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Mother-daughter Conflicts Essay, Research Paper

?My mother?s expression was what devastated me: a quiet, blank look that said she lost everything.? (p. 143, The Joy Luck Club)

In the novel, The Joy Luck Club, by Amy Tan, the characters Suyuan and Jing-Mei (June) have a tumultuous mother-daughter relationship: one that ultimately is composed of conflict and commitment for one another. Their opposing ideas and beliefs is the product of their life experiences, which are drastically different. This and their lack of communication are responsible for many of the problems they face in their relationship. Only when June learns of her mother?s past, her life experiences and the ways in which she was raised, can these conflicts be resolved. Amy Tan reveals several themes through her novel, in which she intends for her audiences to understand and learn. Some themes include such topics as life?s choices, and understanding our family and ourselves.

Mother-daughter relationships are perhaps the most painful but the most rewarding relationship women share. And though a simple comment such as ?You?re becoming more like your mother every day.? might offend or strike terror in the female heart, she is still considered to be the rock on which we stand, and a steady hand that guides us through life. To understand the mother-daughter connection (healthy or destructive) it is wise to delve deeper and explore why we are first- natural enemies, secondly- why she (our mother) is determinably unpleasable, and last, how to redefine the mother-daughter relationship, so that both can learn and accept the other as she presently is by appreciating the other?s good qualities and accepting the bad.

Natural Enemy

What is it about the mother-daughter attachment that yields natural enemies and demands so much power?

No other human being is as similar to her daughter than the daughter?s mother. They are mirrored from head to toe. And almost replicated down to their genes and sexual make-up. Like our mother, we have breasts; we bear children and usually are our family?s caretaker (notwithstanding feminist revision). She also becomes competition when vying for ?Dad?s? attention. She ultimately is the ?yardstick? against which we measure ourselves, whether in education, career, relationships or motherhood.

Whether our relationship is strained or easy, hostile or amiable- we need her, if only to validate our femaleness and to guide our way. It is a need that never leaves in the best or the worst of mother-daughter relationships.

The mother sets he tone for her daughters life, provides a road map and role model and continues to be and example, particularly her genetic and emotional example.

But if mother and daughter have no connection, we cannot ask or talk to the one person whose psyche and body have ?programmed? our own. That?s why the loss is incalculable when a daughter has to figure it out for herself, trail blaze rather than learn from an example. Such a daughter has to discover herself, alone.

The Unpleasable Mother

What causes the lack of communication or the broken connection between the mother and daughter?

Most of the conflict that June and her mother face are based upon misunderstandings and negligence concerning each other?s feelings and beliefs. June lacks the ability to fully comprehend or know how her own mother because she is ignorant of her tragic and painful memories of the past. Suyuan lost her two daughters in China and her entire family was destroyed in the war. Suyuan decided to leave for America, leaving China behind and placing her future and the future in the promise of a new land. Suyuan hides her past and puts all her effort into turning her daughter into the daughter she could never be: pushing June to succeed in dance and academics and piano.

Like Suyuan and June, in many ways mothers and daughters are alien, each foreign to the other. The chasms that separate them often seem unbridgeable. Even if a parent pulls no stops and puts forth their best efforts, it is no guarantee the child will turn out well. A mother cannot or could not control the immutable facts of her own history. Perhaps all her siblings were girls, or maybe she was the only child. Were her parents divorced? Was her family rich or were they poor? Thousands of variables create the child as a whole and the mother as a whole. It is these variables that cause destruction in a mother-daughter relationship and yet they also explain why our mothers are unpleasable.

The Generation Gap

Mothers and daughters have different views of the world. Women today in their 30?s and 40?s have less in common with their mothers than any 2 generations in history. These daughters, today, are part of the largest generation in history: The Baby Boomers. (Men and women born between1946 and 1964)

Changes for women in this generation were outstanding. Unlike our mother?s mothers, women of today are not defined solely by their spouses or their children. Women are now breaking the ?glass ceiling? barrio and forging into territory that was once dominated by men. Mother?s of today?s adult women were not allowed or allotted therapy, self-expression and to be relaxed. These women were brought up to be seen and not heard.

The Cultural Gap

Women now in their 60?s and 70?s find the world of their daughters foreign in ways of tradition and language. Many were immigrants or first-generation Americans whose parents brought them up with foreign values and accents. Folkways of other cultures cling to very traditional families and provide fodder for mother-daughter disaffection.

The Historic Gap

Most mothers of our mothers were of age to have children during the Depression, yet because of the Depression, which had a devastating effect on women, most could ill afford large families so their choice to have fewer children took away from their cultural value.

The Historic gap that divides mothers and daughters includes attitudes towards child rearing. ?The yardstick by which a mother is judged is very much a measure of her time.? (Alice Koller)

The Temperamental Gap

The cultural and historic differences that separate mothers and daughters make up the temperamental mix. Their intrinsic personalities regulate how mothers would respond to such differences.

It is here that we can see how mothers vary in the treatment of their children. Temperament is like a barometer that measures how people behave. Behavior has many sources. According to studies by Stella Chase M.D. and Alexander Thomas M.D., of New York University Medical Center: genes account for more than half of personality traits, the other half is composed of family and experience.

Leadership, obedience, languidness, and vulnerability are all inherited. Intimacy also seems to be inherited: and is one trait that can greatly be strengthened by the quality of interaction in a family.

After failing to excel at each task at hand, June feels more and more resentment towards her mother. She sees her mother?s hopes as expectations, and when she does not live up to these expectations she begins to feel like a failure. When June performs her piano piece, filled with mistakes, she looks through the crowd towards her mother?s face. June sees shame and disappointment. But, what June failed to see, was that Suyuan was not ashamed or disappointed because June failed her expectations, but that the real reason for her mother?s upset was that June did not desire the best for herself. She did not have hopes or expectations of herself, and lacked the passion to succeed in anything?June failed because she didn?t try nor care.

A person?s general way of looking at life is her own. Like a concerto (music piece), life is filled with chords that may contain major or minor keys. The tempo may vary but it eventually resolves itself. How she views herself and the world is established by early experiences. Though we cannot change our basic selves- we can adapt, learning to respect peoples differences, especially if parents understand that differences are not always wrong. Because of temperamental hitches between mothers and daughters, one woman?s joy is another?s problem.

Emotional Gap:

Tension is demonstrated in how mothers and daughters express or restrain their feelings for each other. Many daughters feel that no matter what they do their mothers will remain forever unpleasable.

Most mothers do love their daughters?so why can?t they express it?

Maybe the mother was raised to respect their elders at their own expense, and to restrict their feelings and needs. Since the ?emotional survival? of those mothers required obedience and the invention of their false self, they had to repress their anger and believe that mother was always right. In unhappy mother-daughter relationships, a daughter can express a feeling without acting upon it and this would trigger a long-denied anger or sadness to emerge in the mother.

A mother who has not resolved her relationship with her parents ? may project dissonance onto her children. She, therefore, may favor the child who gives her no ?trouble? and come down hard on the child who reminds her of her insecure, unreliable, or ungrateful self as a child. This process is called triangling. The child who is the scapegoat gets the mothers harshest feelings in the process.

Like a caged hamster on its wheel, many mothers remain trapped, so to speak in their feelings of rejection that was caused by oppressing their anger and their past.

These mothers desperately try to prolong their maternal power and keep their daughters near, and not allowing real separation and mutual respect. Their unhappiness is motivated by the variables of history, temperament, and so forth.

The behavior of unpleasable mothers falls into certain categories. These mothers control through:

?Neediness (Doormat)

?Corrections (Critic)

?Enmeshing (Smotherers)

?Fear (Avenger)

Many of these categories may overlap- critical at one time and perhaps mullified at another.

The Doormat:

This categorizes women/mothers as ideal, however, of an earlier time. During the early 20th century, (she) the mother, would be considered as the epitome of womanhood: yielding, fragile, soft: her demeanor summoning adjectives full of prefeminist praise. The doormat is a woman of heartbreaking weakness and dependency.

How could someone with these qualities cause conflict on the mother-daughter relationship?

Studies have shown that daughters of ?Doormats? view their mother as: dependent, depressed, childlike, and pitiful.

The women are what Dr. Murray Bowen describes as ?deselfed?, unable to defend themselves. They obliterate their own needs and punish themselves. They believe that anything that goes wrong in their lives or their family?s is their fault.

And so doormats often become utterly dependent on their daughters. The daughters are thus their mother?s mother. These daughters grow to resent their mother?s fragile dependency.

The Critic:

The critics come in many forms, regally condemning people who are not ?the right sort.?

The critic is often a woman of high energy and intense personality. Depending on her own family history and temperament, she may be given to loud outbursts. Daughters of these mothers recall constant screaming and fighting (either with the daughter or any other household member, as the mother finds endless faults with them. The critic preys on opportunities to be disappointed in her daughter. Critics control their daughters with lengthy demands. Many of these mothers complain about their daughters not being physically demonstrative- but it?s the critics who are seldom able to express their feelings, and physical affections or to receive them.

And just as power is used to keep their daughters close, so is guilt used to ensure that her daughter doesn?t get too close.

The Smotherer:

The smotherer is a mother who gladly sits up all night to type her child?s term paper.

The somtherer is also the type of mother that relies on her children to comfort her, and provide the body in which the mother can live. This mother decides what the daughter wants and needs. She defines her child?s happiness in terms of her own needs and perceptions.

For example: The mother says: ?I?m cold.? So she then tells her daughter: Put on a sweater.?

The Avenger:

The avenger is brimming with a harvest of shame to be vented upon her children. She is their mother in the supermarket yanking her toddler by the arm and screaming at it.

The avenger is addicted to discord. As this is the retribution or ?payback? for her long-forgotten childhood filled with pain. Her need for power is so acute and so fine and narrow is the boundary between her reason and her rage that a sneeze will easily upset her.

The most striking personality of an avenger is the need to be the center of attention and he will go to all lengths to remain in the spotlight.

The majority of avengers were once abuse children physically or psychologically. And such children are more likely to mistreat their own children. Often she is not afforded the conscious choice to break the cycle. Instead she rejects, isolates, terrorizes, ignores, and corrupts her child, thus ensuring that the cycle repeats itself.


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