"...I can't help but wonder how this conversation between a mother and an extremely successful but frustrated child would be different if the adult child in question were a man. I think it would be quite different.
How deep are the differences in emotional responsibilities between mothers and their adult daughters and sons?"
Wow. I hadn't really thought of that, and I absolutely should have. I do think, often and intensely, about how I mother my boys now. And about my own relationship with my mother. So I really had to think about this. I tossed the question back to Num-Num first:
Good points have been made about how the boundaries between mother and daughter appear to be looser than between mother and son. I believe that to be true, and part of the need to have your mother not take over your disappointment. In the playground, I've often seen mothers of boys be more anxious that their children stop crying and get back up from minor injuries quickly. I've also seen them tolerate more aggressive behavior in their sons than in their daughters. I would treat boys and girls exactly the same in these situations, as Hillary's mother did when her daughter was bullied. What struck me about Dorothy was that no one protected her when she was a child. She learned her own survival skills. Because she appears to have yielded to her husband after her marriage may have sent mixed messages to her daughter. (I'm not judging her at all. Her ability to raise her own family after what she endured was no mean feat.)
It's more difficult for me to comfort a son sometimes because I'm not a man, obviously. I am not always sure how much anger is useful and appropriate in a man when he's disappointed. I would have to be careful not to stifle his feelings and to respect his need to be strong, a tricky tightrope. If the anger continued, I might try the trick I've used with male bosses, become even angrier at opponents than he was so that he could see himself through my behavior.
I believe there are real differences and would be interested in what y'all think.
By the way, as I read about Dorothy Rodham's childhood, I wondered if Hillary's early interest in the movement for children's rights, for which she's been vilified, came from her knowledge of what happened to her mother.
I think Nancy hits on what I came to when considering this question. In Playful Parenting, Lawrence Cohen talks about how society wants girls to be sweet and boys to be tough. So the challenge for parents is to allow their daughters to be angry and aggressive, and to allow their sons to be vulnerable and tender. Reading this gave me one of those lightning-bolt moments of "of course!" and I think it really informs how we interact as adults as well as as children.
We're socialized to allow women to be sad, but not to be angry. So maybe mothering an adult daughter is about allowing her to be angry, aggressive, subversive, sarcastic, righteous, avenging. To balance out every other message she gets. We're socialized to allow men to be angry, but not sad. So maybe mothering an adult son is about allowing him to be sad, disappointed, vulnerable, in need of comfort. To balance out every other message he gets.
How would that play out if we were talking about Barack or John losing the race? And what do you think about it all?