As a daughter, mother and therapist, I can attest to the complexity of these relationships. To some, an extremely close relationship represents bonding, to others enmeshment. According to the media, Joan and Melissa Rivers were not afraid to act out the drama between a mom expecting to have a lot of control and a daughter trying to set some limits.
Melissa recalls an argument when she tells her mother that she’s an adult and wants to be respected. And Joan’s retort? “I know about your boundaries and choose not to acknowledge them.” Melissa capitulated in her final comments saying she didn’t think they were any more combative than other mothers and daughters.
Why do some mother-daughter relationships become contrary? To young daughters, mom is the best. Girls are full of admiration and want to be just like you. But as teens, they pull away, growing more independent in this developmental phase. Their need to individuate is normal as they emotionally prepare to be on their own.
And what can you do about it? Not much, except step back and listen to what they have to say. Try to let go instead of offering advice. Show that you’re supportive and trust that they can take care of themselves. When they’re stuck, provide some guidance. Their job is to be more self-sufficient and yours is to give them the opportunity to do just that.
As any of us with strong personalities know, power struggles between family members don’t just disappear. Joan and Melissa were estranged after husband and father, Edgar Rosenberg, committed suicide. Initially Melissa blamed her mom. “We just couldn’t talk about it for a long time because we were both in our own pain. But eventually we came back to the relationship because we genuinely wanted it.”
They forged a connection and a brand together that continued until Joan’s death. When she moved into her grown daughter’s L.A. home, the family became even closer. And that’s where they lived out a version of their lives in TV reality show, Joan and Melissa: Joan Knows Best?
These two women were inseparable the past several years, living and performing together. When Joan stopped breathing during a surgical procedure in New York last week, Melissa rushed from L.A. to her bedside and remained until the end.
So those of you who have teenage daughters, be patient. When they grow up, your relationship will change. And when they have children of their own, they’ll value you in different ways. It’s at that time when most young mothers forgive their own moms for almost everything!
Recently Melissa opened up about their relationship and her fears: “She’s my mom, my partner, my best friend. I can’t even think about life without her.”
For many years, until she died at age 81, Joan Rivers not only survived but she thrived. She remade herself into an author, an entrepreneur, a Broadway actress, a TV personality and an icon. She’s a hard act to follow.
At the funeral, Melissa read a hilarious letter that she had written to her mom, and the crowd roared with laughter. She ended the eulogy with, “You are an inspiration.” Melissa had a great role model–so who knows what her future has in store.