothers, ages 65 to 85, all of whom have daughters in middle age. Most of the interview subjects live in the San Francisco Bay Area but are diverse in terms of ethnicity, class, and sexual orientation. To protect their subjects’ privacy, Butler and Gefen wisely created six composite mothers “who represent the demographic characteristics of those in our study.” Each chapter discusses one of eight themes that emerged over the course of the interviews, such as how mothers define their closeness to their children, how they accept changing roles and navigate traumas, and how they prepare themselves and their kids for the future. In general, the authors found that older mothers understand their children’s many commitments but still want more from their current relationships: “We are struck again and again with their strong yearning to be close to their daughters at this time in their lives,” the authors note. To relate these findings, they aptly weave their conversations with interviewees into their general conclusions. For example, “Margo” tells of her daughter “Elise,” who lives in a cottage in the backyard, and she provides an exception to the aforementioned pattern of wanting more closeness: “She’s right under my nose all the time,” she says. “I suppose that’s being close.” Such frank admissions bring this book to life, because although readers know that Margo is a composite, her comments, and those of other mothers, ring true. And even though Butler and Gefen often search for patterns, they recognize that “no two mother-daughter relationships are alike,” nor should they be. Most older mothers of daughters will connect to at least one narrative in this book, which also includes discussion questions.
An important personal and sociological perspective on women’s lives.