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Podcast Transcript

Episode 10: Making Peace with Our Mothers

[Bouncy theme music plays.]

Sam: Hey, I’m Sam!

Ashley: Hi, I’m Ashley and you’re listening to All Bodies. All Foods. presented by The Renfrew Center for Eating Disorders. We want to create a space for all bodies to come together authentically and purposefully to discuss various areas that impact us on a cultural and relational level.

Sam: We believe that all bodies and all foods are welcome, we would love for you to join us on this journey. Let’s learn together.

Ashley: Hey everybody, thank you again for joining us. Another day of All Bodies. All Foods. and today we have Judy Rabinor joining us. I’m going to say a little information about Judy. She’s a psychologist, a clinician, an author, writing coach, speaker, and a workshop leader. In addition to her New York City new private practice, she offers a remote consultation for writers, clinicians, and families. She’s written dozens of articles for both the public and professionals, and she has published three books, including her most recent book that we’re going to talk about today, The Girl in the Red Boots. So Judy, thank you so much for joining Sam and I today, we are so happy to have you here with us.

Judy: Thank you so much for inviting me. I look forward to our conversation.

Ashley: Awesome! Well, I wanted to start—so, the book, it’s really, it’s The Girl in the Red Boots, Making Peace with My Mother. And so, I really wanted to start off and just kind of ask, I know you are a clinician Judy, you’ve been doing this for years. What kind of led you to the place that you were ready to write a book about this in particular?

Judy: Well, we’re starting at the end, but that’s as good a place as any to jump in, right? So, two years after my mother died, I was diagnosed with breast cancer. And after I had surgery and I was recovering, I was miserable. It was scary. It was a scary experience. And what I honestly realized was the person I missed the most was my mother. And I had a lot of support. I have a husband, I have a child who flew in from out of town, I have a brother and a sister-in-law who live around the corner, I have tons of friends. And I realized how much I missed my mother and I thought, “Isn’t this crazy that half of the time when my mother was around, she drove me crazy. And now here it is, I’m missing her.” So, I—that made me start trying to put together a series of stories that I had been writing for my whole life. Okay? And that is how A Starving Madness got written. But let me tell you how A Starving Madness began.

Ashley: Okay.

Judy: It began when my daughter went to college, like 25 years ago, and I decided to take a writing class. And I was, I had always been writing but I wanted to do something more creative, and I was very close to my mother-in-law, and she was getting divorced. No, excuse me—I was getting divorced, and she was getting remarried. She was getting remarried, she comes over my house, she’s going to miss me so much, we’re never going to let our bonds fray. And I started writing stories that she told me about when she was divorced. And that lasted for two sessions of the writing class. And the next thing you know, I started writing about my mother, and I thought, “Oh my God, I’m writing these stories about my mother.” And one of the stories I wrote in that class was The Red Boots, which is a charming story about how my mother endorsed my adventurous spirit.

Ashley: Yes.

Judy: But then I delved right into all the hard stuff, and I started writing all the stories that really tortured me. And one of them is a story that starts the book. It’s a story about me getting my tonsils out.

Ashley: Yeah.

Judy: Should I tell that story?

Ashley: You are welcome to, Judy. That story was so impactful when I read that.

Sam: Very, very powerful. I think anyone who has felt deceived would really be able to relate to the feeling that you must have felt.

Judy: Right. So, it wasn’t until I was in my twenties, and I went to therapy, and I told the therapist this story and I saw the look on his face, that I understood that it didn’t have to play out this way. And the story was, that when I was eight years old, my mother told me I was getting my tonsils out and we went shopping and she—but no, she told me I was getting it but then I forgot about it. But then what she did is she told me we were going to a birthday party, and she took me shopping and I bought a new dress with her. And there I am, packed up in the back of the car wearing my party dress, thinking I was going to my cousin Winnie’s party, and instead she takes me to the hospital. And I didn’t know what had hit me, and she says, “You’re having your tonsils out. Bye honey, I’ll see you tomorrow.” And I had, like, really PTSD from remembering her dropping me off, me being wheeled out of some room with a mask on my face and that horrible ether smell—anybody who’s ever had their tonsils out knows what that smell is. And then her showing up the next day smiling with ice cream.

Ashley: Yeah.

Judy: Right. And it wasn’t until I was in my twenties, on the verge of becoming a therapist, that I realized how mad I was about this, and how hurt I had been, and how scared I had been. And I went back and I confronted my mother and I said, “Why did you do this?” She said, “That’s what the doctor told me to do.” And I said, “Well Mom, don’t you understand what a big mess that made for me? That this has had its repercussions?” and she said to me, “Don’t worry, you’re fine.” So now, “don’t worry, you’re fine” was one of the ways that she coped with life. Because according to my mother, she—everything would always turn out fine, and don’t air your dirty laundry in public. Now, isn’t that funny that I then went on to become a therapist so that I have people air their dirty laundry with me.

Ashley: Right.

Judy: And step one of therapy, and then step two is maybe join a group, and air your dirty laundry in the group, and then maybe step three is tell other people in your life what’s really troubling you so you can get support. But my mother, she had a case of what I would call toxic, Toxic Positivity.

Sam: Mhm.

Ashley: Yeah.

Judy: I didn’t make that phrase up. Somebody else did, I read it this summer and when I wrote it down, I thought it was great. Everything was fine, it didn’t matter what happened to you, you would be fine.

Ashley: Yeah.

Judy: Right? And it isn’t until most recently that I understand that emotional misattunement is actually very traumatic. That, you know, we talk about childhood trauma, and we talk about abuse and neglect, and I certainly was not brought up in an abusive family. I was actually brought up in a privileged family. I had schools, I knew I was—new shoes every first day of school, I knew I was going to college, etcetera, etcetera. But, um—so, I was not abused, I was not neglected, but I had a mother who was very misattuned to me. And she was misattuned to me because she was misattuned to herself. And I never understood that until I got way much older, that she just always had to see the bright side of everything.

Sam/Ashley: Mhm.

Judy: And I understood when I got older, and in the writing of this book, that that helped her cope with her life. And that’s why I wrote this book, because I thought, “Isn’t this crazy? I went through my whole life being mad at my mother.” And I knew that she was not a terrible person. I knew she was not a terrible person, but I really suffered from, like, a kind of emotional neglect. Which is not the same thing as physical neglect or anything like that, but it was feeling emotionally unvalidated. So, just in case you were thinking of asking me the question, “How did you pick your profession?”, I probably—

Ashley: I actually was!

Judy: I probably have answered that question, because the professions we choose usually have origins somewhere deep inside of us. And sometimes I think what we do in life is we give other people what we wanted most, and what I most wanted was somebody to validate me. And so, I would say that’s a big part of what I do as a therapist. I listen, listen, listen, listen, listen, and try to understand, “Oh my goodness, so now I understand better, this is the reason you’re doing this. Or this is the reason we’re doing this. This makes sense to you.” And—but, I never could say that with my mother. My mother thought, I mean, we went over this, I cannot tell you— “You thought it would be better for me to wake up in a hospital with a terrible throat, feeling like I didn’t understand what happened?” She said, “The doctor explained that, why scare you? Why scare you and make you worry in advance about it?” I mean, the truth of the matter is, I did know, I did learn as I got older, that that was not that unusual in the 50s, for parents to do those kinds of things. Because I once was leading a therapy group and a guy in the group told the exact same story.

Sam: Wow!

Ashley: Really?!

Judy: Well, he told the exact same story, but he forgave his mother. His parents were Holocaust survivors, and he said, “What did my mother know? She came to this country; she was lucky she was alive.” And I thought, “Wow, look how much you learn from your patients.” He was so forgiving, and I was so mad. But the thing is, I thought my mother should have known better. But the second part of this story, about misattunement and that her toxic positivity sort of prevented her from just pausing and saying, “I’m so sorry, tell me more.” It was not, “tell me more,” it was “tell me nothing.” Like, “You’re fine, right? You’re fine. We’re not going to talk about it anymore.” And if I ever was to bring it up again, she’d say “What? You’re bringing this up again? I thought we resolved this?” But the thing is, I didn’t resolve it.

Ashley: Right, right.

Judy: I didn’t resolve it because when we experience betrayal and deception as children, it leaves a deep scar and we’re wounded forever, and people find different ways to cope. And I hung onto this anger at her as if I would have the power to change her, which I didn’t.

Ashley: Right…

Judy: Right. As if I would have the power to change her. So of course, you two both as therapists know how much we all wish we could change other people. But the bottom line is, only one person we can change.

Ashley: Mhm, mhm.

Judy: And that’s ourselves.

Ashley: It’s so true.

Sam: I’m just wondering, Judy, for the, you know, for the parents out there who might be listening in, you talk about attunement—how can we help them understand exactly what that means? You know, misattunement and how do you get attuned with your kid?

Judy: Well, the best way to get attuned is to listen. Listen. And so often, let’s just give a simple example, daughter tries on a skirt. She says, “I hate this skirt, I look fat.” Mom says, “You don’t look fat.” That’s not being attuned, that’s not being attuned. Attunement is, “You feel fat? Really?” You know, but empathically. Not, “You feel fat, really? You’re an idiot if you feel fat, you’re a toothpick.”

Ashley: Right.

Judy: You’re feeling fat. And the next intervention that the therapist makes, which I like to teach parents all the interventions I make, is “Tell me more. What’s bothering you? What are you feeling?” And you’re hoping that as you use the words, like “bothering,” like “feeling,” you’re gonna stir something up in the daughter who’s feeling fat. Because we know that fat is not a feeling, but that fat is a word that’s masking over another experience, right?

Sam: Mhm.

Ashley: Yeah.

Judy: And it’s the same thing, you know, daughter comes home from school, son comes home from school: “I have no friends.” Parent says, “What do you mean? Didn’t you have Jim and John over the weekend? Didn’t these boys sleep over?” So, the parents can immediately move into too helpful a mode—“I want to remind you that you have a friend.” But he was saying, “I have no friends.” So, tell me what you’re feeling. Tell me what you’re feeling.

Sam: Yeah.

Judy: What does that feel like? And, like, developing 10 questions. “What does that feel like? What does that feel like? Tell me more? Am I getting it? Am I getting it?” Like, that’s what kids want, they want their parents to understand them.

Sam: To feel what they’re feeling.

Judy: To feel what they’re feeling.

Sam: Yeah, yeah.

Judy: And that is what we try to do as therapists, we try to get the story out of somebody so that we can be empathic, we can validate what they’re feeling. They know they’re not crazy for feeling this. I mean, even if what they’re feeling is one kid said some nasty thing at school, and that thing has expanded and taken up their whole internal world. So, we want to have a long enough conversation that we can help a child realize that “That was an unfortunate thing that happened. I’m sorry that happened to you.” And I felt like my mother, to get back to my story, never really said to me, “I’m so sorry. What was I thinking?” You know, “I wish I had asked Grandma Sophie. I wish I had spoken about this with other parents.” But back in those days, we followed doctor’s orders. And that’s the truth.

Ashley: Really, yeah.

Judy: Back in those days, they follow doctor’s orders.

Ashley: Yeah. Because they were the ones with knowledge, they were the ones that knew.

Judy: Because they were the ones with knowledge. Now, a doctor tells you anything, you run home and look it up on the internet.

Ashley: That’s true, that’s true.

Judy: Right? Right. There was no internet, and the doctor’s orders. And I mean, I don’t want to get ahead of myself, but it was in the writing of the book that I understood—And so, I acted like my mother was a criminal for following doctor’s orders. I was like a wise guy, I was tough, you know, and “What? You followed doctor’s orders?!” And it wasn’t until I was writing this book that I remembered a time that I followed doctor’s orders. And I did something that now I really felt deeply ashamed of, and I think, “How could I have done that?”

Ashley: Yeah.

Judy: Should I say what it was?

Ashley: You’re welcome to!

Sam: Oh, absolutely, yeah.

Judy: Well, so all that happened when I was eight years old, and when I was 30 years old, my father was diagnosed with cancer. And the doctor told my mother it was terminal, and my mother told me and my brother. And the doctor told my mother, “Don’t tell him it’s terminal, it’ll only make him depressed.” So, my father was told, “You’re getting better.” But my father knew he wasn’t getting better because he was feeling weaker and thinner, and in the book, I write about a moment where I’m—it’s like the month before he died, and I’m out there and I have a baby now, and I was bringing the baby out to cheer my father up. And my father turned to me, and he said, “What is wrong here? What is wrong?” And he was, like, shouting, you know, “I’m eating all this food your mother is giving me and I keep losing weight, and I feel so exhausted.” And he was sitting there with an oxygen tank because his breathing was so compromised, and I was following doctor’s orders. I said, “Dad, I don’t know.” I don’t know what I said, I mean, I’m remembering back a lot of years now, right? I don’t know. But now, upon reflection I asked myself, “Well, didn’t I get it?” I mean, my father is sitting there with an oxygen tent, an oxygen tank, we’re at the end… why didn’t I? I’ve asked myself this question, “Why didn’t I want to talk to him about dying?” Because it’s hard to talk to somebody about dying. And it’s hard when you’ve been told “don’t talk about it.”

Ashley: Yeah.

Judy: And instead of having a doctor that said, “This is really a time—” Like, now we know so much more, it’s years later. You know, now we know a good thing to ask people is, “Tell me about what makes life worth living, and at what point wouldn’t your life be worth living?” Like, “Would you want to keep living if you were hooked up to a respirator for the rest of your life? If you could never go outside? If you could never this, if you could never that?” These conversations did not exist in the 70s, people didn’t talk about so many things, right? So many things were kept a secret. So, it was really a moment of awareness for me to understand that I had badgered my mother for her whole life about something, and I had actually followed in her footsteps. And I don’t think I really thought about that much. I mean, I thought about it before writing the book, but it was when I wrote it, when I wrote it down and saw those words, I felt so remorseful, so ashamed, so sorry, so sorry that I robbed my father of the—that we robbed my father and ourselves of the opportunity to say goodbye. Things we wouldn’t do now. Anyway, I do remember telling my mother that, and I remember — “Well, don’t worry about it!”

Ashley: Yeah, her advice throughout life.

Judy: But that was a motto that went a long—she just… had to look at the sunny side of things.

Ashley: Yeah. That was her coping mechanism, is what it sounds like.

Judy: She had to look at the glass half-full.

Sam: Right.

Judy: Right.

Sam: Well, it reminds me of, you know, as therapists, we often want to give our clients, like you said, Judy, what we needed as kids. But I think, you know, it seems like your mother was trying to give you what works for her.

Judy: Exactly.

Sam: As a gift. You know, “Don’t worry about it! People don’t want to hear your problems. This is the best way to do things.”

Judy: You’re absolutely right. Like, the good mother gives her child her coping mechanisms.

Sam: Yeah.

Judy: Like, a patient of mine said recently, she was talking about her sexual relationship with her husband, and I said, “Well, do you think maybe you should tell them the things that you don’t like?” And she said, “My mother, my mother told me sex is like vacuuming, just do it.”

 EVERYONE LAUGHS

Sam: Wow!

Judy: I couldn’t make that up, right?

Sam: Right, right.

Ashley: Just do it, right?

Sam: But we really internalize these messages and—

Judy: That’s the point, we internalize these messages. So, on the one hand, we want to be optimistic and support our children as parents. But on the other hand, it’s really important that parents take time and take their kids seriously. And if the kid says, “I hate football, I don’t want to play,” a parent has to listen to that. Even if it was this parent’s, this father’s dream in life that he was going to be a star of the football team, and now he has a son who could be star. And the son hates football, and the son is afraid of football.

Sam: Right.

Judy: Right. And so sometimes we, you know, intrude in ways that we don’t mean to. We can’t help it because as parents, we’re imperfect, right? We have our own stuff, and we try to do our best, and we try to be as thoughtful as we can be.

Ashley: Judy, I’m curious, I want to back up for just a minute. We jumped in and we’re talking about your new book and a lot of the family sessions or times that you’ve worked with families. Has that always been a part of your therapeutic path in your therapeutic career as a clinician, or did the family work kind of evolve over the years?

Judy: No, I’ll tell you how it evolved, because I got my first, I saw my first eating disorder patient and my first patient in 1978. And at that time, therapists were trained that one person is the young girl’s therapist, and the parents have their own therapist. And I had an office adjacent to another therapist, and we used to talk about everything all the time. And I thought, we thought, “Why are we not talking with the patients and the parents? Why are we doing all this on our own time?”

Ashley: Yeah!

Judy: Session one, session two, session three. Why aren’t we doing this? And so I then, I was training at The Center for the Study of Anorexia and Bulimia in the city, and there was a family therapy component. And I went into that, and it was headed by a guy named Ron Taffel who is still around, still writing books and doing training, and it was great. And that’s of course what they said. They said, “It’s the family.” It’s not like one person sees the kid, one person sees the family. So, right off the bat, I would say. And this appealed to me. I think it also appealed to me because I’m a very, like, active person. And if you do family—I mean anybody out there listening to this, a family session is really unpredictable.

Ashley: Yes, it is!

Judy: You just never know who’s going to say what.

Sam/Ashley: Right.

Judy: Who’s going to say what, or what direction it’s going to go in. And you can think that you’re going to plan the thing out, but you can’t.

Ashley: That’s so true.

Judy: You have to be a person who has a love for spontaneity, and is able to think on your feet, and is able to sit—to not be an expert and to say, “Well let’s all think about this, look what just happened. You said this, and you now exploded, and you’re crying, and we only have 10 minutes left! Now what?”

Sam: Mhm, exactly.

Ashley: Oh, yeah. And with that, so kind of initially seeing that you wanted to work in the family system, how then or where did that kind of evolve to leading you to working with mothers and daughters specifically?

Judy: Oh, well, you see, this also goes back to my mother, and that’s another thing.

Ashley: Yeah!

Judy: I read this, um—anyway, I forget the name of the person. Somebody was writing a book review and she said, “Never forget that research is me-search. That the things we research—”

Ashley: Oh, yes!

Judy: Right, right. So, when I was in graduate school and I had—So, I started out wanting to be a writer, so I’m kind of lucky that I’ve become a writer and a therapist.

Ashley: Yes.

Judy: But I’m in graduate school getting a PhD in psychology. And I have to pick a dissertation, and I think, “What am I going to write my dissertation about?” And I’m thinking, and I came up with the topic “The Effects of Maternal Employment on Children,” because at this time women were all stay-at-home mothers. And I’m thinking, “I’m getting my PhD, and the idea of staying home was very unappealing to me. And what’s going to happen to me?” So, I researched the topic: “What happens to a child when mom goes to work?” And I didn’t really realize that I was researching the topic of what makes a good enough mother? Can you be a good enough mother if you’re working? How much work? So, I looked at part time work, full time work, sporadic work. I did all these elaborate work histories of women who, first child, they stayed home for six months, next child, they stayed home for a year. Like, what even category do they fit in, you know? But I was—so, I have been interested in the topic of parenting since I wrote my dissertation.

Ashley: Wow.

Judy: Isn’t that interesting?

Ashley: That’s incredible, yeah.

Judy: Okay. And then, so then in the family work I did—So, I get out of graduate school, it’s 1978, and I start seeing families. But families still were comprised of lots of mothers who didn’t work all the time and lots of fathers who were never available. So, family sessions often became mother-daughter sessions. And it was also the mothers who brought the kids to therapy. So, it was easy. And the thing that’s hard for anybody listening, a parent or a therapist, there is no formula. Some therapists say, “I need to see your mother once a month, even if it’s just for 15 minutes, and I want you to be there,” you know? Like, the whole idea is, therapy is a stepping stone to building relationships, but the relationships that need to get built in the end are in the outside world, right? And with the family. And so, any ways we can help kids be able to talk to their parents is something that’s always on my to-do list. But often the first step is for them to even get a sense, “Yeah, if I could talk to somebody who would really listen, really listen, it can make a difference.” And I, and you can say to a parent, “I want to teach you how to really listen, can I be your coach? You’re not listening, you’re interrupting.”

Sam: Right, or–

Judy: “Is your mom listening?” No, we all have trouble listening. Usually when we’re quote “listening,” were really planning what we’re going to say next.

Ashley: That’s very true.

Sam: I love the idea of being a coach for the parents.

Judy: Me too!

Sam: And giving them the tools that, you know, the active listening tools, and really teaching them—you don’t have to agree necessarily with what your child’s saying to validate them.

Judy: That’s right. That—repeat that, because that is very important.

Sam: You don’t have to agree with what your kid is saying to emotionally validate them. And I think parents have a hard time with that, they struggle with that. I don’t know if, I’m sure you have plenty of examples of that, Judy.

Judy: Well, I think it’s very hard to hear things that we don’t want to hear, whether it’s from a child or from anybody, you know. It’s very hard for a parent to hear, you know, a parent who wants their kid to get out of the house on the weekend and the kid wants to stay home, right? It’s very hard for a parent to hear, “I don’t have any friends, I don’t know what I want to do. He’s boring, he’s boring,” you know. And it’s very hard for a parent to say, “Well, let’s figure something out because you’re not staying home.” You know, “You were home all day yesterday and today. It’s nice day out, it’s not good for you.” Like, the parent is still the authority figure. And how does the parent provide an opportunity without being too authoritative and authoritarian, right? And then a child feels nobody’s listening. And so how does a parent figure out how to have conversations about this? Like, “I know you probably think I don’t care, but I do care.” You know, “I know you think I’m not listening. Tell me what’s wrong with the idea of going to play baseball with Jack” or whatever, you know. Or “Why you don’t want to go? We want to go visit Aunt Jane and the family; I thought you liked those kids. Last time you were up there having a great time with them!” Child says, “I hate them.”

Sam: Yeah.

Judy: Well, parent can say a lot, but how does the parent show that they’re really listening? “Well, it’s important to learn to get along with people, this is your family, these are people who are gonna be here for you when you get older.” Then the kid turns away. It’s very difficult. I mean, so one thing I say, you know, no conversation ever has too really be over. You can always come back and say the next day, “I was thinking about our conversation, and I hope I didn’t hurt your feelings. I really was trying to understand you.”

Sam: Yes, I love that.

Judy: Often we don’t know what our kids take in, you know?

Sam: Yeah, yeah. And it’s never too late to go back and—

Judy: It’s never too late.

Sam: Never. Years can go by, and to say, “I’ve been thinking about this conversation we had even five, ten years ago.”

Judy: Right! Well look, I thought about that, and I’ll tell you something interesting. I mean, the thing is, we don’t know what kids take in, but we know that we all have a negativity bias and that—like, my mother did a lot of wonderful things for me, and I wrote about them in the book, but I held on to that tonsils thing. It really bothered me. And I kept thinking, “How is this possible? I’m a therapist, I help people get over things, and I’m hanging on to this. What’s wrong with me?” But, I understand better now that, you know, the negativity bias that is hardwired into us means that we really try to protect ourselves and we try to maintain safety, and if somebody has betrayed you, you’re going to be on the lookout for that person. And that’s especially true of kids in high school, you know, a kid who gets picked on or bullied or betrayed by another kid. Yeah, they’re going to be wary of going too close to that nasty kid and they might ashamed that they got picked on. And it really takes a lot to be very present for children, right? I mean it takes us a lot to be therapists.

Ashley: Yes! Judy, I attended a talk that you did, I can’t remember, I think it was earlier this year, or may have even been the end of last year, and it was just such a powerful time in my life because I had just had my first daughter. And so, she is seven months old. But so, everything, reading your book, listening to your talks, you know, I’m trying to soak it all in myself as a brand new mother. And it—when you all said the thing, you know, “It’s never too late to go back and talk. It’s never too late to revisit the conversation.” You know, we have community members out there listening, we do have therapists, we’ve got dietitians, we have parents, we have people that have maybe been somewhere within the eating disorder community before, and I just think that that’s such a lovely thing to be able to share with all of them.

Judy: It is. It’s a wonderful take away. And I did many, many workshops with Adrienne Ressler.

Ashley: Yeah, yeah!

Judy: She and I worked together, and we had one little thing we used to call it— “Here are the takeaways, we’ll tell you them right from the beginning!” And it was always “Train, don’t blame.” That therapist should train parents, not blame them, and parents can get trained rather than blame themselves. Because the things we do that are wrong, often we did inherit them. Like, the woman who thinks that sex is like vacuuming, right?

Sam/Ashley: Right! Exactly.

Judy: That’s a pretty heavy message to get.

Ashley: Yeah, yeah.

Sam: Judy, when I read about the story, the story about the tonsils and you thought you were going to your cousin’s birthday party. I, of course, thought to myself, you know, all of the times I’ve worked with clients and there’s this major rupture they have with the parent, this memory that they just can’t let go of and this endless pursuit to try to resolve it, whether it’s with their parent or with a partner or whatever it may be. But one of the things that comes up, what I’ve noticed, is that parents, when we try to resolve this rupture, there are so many parents that say, “I don’t remember that.” And I was so curious how you handle that, because I think there’s parents out there that maybe their kids trying to come to them, “Oh my God, this hurt me so much. Why did you do this?” And they say, “I didn’t do that. I didn’t say that. You’re not remembering it.” What would be— what’s your advice?

Judy: My advice is that if you don’t remember it, it’s perfectly fine to say, you know, “I can’t remember that, so tell me what happened.”

Ashley: Yeah.

Judy: “Tell me what happened. I don’t know why, but I can’t remember it.” Or especially if you don’t remember it that way, you know, you have another version.

Sam: Right, yeah.

Judy: Right. “Tell me what you’re remembering,” and then to try to really become and soak it in and say, “My goodness, I did that? I have to believe you; I do believe you. And I feel so badly because obviously this hurt you so much if you’re carrying it around for a month, a year, five years. Right? I’m so sorry. I’m so sorry.” But you can’t say, “Well, I don’t remember it and I’m so sorry.”

Sam: Or, “That’s not the way it happened. You got it wrong.”

Judy: Right, right, right.

Sam: “Let me tell you what really happened.”

Judy: That’s right.

Sam: Yeah.

Judy: So, it’s human nature to be defensive if somebody says to you, you know, “You really set a bad example. I remember when you stole $100 from somebody,” and you might say “What?! I never did that!”

Sam: Right. Right, exactly.

Judy: Something that’s completely alien, and you think, “I would never do anything like that!” But this kid has a story in their mind and it’s well worth a parent’s while to hear what the story was.

Ashley: To hear what their version of the story was.

Judy: The child’s version. And just understand, because we as therapists know, we don’t know the truth, we weren’t there. We weren’t there, we don’t know what happened when somebody was eight years old. But we hear the patient’s pain, and we say, “Oh my God, this is still weighing on you ten years later. That’s really important.” And it is important. And what’s important is that that is what is weighing on this patient, this kid, ten years later. And for a parent to just even be able to be empathic now, just like we would be to a friend, a friend, you know, but a parent—Look what you just said, Ashley, you know, about having a baby, and it’s so stressful to be a parent. It’s so stressful to be a parent! That’s another thing. We have this vision of parenthood like it’s easy. It’s so not easy.

Ashley: And I don’t even know the half of it, Judy, I’m seven months in!

Judy: Right! You’re seven months in. And I’m sure everybody tells you it gets easier and then it gets harder.

Ashley: Right. That is—

Judy: The no sleep stage is terrible.

Ashley: Yes, we’re getting better with that. Yeah. I was just reading, or wanted to ask you about a particular quote in your book. And it’s towards the end, Judy, you were talking about revising your narrative and it just spoke to me. Do you mind if I read this excerpt?

Judy: No, I love it! I love it! I bet I know what it is.

Ashley: You said:

  • “In writing this book I’ve revised my narrative from a story of a disappointed daughter to a story of a grateful daughter. My resentments have not evaporated, but are now rebalanced with my sense of admiration for my imperfect mother. Grief has been my teacher, helping me understand, accept, and make peace with the fragility of life, the complexity of love, and the imperfections inherent in all relationships, especially mothering.

Ashley: Um, oh my word—

Judy: I love—you know, when you read it, when you read it, it makes me cry too. And I feel like, “Who wrote that great sentence?”

EVERYONE LAUGHS

Ashley: I truly, when we knew you were gonna come on here, I thought to myself, “Okay, Ashley, hold it together. Don’t cry, don’t cry.” But that, wow, that is beautiful. And sitting here myself, being a 37-year-old woman who definitely has quite the relationship with her mother as well, the idea of reframing that story of a disappointed daughter into a grateful daughter is beautiful and so healing to me. Um and I just wanted to say that, and read that, and share that with everyone, and would love for you to speak to that a little bit more if you want.

Judy: I don’t know what to say! I mean, it was the beauty for me in writing the book, is that I transformed—it’s gonna make me cry to say this—I transformed my own story. The name of this book when I started writing it was “Careless Love.” And I had a big paragraph from the beginning that my mother was queen of carelessness. She cared if my bedspread matched the curtains, but she didn’t care if my best friend dumped me. She cared about, you know, that I had the right shoes to go with the right party dress. But by the end of the book, I understood that she gave me everything, including her pink cashmere sweater, you know? She wanted me to have a good life and that—I mean, this brings up another whole topic, I’ll come back another time. Um, about women, that my mother didn’t have the opportunities that I had. And that I wrote in the beginning of that book, my mother was born in 1918, one year before women had the right to vote.

Ashley: Yes.

Sam: Wow.

Judy: And my mother didn’t think of challenging doctors, and didn’t think about all these emotional complexities. She just thought it was important to love your family. And I have to say, she did pass that on to me. And she passed on the desire for me to become a therapist, so I probably would never have become a therapist if I didn’t have the mother I had.

Ashley: Yeah, yeah.

Judy: I always think, “What is the silver lining?” And she gave me a lot of other good stuff. Plus, anybody out there has to read the book, I came to see she was the original Girl in the Red Boots. She held on to her desires. But women being ambitious and having desires were not part of what happened when she grew up in the 30s. Women were supposed to stay home.

Sam: And your mother was really remarkable in that way, going to college in her 60’s!

Judy: She was remarkable in that way. And I recently had cataract surgery, and I had to stay home for a whole day without looking at any screens or reading after that. So, I got some things lined up to listen to, and I listened to Madeleine Albright, her eulogy. She died a few months ago and somebody was replaying the funeral. And Hillary Clinton stood up and she said, “Madeline and I both went to Radcliffe and we were only 11 years apart, but we were generations apart. Because when Madeline graduated, the person who came and gave the graduation speech said, ‘You are the luckiest group of women. You have just graduated Radcliffe, and you should stay home and raise children who can go to Ivy League Schools.’”

Sam: Wow.

Judy: That’s what he said at Madeleine Albright’s funeral—at her graduation. And by the time Hillary graduated, women were going to law school and everything. It was like a generation leap, right?

Ashley: Yeah, wow.

Judy: So, my mother was from—I really did come to understand that my mother was a person of her generation, as we all are.

Sam/Ashley: Yeah, yeah.

Judy: Thank you for being so self-revealing about what it was, what it’s like to be a new mother, because it is such a big challenge.

Ashley: It has been the most different thing I’ve ever experienced in my life, you know, and I love it!

Judy: And no preparation, right? No preparation.

Ashley: There is no preparation! You can read anything, you can listen to anybody, but you really have no idea how parenthood is going to completely change the entirety of you, you know? Yeah. Judy, thank you so much for being with us.

Judy: All right, thank you, this was great! This was great. I loved talking to the both of you.

Sam: Thank you, Judy, I hope you come back soon.

Judy: We will be in touch soon, okay?

Ashley: Thanks, Judy. Bye!

Ashley: Thank you for listening with us today on All Bodies. All Foods. presented by The Renfrew Center for Eating Disorders.

Sam: We’re looking forward to you joining us next time as we continue these conversations.

[Bouncy theme music plays.]

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