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Reevaluating My Theory of Change: The Caribbean-American Mother-Daughter Dynamic

Updated: Oct 19, 2023

by Ann Dillard, LMFT

"Change often starts when we feel uncomfortable. I believe that when things get tough or feel unbearable, we truly start looking for new ways to handle and improve our situation.” Once written in the naïveté of my graduate years, these words have taken on a deeper significance as I delved into the intricate dynamics of the Caribbean-American Mother-Daughter relationship.

My early theories on change postulated that a conscious realization of discomfort would be a precursor to the desire for change. However, my ongoing research has spotlighted resilience in the Caribbean mother that challenges this perspective. Within the Caribbean cultural framework, mothers epitomize strength and resilience. They pride themselves on their ability to weather life's harshest storms, often without expressing or even acknowledging their internal turmoil. This stoic demeanor, rooted in cultural norms, traditional beliefs, and generational teachings, becomes a formidable barrier to open communication and change within the familial relationship.

This resilience, while commendable, is often laced with an aversion to change. The Caribbean mother's commitment to her cultural roots and beliefs acts as both a shield and an anchor. It protects her from the unpredictable waves of life but also holds her in a fixed position, resistant to the currents of change.

Drawing parallels with the metaphor of the boiling frog - if you place a frog in boiling water, it will instantly jump out. But place it in tepid water and slowly increase the heat. It will remain oblivious to the impending danger. Similarly, the slow-burning issues in the mother-daughter relationship, caused by cultural and generational divides, often go unnoticed until they reach a boiling point.

Several factors contribute to this phenomenon:

  • Low Levels of Introspection and Vulnerability: While introspection is revered in religious contexts, it's noticeably absent in interpersonal relationships. This disparity hinders open dialogue and self-awareness, making it challenging to address underlying issues.

  • Pride and Shame: The cultural emphasis on maintaining a strong front often translates to an unwillingness to acknowledge pain or emotional turmoil, even within the confines of the family.

  • Defensiveness and Deflection: Any hint of criticism or suggestion for change might be met with defensiveness, further inhibiting open conversations.

  • Lack of Accountability: Without acknowledging the existence of a problem, taking responsibility becomes nearly impossible.

But why is there such a discrepancy in the approach to change?

The answers lie in the weight of generational legacies and the power of cultural narratives. For the Caribbean mother, commitment to culture and loyalty to traditional values often overshadow individual needs. The ancestral stories of endurance and resilience serve as both a beacon of hope and a chain of restraint.

Surprisingly, while introspection might be scarce in the realm of personal relationships, it's richly evident in matters of faith. The Caribbean region, known for its deep-seated religiosity, sees many mothers reflecting profoundly on spiritual matters. Yet, this depth of reflection seldom spills over into their interpersonal dynamics, particularly with their daughters.

Caribbean-American daughters, influenced by a blend of traditional values and modern perspectives, often seek a more balanced relationship. Most initiations of change, or even the mere recognition of a need for it, arise from the daughters. They yearn for a connection where both parties can express themselves freely without the shadows of past narratives clouding their interactions.

They grapple with the monumental task of instigating conversations about transformation and evolution in the relationship. With a minefield of emotions to navigate, daughters often invest considerable thought into the timing, tonality, and context of these discussions. To broach subjects of change, daughters might spend days, even weeks, deliberating the perfect moment.

Their meticulous approach stems from understanding the delicate balance they need to strike to ensure their mothers are receptive.

So, how does one bridge this chasm of understanding and foster positive change?

Firstly, it's essential for both mothers and daughters to recognize and respect each other's perspectives. Daughters should approach conversations with empathy, acknowledging the cultural and generational challenges their mothers faced. Mothers, in turn, can benefit from open-mindedness, understanding that their daughters, influenced by both Caribbean and American cultures, might have different viewpoints.

Secondly, external intervention, such as therapy or counseling, can provide a neutral platform to address issues and foster understanding. Professionals familiar with the intricacies of the Caribbean-American Mother-Daughter dynamic can guide conversations, ensuring they remain constructive.

Additionally, it's crucial to create a safe space for communication. This means prioritizing non-judgmental listening over the urge to respond defensively. Both parties should be given the opportunity to express their feelings without fear of ridicule or dismissal.

Education plays a pivotal role. Reading articles, attending workshops, or participating in group sessions that delve into the Caribbean-American family dynamics can shed light on shared challenges. This shared understanding can act as a foundation to rebuild or reinforce the relationship.

Celebrating small victories is equally vital. Positive reinforcement in the form of appreciation can go a long way. Every constructive conversation, every step towards understanding, should be acknowledged and celebrated.

Moreover, it's essential to practice patience. Change, especially in deep-rooted dynamics, does not happen overnight. It's a journey, often fraught with challenges. But with consistent effort, the destination, a harmonious relationship, can be reached.

Lastly, it's imperative to remember the power of love. Beneath the layers of misunderstandings, beneath the weight of cultural and generational expectations, lies a profound bond of love between a mother and daughter. This love can be the most potent catalyst for change.

In conclusion, while my original Theory of Change served as a foundation, the unique intricacies of the Caribbean-American Mother-Daughter Relationship have added layers of depth and complexity to it. This relationship dynamic poses unique challenges. It also presents opportunities for growth, understanding, and mutual respect. By acknowledging the past, understanding the present, and working towards a harmonious future, both mothers and daughters can experience the profound beauty of a relationship enriched with love, empathy, and understanding. The journey might be long, but the destination, a bond forged in mutual respect and love, is worth every step.

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