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The Caribbean Mother-Daughter Dynamic Swimming In Authoritarian Waters


By Ann Dillard, LMFT


In the colorful tapestry of Caribbean culture, with its vibrant traditions, melodious rhythms, and delectable cuisines, lies an undercurrent that has shaped many a mother-daughter relationship: the authoritarian parenting style. Rooted in a history of resilience, survival, and a drive for excellence, this approach can profoundly impact the evolving bond between mothers and their daughters.


Authoritarian Caribbean Mothers: A Closer Look

The Caribbean mother, known for her strength and tenacity, often leans towards an authoritarian parenting style. It's not uncommon to hear proverbs like, "Children should be seen and not heard," echoing the ethos of many Caribbean households. Strict rules, high expectations, and a rigid structure with little room for flexibility characterize this parenting style.


The Impact on Daughters

  • Emotional Suppression: Daughters raised by authoritarian Caribbean mothers often learn to suppress their feelings, desires, and dreams. They may find it challenging to express emotions healthily, leading to bottled-up frustrations and unresolved resentments.

  • Criticisms Over Compliments: With a constant emphasis on high standards and perfection, daughters might constantly feel under scrutiny. The frequent criticisms can eclipse the compliments, causing self-esteem issues.

  • Rebellion or Compliance: Such an environment can lead to two extreme reactions in daughters: rebellion against the constraints or excessive compliance out of fear or a desire to gain approval. Both reactions can stifle a daughter's sense of self.

  • Communication Barriers: The "because I said so" mantra often limits open dialogue. Daughters might hesitate to approach their mothers with personal problems or doubts, fearing backlash or dismissal.


The Underlying Intent

Understanding that the authoritarian approach often springs from a place of love, care, and a deep-seated desire to equip daughters with tools for a successful life is essential. Many Caribbean mothers have faced and overcome tremendous adversities and aim to instill resilience and discipline in their daughters.


A Way Forward: Bridging the Divide

  • Open Dialogue: Encourage conversations where both mother and daughter can express their feelings without judgment. Understanding each other's perspectives can go a long way in building mutual respect.

  • Empathy is Key: Emphasize the importance of empathy. Mothers can benefit from recalling their own youth, and daughters can try to understand the cultural and historical context that has shaped their mothers' beliefs.

  • Seek External Guidance: Sometimes, a neutral third-party perspective, like counseling or family therapy, can help bridge the communication gap.


Incorporating Dr. John Gottman’s Insight


Renowned for his work on relationship dynamics, Dr. John Gottman identifies "stonewalling" as one of the "Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse" that can predict the dissolution of relationships. Stonewalling, a form of emotional withdrawal, can be likened to the silent treatments occasionally deployed in authoritarian dynamics. Recognizing and addressing this behavior is essential for a healthy mother-daughter relationship.


The authoritarian nature of some Caribbean mothers, while rooted in love, can pose challenges. By fostering open communication, practicing empathy, and striving for mutual understanding, the mother-daughter duo can navigate these choppy waters, steering their relationship towards calmer shores. Remember, the journey of healing and understanding is continuous, but every step taken is a stride towards a stronger bond.

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