By COLLEEN CREAMER
The famous author talks about the concerns of boomer women and how to leave a positive legacy for the next generation.
Boomer women are now the sandwich generation — trying to cope with their mothers’ mounting health issues while also watching their daughters strike out on their own. Who better to give insights and perspective than Dr. Christiane Northrup, author of Mother-Daughter Wisdom: Creating a Legacy of Physical and Emotional Health.
ReZoom: What is the most important thing we of the boomer generation can learn from our moms?
Those WWII generation mothers who are thriving and healthy and enjoying some parts of their lives have come through a tremendous amount. My mother was coming of age during the Depression. She remembers losing the last 50 cents that the family had. She had to stand in bread lines. She watched “Sun Valley Serenade” and decided she just had to ski and managed to figure out how to practice on the railroad trestle beside her house. Movies were how people dreamed about a better life, and then WWII happened.
These women are the Pluto and Cancer generation, so it was all about home. The movie It’s a Wonderful Life so typifies what they value. It’s a home at any cost. It doesn’t matter if dad is an alcoholic. It’s the Barbara Stanwick school of charm in The Big Valley, which was one of my favorite shows when I was 13.
ReZoom: So, the legacy of our mothers is that they were grounded?
Yes, they had a sense of groundedness and a sense of earthiness, a sense of stability, what is important in the community … and it desperately needed Elvis Presley. It desperately needed those hips. Our mothers had no entitlement whatsoever. They were just sort of happy to be given a place at the table and many of them are very happy, content people, and they get a bang out of just about anything. I remember my grandmother, no matter what I gave her for a gift, she thought it was the coolest thing ever because she really had nothing. She lost her pension after working for years and years and years. So there they value the little things, and they worked for everything.
ReZoom: Do you think they valued authenticity more than generations that came after them?
That’s an interesting thought. I would say, yes. In fact that is the one thing I have drilled into my daughters. Who is real and who isn’t? At the end of the day, and here is what is really cool, is that you’ve got these grounded, taproot mothers on the one hand though they have completely bought into male authority in a way that is insane. Like when going to the doctor, they just do whatever the doctor says. It’s like they’re complete zombies. They still trust the doctor way too much, so that the entire dialogue around aging parents is who is going to drive them to the doctor and who is going to buy their meds. It’s so disempowering.
ReZoom: Those core values of family went too far and left out the needs of the individual?
It went too far toward self-sacrifice, but there is a gold nugget in there that we don’t want to lose.
ReZoom: What do you think is the most important thing that boomer women can impart to our daughters?
We can teach them that they can have whatever they want and that we are not the source of it. They need to tap into the source with a capital ‘S’. We are not the source. So, the most important thing we can do for a 20-something daughter is to live our lives really, really well and stop living our lives through them.
Let me give you a real concrete example of that. I went out after 9/11 and I bought myself a Mustang convertible — not a new one, I just wanted to feel the wind in my hair because I had the same feeling I had after Kent State, which was the world as I knew it was coming to an end. Kent State was 30 miles away. My daughter, who is a cute little blond thing, looked cute in the convertible and wanted to take it all the time. And I got such a bang out of living through her and watching her in the convertible that I never drove it, and it sort of became her car.
ReZoom: Talk about why boomer women shouldn’t try to live vicariously through our daughters.
When my daughter graduated from college, I met the guy I am currently in a relationship with, who is wonderful. By my own desire, I started to live my own life on my own terms. Here is the big danger (for boomer-aged women), and I know this is as true for married women as it is for divorced women: You look at your girls, and they are having the fun that you didn’t get to have. They are getting manicures and pedicures regularly. I didn’t get a manicure or a pedicure until I was after the age of 50.
The bar has been raised now for self-care. The legacy we have from our mothers is this self-sacrifice, burnt toast model. But I finally woke up. If I am going to stop the mother-daughter chain of pain, I had better start having a life. I’ve had a great career, but I had a pretty narrow personal life. I also had that thing going on in my head that I was too old to meet a man and all the good men were taken, and all the good ones wanted someone 20 years younger. All lies, not one of them is true. However, I had inherited the default setting: Create this incredible wonderland for your kids so that when they come home, and you have their favorite meal on the table, they love you and they want to come home. I should know better and I stopped.
ReZoom: What did you teach your daughters about money?
Imagine, I go through a divorce and they are 16 and 18, and so I suddenly had to get real about money. I talked a lot about prosperity, but as long as there were two incomes, and I was letting my husband do all the work with the money and the investing, I was not what I call financially literate. Well, suddenly I had electroshock therapy in that area. I was looking not only at being down to one income, I was looking at maybe paying alimony to an orthopedic surgeon and giving him half the book royalties. The beauty of that, and I am just so grateful, is that I read everything by Suze Ormond. Then Robert Kivosaki was the one that turned me around. I bought The Cashflow Game and started to think of myself as a business, and I made the girls play.
So, they have learned about money and residual income because I said to them, ‘I never want you to be in a situation where you have to be in a marriage for the money or you have to be in any relationship just for the money.’ And let me tell you what, when you start to teach your children about money and where it comes from, it clears up narcissism really quickly.
ReZoom: What happened when you stop underwriting your daughters lifestyle?
When you stop paying [for them], it’s no longer an idealized word game that Yale graduates can have with you when you have paid all the bills. Suddenly it’s like “Fine, whatever you like. You go ahead, but maybe there won’t be any Prada shoes this year. You decide.” I remember when I started to clamp the cord. It started with, “OK, you get this much money per month and that is it.” Then I noticed they changed how they spent their money. When they couldn’t just take me into a store and say, “Mom, look at me in this. What do you think?” Then I would pay for it because they looked so good. That is what we do, and I still do it to some extent, but I do it on my terms, and I know what I am doing, and I am not doing it out of guilt or to get them to love me.
ReZoom: How do we instill self-esteem in our daughters?
In Mother-Daughter Wisdom: Creating a Legacy of Physical and Emotional Health, I give seven different factors that are part of self-esteem like physical prowess or liking the way you look, but one of the biggest factors in self-esteem, or probably the biggest, is being paid by others for something you do well. A mother or a father telling you you’re fabulous … well, a kid isn’t stupid. They know they are not fabulous. That is what narcissism is. It’s being empty inside. There is nobody home. One of the things that has been amazing for my oldest daughter’s self-esteem is that she is a wizard with words and she can spot a typographical error at three miles, so she is doing proofreading at Random House, and she is incredible at it, and she has created her own little cottage industry. She started (out of necessity) because after college she was an English major who wanted to be an actress and live in New York City. How are you going to pay the rent?
When other people value your work and acknowledge you for your work, that is what wires in the health of the third chakra, which is self-esteem and personal power — that is the pancreas, the liver, the gall bladder, the gut. It’s your solar plexus area. So we are not doing kids any favors by thinking that self-esteem is telling them that they are loveable.
ReZoom: Do our daughters really appreciate how much easier it is for them than it was for us?
Here is what I think. We baby boom mothers broke so many rules. We are the ones who opened it up for our daughters. They can’t imagine a world without sexual freedom. They can’t imagine a world without (access to) abortion. Fasten your seatbelts on that one, of course. So, they are standing on our shoulders the way we were standing on our mother’s shoulders, and they have it harder in a way because prices are up; and if you don’t make a lot of money, it’s much harder to live well than it ever has been. So even if they are narcissistic and they whine, in many ways they have inherited a world that is a little more difficult. On the other hand, I love the idea that they are not willing to knuckle under for somebody. But as long as you don’t pay for them, then they have got to figure it out, which means that they need to live out the full potential of The Human Potential Movement. That is their job.
ReZoom: What do you say to those who say that we boomers are the ones who have messed everything up?
Oh, now that’s hysterical. You know what they say: “180 degrees from normal is not normal.” So, of course we told them that they could do everything. And now they think they are the Queen of Sheba. So, haul it back and decide what is realistic for you. It’s perfect. That is how the universe works: expansion, contraction. That is how the heart pumps. That is how all the blood vessels are. It’s very cool. So, this is what we need to do. They look at us and say that we have screwed everything up. I would laugh at them. Give me a break. Have fun with them. They are just working out of the victim archetype. They are being battered women.
ReZoom: We forget sometimes that they are really still kids.
They are very fun and what they have going for them is the spiritual tone. With (books like) The Secret and The Law of Attraction and with all of that, they get to figure out how to do that. And they don’t even question that they can get into law firms and go to medical school and that some legislators are female. It doesn’t even occur to them that that is a gift (from us to them). We did that. There is a lot that we have done, and so it’s their job to do the next thing. So, you laugh at them and say, “What’s the next thing? You’re the next thing and you will dream it up.”
We did our job really, really well.