The Richness of Differences

The Richness of Differences

Today’s world puts an undue amount of focus on the differences separating genders, races, and ethics. Instead of condemning the differences making each of us unique, why aren’t we celebrating the richness of those differences? Dr. Michelle Deering, clinical psychologist and Mother-Daughter Relationship Consultant, encourages all of us to stop keeping track of everything that sets us apart and instead start celebrating and empathizing with the uniqueness of our stories.

Before we dive in, why don’t you tell our readers a little about yourself?

Dr. Deering: Personally, I am the daughter of a single mom who raised me in the Bronx, NY. I’ve been married for over 26 years to my BFF and we are the parents of twin daughters who are “newly minted” young adults.

Educationally, I earned my Bachelor’s Degree in Biology from Brown University, my Master’s in Education from Cambridge University, and my Doctorate in Counseling Psychology from Rutgers University.

Business-wise, I am the CEO and founder of Curative Connections, a premier consulting company located in the Triangle area of North Carolina.

Professionally, as a Mother-Daughter Relationship Consultant, I help moms and daughters get clarity about themselves so they can connect intentionally and improve relationally with each other. I am also trained and licensed (in NC & NJ) as a clinical psychologist and am a board-certified sports psychologist. I have earned further certification in EMDR (Eye Movement Desensitization Reprocessing) Therapy, which I use to help people who’ve experienced trauma and athletes who are looking to improve their athletic performance or recover from sport injury. Over the course of my 20+ years in the field, I’ve spent a majority of my time working with college-aged students and young adults.

My mom always told me “to prevent something is better than to cure it.” I approach helping people more from a prevention perspective with a prescriptive plan. This is the way I’ve interacted with and helped the younger generations for decades.

Now my heart’s focus is to proactively help moms improve their connection with their daughters who (if they so choose) will be the “mothers” of the next generation. To that end, I authored my first book, What Mothers Never Tell Their Daughters: 5 Keys to Building Trust, Restoring Connection, & Strengthening Relationships. It was published and released worldwide in April 2018. For the past year, I’ve been traveling promoting my book and speaking to moms and daughters about principles for developing meaningful connections with each other.

There are so many “tough” topics living in the world today, it sometimes is hard to keep up. You have a powerful philosophy involving the mother/daughter relationship and how that has the power to alter the future of these difficult topics and situations. Would you walk us through that?

Dr. Deering: Yes, there are plenty of tough topics. From gender inequalities in the workplace, to racial politics that have squelched honest and intelligent discourse, to domestic violence and sexual abuse/harassment issues—all of these (and I could go on) are topics that impact women on so many levels.

As technology brings the reality of these issues closer to our fingertips and eyeballs, women are more insidiously inundated with negative messages about their inherent worth, degree of safety, and intellectual capacity. It all seems enough to fill any well-meaning mom with fear enough to want to lock up her daughter in a room and throw away the key.

Though I doubt there are moms who purposefully lock up their daughters— physically-speaking—I do think that moms can and sometimes do mentally, emotionally, and spiritually “lock up” their daughters, metaphorically-speaking. The genesis of this “lock up” starts in a young girl’s formative years and can proceed into the later years as her mom reacts to her daughter’s growth, maturation, and separation from her. Through my book or when I speak to moms/mom groups, I ask moms and daughters to pause to consider their actions, reactions, and reasoning.

One of the most common comments I get after people meet me is, “You’re so easy to talk to.” I think that is because I engage people in a way that is very welcoming and nonjudgmental. When I pause to consider why that is, I think back to my own mom who, when I was growing up, was very critical of anything I did. So my response to those early childhood experiences was to intentionally not interact with people the way my mom did with me.

I’ve found in my clinical and consultation practice that if moms don’t get a handle on their own answers to the “whys” behind their actions, then they are more prone to “miss it” in their efforts of connecting with their daughters. When those misses happen, the resulting hurt, self-doubt, overcompensating activities, catty-ness, and comparison behaviors end up chipping away at their own mind, heart, and spirit and that gets passed down to their daughters.

My heart is to help more moms break the generational cycles of “missing it” in their mother-daughter relationship patterns.

Can women who aren’t moms have the same kind of impact on the rising generation of women?

Dr. Deering: Most definitely! There are plenty of women who can have a significant impact; both single women and those women whose children have grown up and/or moved away from home.

There are ways in which women without children have the time and a different “outsider“ perspective that can connect with the next generation. I think women who are older can provide a different perspective that speaks from a place of practicality or self-sufficiency that is an invaluable example to the next generation.

When I paused to consider this, I realized how much I benefited from care of the single elderly woman who’d taken in my mom when she had fled her abusive husband. This woman gave my mom a place to stay and healthy food to eat. Her kindness and acceptance helped my mom during her pregnancy with me just long enough so that my mom could get her bearings and find employment.

When I was single, I spent the first seven years of my Christian life mentoring younger women in formal and informal ways. Those women now are high-ranking administers in primary and secondary education, ministry leaders, physicians, and stay-at-home moms whose children are positively impacting the next generation.

Both women with children and those without children, those married and those single, need to support and affirm each other and realize that society needs women at every stage of life. Women need to know that they are all integral members of the “village” raising the daughters (and sons) of the next generation. Every woman matters. It doesn’t matter what her state or status in life is. One woman can make a difference…one life at a time.

“Pause to consider” is kind of your catchphrase. And an excellent mantra for when you’re facing a “tough topic” situation! What are some ways to practically apply the art of pausing and considering? 

Dr. Deering: It has been said by some writers and social scientists that internally women are “like spaghetti” and men are “like waffles.” Without getting too deep into the “waffle” side of things, when it comes to “spaghetti” this simply means that for women, everything is connected. What happens in the kitchen in the morning can extend into the bedroom at night. Every experience women have and everything they think, feel, and do is connected and not easily parceled out into compartments (e.g. “waffles”) like men are able to do.

With that said, it is very easy for women to be reactive instead of responsive to situations. By reactive, I mean that we can get caught up in a feeling-action pattern that is so “circular” and “spaghetti”-like that it can be hard to figure out where the strand began. The default mode is to react—blow up—with just enough knowledge that “something” upset us but still not be fully clear about the real origin of what upset us.

Though not stereotypically true, most women have a proclivity to feel first. Feelings are just feelings, but they occur so quickly that we act upon those feelings without giving consideration to what thoughts informed those initial feelings. For example, I had a tween daughter’s mom who, regarding her thoughts and preferences, would acquiesce her thoughts and preferences when her daughter’s coach would express opinionated dismissive comments about the mental side of her sport. This occurrence impacted the mother. She prematurely interrupted her daughter’s sport psychology care in order to avoid the coach’s comments. What this mother did not pause to consider was the way in which her own mother’s declarative way of expressing her opinions communicated to her daughter the belief that everyone should fall in line with her mom’s opinion. Thus, the tween daughter’s mom became voiceless, especially in the presence of someone who (unconsciously) reminded her of her own mom. The unfortunate part of all this is that, unbeknownst to this tween daughter’s mother, this acquiescing pattern was being “taught” and transferred to her daughter and being played out in the way she cared for her own daughter. This mother needed to pause to consider what her internal reactions were each time she would hear her daughter’s coach rant about her opinions.

I was recently at a women’s gathering where the luncheon had a panel that consisted of one white female, one black female, and one Native American female. The discussion topic was race relations. Attendees shared many opinions and comments and asked great questions. It was a good first step for having the difficult race conversation.

After the lunch, a white woman came up to me and asked how I had first felt when I walked into their organization’s luncheon and the attendees were 98% white females. I explained to her that the experience of being the “only one” in the room was nothing new to me. Before I could elaborate on my response, the woman told me about her experience of going to an outdoor political event that had a majority of black people present. She explained that her reason for going to the event was that she agreed with the group’s agenda. She went further to tell me, through many tear-filled eyes and a trembling voice, that upon recalling her experience at that political event she could now understand how I might have felt being the “only (black) one” at the luncheon. She said that she had felt scared, alone, and isolated.

What struck me about this woman was that she took the time to pause in the middle of the luncheon and consider how someone like me—a black Jamaican-American female— might feel. The process of her pausing to consider had opened her heart and mind to recall an experience she had had that was similar in setting and scenario and that led her to “go there” emotionally. This is the essence of empathy. This woman was honest with her thoughts and feelings, which allowed us to really look each other in the eyes and know that we were connecting at a deeper heart level.

Many times, as moms who have daughters, we see ourselves in our children, make assumptions, and then try to empathize. However, empathy involves pausing to consider at a deeper thought and feeling level—putting ourselves in the other person’s shoes. This takes courage, time, and effort.

How can we, as a society, help each other get past stereotypes and years of misinformation to live a more loving and inclusive coexistence?

Dr. Deering: First, I think it is important to understand that, as human beings, we are wired to make distinctions, categorize, and protect ourselves. It is a survival mechanism that exists within humans. By accepting as a starting point of discussion that those mechanisms are in place, we can then talk about how we can use those inherent human qualities to bring people together instead of how they are separating and pushing people apart.

I recently heard a speaker say that race divides and ethnicity and diversity unites.

If we take out the racial context, there is a profound truth in that statement. Look at the beauty in the nature around us. The beauty of nature exists by the mere fact that there are different elements that make up what we see in nature. Leaves are comprised of different cells, shapes, colors. Look at a tree. The leave on the trees are on different branches and have different markings on them, different shapes, sizes; the roots have different links, directions different processes. The soil in which the roots exist have different textures, extend to different depths. Do you see the point I’m making? If those differences did not exist or, worse yet, if I could not see or appreciate those differences, then I would just be looking at and interacting with something akin to a blob. And, just from my perspective, a blob is boring.

Wait a moment. I need to pause to consider what I just said.

You know, in all fairness, a “blob” actually brings its own variety to the things already existing around me. Its existence adds a richness to my overall experience of life even though I may not fully understand it yet.

You see, my thoughts or opinions about a blob being “boring” are just that—my opinion. My opinion—your opinion—can differ from someone else’s opinion.

Now, in the marketplace of public discourse, there is a contradiction of expectations regarding differing opinions. The prevailing social expectation is for people to be tolerant and accepting of everyone’s opinions (aka we need to have the same opinion). While I don’t understand that logic, I contend that even if people’s opinions were the same, those people arrived at those opinions from different life experiences that are unique to them. But we will never hear or learn about that uniqueness if we don’t first pause to consider the things we do and say.

As for misinformation, I think there are two kinds. The first kind of misinformation is the kind that is intentionally perpetrated and produced. This is best addressed by honestly examining the underlying motives behind the perpetuation of the misinformation. Once that is done, then people have a decision to make as to what they will or will not take in as truth. The second kind of misinformation is that which results from unexplored erroneous assumptions that have been perpetuated. The best way to address this kind of misinformation is to seek and/or figure out, with a heart to understand, what factors have impacted a person either to have a blind spot or to have come to conclusions that might not be fully accurate.

We all have a story. Our story is our life story. Our life stories are valid. We have lived and are living our stories. And we need to find ways to give voice to our stories and (respectfully) express and communicate our stories through our pain, triumphs, loneliness, and togetherness. These stories have made and make us who we are in the present moment.

We who hear their stories need to listen with an open heart and mind without judgment so that we can reach a new degree of understanding about a person’s story. That story can enrich, enhance, and educate our own story…if we let it.

Moms of daughters need to realize that allowing their daughter to find her own voice and be her own person is the greatest gift that she can give her daughter. This is an aspect of what it means to give your daughter unconditional love.

Where do we begin? I think the late Michael Jackson said it best: “If you want to make the world a better place, Take a look at yourself, and then make a change.”

Dr. Michelle Deering helps mothers and daughters get clarity about themselves so that connect more intentionally and improve relationally with each other. In 2018, her book, What Mothers Never Tell Their Daughters: 5 Keys To Building Trust, Restoring Connection, & Strengthening Relationships

As a North Carolina state-licensed clinical psychologist and board-certified sport psychologist, Dr. Deering has guest blogged for Parent Magazine and been a featured guest interviewee on numerous podcasts, radio shows, and online magazines.

A graduate of Brown University, Dr. Deering is the founder and CEO of Curative Connections, a consulting company offering mother-daughter relationship consultation and motivational/keynote speaking services.

Michelle and her husband, Scott, compete in Reebok Spartan obstacle course races. She is also a drummer and curler. Married 26 years, Michelle and Scott are the parents of young adult twin daughters. Stay connected and create calm in your life. Get Dr. Deering’s FREE PDF 4 Tips 4 Busy Moms.