Information on the Mother-Daughter Project for Community Activists, Academicians, and Psychotherapists

Mother with teenage daughterIn today's harsh world, how can we help girls to grow up safe and free, mothers get the support they need, and mothers and daughters sustain close and loving relationships through adolescence and beyond? Grounded in feminist research and activism, community building, and postmodern psychotherapies, the Mother-Daughter Project provides a simple yet revolutionary way to empower mothers and daughters by bringing them together in small, mutually supportive communities.

Considering the needs of mothers and the needs of daughters simultaneously is a core principle of the Mother-Daughter Project. Damaging discourses about girls and mothers insidiously interpenetrate - the "perfect mother" is "perfect girl" all grown up and facing a new set of contradictory demands. What we know as 'teen culture' is not created by teens - it's created by adults who are marketing to teens and pre-teens and don't necessarily have children's best interests in mind - nor mothers'. A particularly insidious influence that enjoys particular hegemony in European-American cultures is the separation of girls at adolescence from the one person who may be their most devoted and knowledgeable allies: their mothers. Therefore, the crux of our theoretical perspective is that two discourses need to be considered simultaneously: the discourse about what daughters need and the discourse about what mothers need. Although it may seem that the discourses of what daughters need and value and hope for and what mothers need and value and hope for might be in conflict, of course, ultimately, they cannot be. They are the same discourse. This is the crux of our perspective.

Wonderfully, in the Mother-Daughter Project, we have found that meeting the needs of girls and the needs of mothers while supporting mother-daughter relationships is actually easier and more successful than trying to tackle them separately, and it's way more fun.

While geared to the lay reader, our book, The Mother-Daughter Project: How Mothers and Daughters Can Band Together, Beat the Odds, and Thrive Through Adolescence by SuEllen Hamkins, MD and Renée Schultz, MA, is theoretically and clinically rigorous. We offer powerful deconstruction and re-construction of mother-daughter discourses, innovative understandings of adolescent and women's development and relationships, healing lines of therapeutic inquiry, lively exercises, and practical means of community building that can be easily applied by women's studies scholars, psychotherapists and community organizers. Please also see our professional article, "The Mother-Daughter Project: Creating pro-girl, pro-mother cultures through adolescence and beyond….the construction and deconstruction of mother-daughter discourses" by SuEllen Hamkins, Renée Schultz, Tiama Hamkins-Indik, Franny Hamkins-Indik, Mia Schultz-Baer, and the Gamma Girls Mother-Daughter Group of the Mother-Daughter Project. The International Journal of Narrative Therapy and Community Work, 2003, No. 4.

Mom with two daughtersThe Mother-Daughter Project is a grassroots community project informed by the values of feminist activism, feminist psychologies, narrative psychotherapy and non-violent communication. By feminist we mean ideas and actions based on the value that all women and men, all boys and girls, have inherently equal worth - a definition clarified for us by Estelle Freedman. Women and girls today enjoy the fruits of the waves of feminism that brought us the vote, orgasms, our own checking accounts and a realistic chance to become president of our country. Feminist psychologists such as Jean Baker Miller and Carol Gilligan honor the health and strength of girls' and women's experiences and ways of relating, and let us know that we aren't crazy if we aren't satisfied with the status quo. Narrative psychotherapy, developed by Michael White, David Epston, Jill Freeman and Gene Combs, based on post-modern anthropologies, understands our lives as stories, seeking to expose and deconstruct unhelpful stories and discourses that undermine us while discovering, fleshing out and disseminating stories and actions that celebrate our unique values and preferences. Non-violent communication, developed by offers us ways of relating to one another that honor all of our individual feelings and needs while seeking peaceful, mutual means of meeting our needs.

In developing the Mother-Daughter Project, we draw upon myriad sources of knowledge about women and girls. First, we draw upon our own experiences as mothers of daughters and participant-observers in mothers-only and mother-daughter groups in the Mother-Daughter Project for the last eleven years. Secondly, we draw on experiences speaking with women and girls in our professional capacities as teachers, community organizers and activists, and psychotherapists. Some our particular expertise includes: Erin Berard has been teaching elementary school children for twenty years as well as working with children and mothers as a family liaison for a domestic violence shelter and for a family outreach program for an adolescents with mental health needs. Renée Schultz, MA, has been a marriage and family therapist for over 25 years. SuEllen Hamkins, MD was from 1992 until 2004 the psychiatrist at Smith College where she personally consulted with over a thousand women ages 16-22, as well as consulting at a community mental health clinic in which she worked with women of all ages and all walks of life. She is now in private practice, specializing in women's mental health. Third, we draw on conversations with women, girls and mothers from Chicago to Oaxaca, Mexico to Adelaide, Australia to Hong Kong and back to western Massachusetts as we have presented talks and workshops about the Mother-Daughter Project around the world. Our fourth source of knowledge and information is research and writing about women, girls, teens and mothers.

We are interested in sharing our work to continue important commitments in our lives to promote the well-being of women and girls in a world in which patriarchy dominates. As we begin to bring this work forward, it has generated interest, energy and hope in many people who share feminist values. Furthermore, as we have engaged in more conversations about this work, important and useful questions have been brought forward that help us remain true to our intentions and hopes.

Many aspects of our work offer us hope and sustenance. Experiencing the support for ourselves as mothers and seeing the difference our work is making in the lives of our daughters brings us deep satisfaction and joy. In addition, seeing the enthusiasm our work has generated and the ways in which others are inspired to begin or go further with feminist projects of their own gives us hope that the world can change to better support mothers and daughters.

Mothers and daughters at the March on WashingtonThe biggest dilemma we have in bringing our work forward is our concern to avoid implying that the ideas and practices of The Mother-Daughter Project constitute the "correct" way to exemplify feminist values for mothers and daughters. We wish to validate the ingenuity that people, especially mothers, have shown in facing sexist challenges, and to offer them hope and inspiration. We do not want to burden mothers with new demands or expectations. Another concern we have is including in our thinking all the myriad ways in which loving relationships are created between care-providers and children. Although our focus has been on mothers and daughters, we intend our work to support feminist perspectives on all family relationships. One final concern we have is the grief our work evokes for women on many levels, including awareness of the losses they have faced due to sexism and to the absence of the kinds of supports The Mother-Daughter Project provides. Our hope is to increase the sense of possibility for feminist action for anyone at any time and for everyone to know they can take another step in the direction in which they wish to go.

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