Releasing Your Daughter to God’s Care
About the Guest
Do you and your daughter find yourself at odds more times than not? You’re not alone. Today mother daughter duo Cheri Fuller and Ali Plum talk about what they’ve done to smooth out the wrinkles in their sometimes bumpy relationship.
Do you and your daughter find yourself at odds more times than not? You’re not alone.
Releasing Your Daughter to God’s Care
Bob: When our children become young adults and start making choices on their own, sometimes foolish choices, as moms and dads we can want to step in and try to control what’s going on. That almost never works. That was the experience of Ali Plum and her mom, Cheri Fuller.
Ali: We can’t control each other’s journeys. We can’t control each other’s process of faith or coming to God or back to God. We can’t control and manipulate each other’s personalities.
Cheri: It’s harder for a mom to let go when she’s concerned about her daughter. That’s the reality. I was letting go physically, but emotionally it was harder to let go. And a lot of moms are there.
Bob: This is FamilyLife Today for Thursday, May 12th. Our host is the President of FamilyLife, Dennis Rainey, and I’m Bob Lepine.
What happens when there is a growing dissonance in the mother-daughter duet? We are going to find out today.
And welcome to FamilyLife Today. Thanks for joining us. I know I’ve asked you this before, but honestly I don’t remember what you said. So I’m going to have to ask you again, okay?
Bob: At some point in the past we’ve had this conversation about parent-child relationships and which are the easiest and which are the most challenging. So, like father-son, father-daughter? Which of those is easier? You were a father to four daughters and two boys. Which was easier for you?
Dennis: Well, my sons and I could head to the deer woods and so that was pretty natural. For me to go shopping with my daughters…
Bob: It was pretty unnatural?
Dennis: It took me swimming upstream a bit!
Bob: Okay. And what about mother-son, mother-daughter?
Dennis: I think, until a boy becomes a teenager, I think they’re pretty much the same for a mom. But at the point where a young man has to break away from a mom, and become his own person, I think it becomes a whole lot easier for a mother-daughter relationship to connect than it does for a mother-son as they move to adulthood.
I think we have a great illustration here. In fact, as I was leaving home to come to work today I turned to Barbara and I said, “I’ve got a great book for you to read on mother-daughter relationships.” The name of the book is Mother-Daughter Duet and it’s by Cheri Fuller and Ali Plum. Ali and Cheri join us on FamilyLife Today. Welcome to the broadcast.
Ali: Thank you.
Cheri: Thank you, Dennis. We’re delighted to be here.
Dennis: We’re glad you guys are here. Cheri… Well Bob, we’ve had her on the broadcast but we’ve slept since then.
Bob: Hibernated since then!
Dennis: 1993. She was among our first guests on FamilyLife Today. She is a speaker at women’s conferences, an author that has sold more than a million books. She’s been married for 42 years, a mom to three, including,Ali. And she is the proud grandmother of six grandchildren!
Cheri: Six grandkids! I was just showing you their pictures.
Dennis: Yeah, you were. The love of her life, she said.
Cheri: They are darling!
Dennis: And Ali, of course, is Cheri’s daughter. She is a writer, a songwriter, a wife, and a mom to Noah and Luke. Together they have formed a duet, a mother-daughter duet.
I want to ask you, Ali, because this is a very honest book, about a mother-daughter relationship. I mean, this is no Pollyanna story right here. When did it occur to you that you guys maybe had some issues that you were going to have to deal with? Was it when you were 13 or was it later on as you were an adult, out of the house?
Ali: I think it was actually right about 13 when I started, I guess, growing up. I thought I was supposed to be growing up. Inside I still felt like a little girl and I actually really wanted to stay that way, probably, a lot longer.
Dennis: But you clashed with your mom?
Ali: I did and I kind of intentionally, at first, had to start clashing. I felt like something in me just was just like, no more “miss nice daughter” stuff.
Bob: So you were doing it in a calculated deliberate way? It wasn’t just an emotional outburst?
Ali: I think it was a little bit of both.
It was kind of like I wanted to send out a message loud and clear that I wasn’t the daughter of 12 and before.
Bob: Do you remember, Cheri, when the switch got flipped and what had been all sweet was all of a sudden a little tense?
Cheri: We were very close when she was a little girl because she was the beloved daughter and we did lots and lots together because the boys would be playing army. And, yes, there began to be a bit of tension and we are truly very different.
I remember when Ali was a pretty new teenager she said, “Mom you are just like vanilla ice cream and I’m like chocolate. We are so different!” We began to realize that we were different. I think as moms, when we are doing the best we can but our daughter seemed annoyed with us, we wonder “what did I do?” It’s a process and we wake up at different ages to, “Wow, what happened here? Where’s my little girl?”
Dennis: I have a theory as you go through the adolescent years, when you do have to let your daughter go, when she graduates from high school, and let her go to college, that is really a big deal. That is one of life’s major transition points.
Cheri: It is. In fact, in When Mother’s Pray, that I wrote years ago and my kids were doing that, I said letting go is the hardest work of motherhood. I mean, it’s even harder in some ways than labor and delivery.
Bob: I remember thinking, and I’ve had four kids head off to college and two of those go on and get married now, and actually the weddings were a piece of cake after the letting go to college. The letting go to college really is a change in the relationship like no other time.
Cheri: It is.
Bob: Do you remember that time in your life? Do you remember what you were feeling Ali?
Ali: I think being the baby of the family and sort of observed everything—I was the observer of the family—so when both of my brothers left for college I kind of noticed what it did to my mom and I knew about the empty nest syndrome philosophy before just about anything else.
Dennis: You were pretty astute!
Dennis: Were you milking it? Tell the truth! As you were leaving, as the baby of the family, were you milking this thing of leaving to go to college!
Ali: Oh man. I don’t know what I was doing at the time, to be honest. I wish I would have known what I was doing because I wanted to leave and kind of see if I even had any wings, if I’d grown any. I was pretty insecure in that. But also, I think I was afraid to bust out of that protective mother hen place that I’d been in for so long. Especially when my brothers left, that role seemed really important to also stay and fulfill at some level.
Bob: Ali, if I’d sat down with you your freshman year at college and said, “So describe your relationship with your mom and your dad individually. What’s your relationship with your mom like? What’s your relationship with your dad like?” And you’d been honest with me. What would you have said?
Ali: Well, I was unconventional as far as when I started college. I took two years and did some travelling and lived in another state for a couple of years. I would say part of the reason why I didn’t want to leave home, or was hesitant for that process, was that I wanted to stay and see what was going to happen with them.
Dennis: Meaning what? Were you concerned about your parent’s marriage?
Ali: I wasn’t concerned about their marriage as much as their health and emotional health. It was a time that my dad was drinking and jobless at the time. My mom was not yet ready to embrace that truth. So I feel like I worried about them more than anything when I graduated from high school.
But, what happened, and the part of the process that I didn’t take responsibility for at the time, which is living my own life, I started getting angry and resentful. So that over- concern, that care, when I failed to sort of do the leaving and going and sort of starting to find my way, that’s where a lot of the anger inside that led to my own addiction and led to my own struggle with alcoholism, that’s sort of the point that it began.
Bob: This was a tough season in the Fuller family, wasn’t it?
Cheri: It was very, very difficult. As we share in Mother-Daughter Duet, we had been a very loving Christian family and really focused on our kids and on the Lord all those years. When the market began to crash and his business began to crash, some genetic
depression and anxiety began to kick in and, instead of getting help, which is very difficult for him. He is very stoic. He began to self medicate with alcohol. He was ashamed of it so he hid it. So it was not a partying kind of addiction. He was hiding it.
Now I was pretty easy to hide it from because it was my worst nightmare. I didn’t grow up in a home with any alcohol whatsoever. My parents were teetotalers because my uncle was an alcoholic. My father was an attorney and he would be called away from many dinners to go down and bail his brother out.
So I had that back in my memory, though I hadn’t lived around someone. I didn’t really know the signs, you might say. I just had terror about it. I mean, it was my worst nightmare. What I had hoped that my children wouldn’t ever have to experience and that they wouldn’t’ have any kind of addiction in their life.
So like for years we didn’t drink one thing. W e wanted to be good role models. It was very hard for me to face. It wasn’t that I didn’t know it. I was in a kind of denial because, like many spouses of someone who has any kind of addiction, I thought I could fix it.
Unbeknownst to maybe Ali or my sons, I would give him a really good pep talk. I thought I was pretty motivational! You know! I thought surely he’ll change if I give him all the right reasons. And I prayed and prayed and prayed and I trusted God.
Then, when I would approach him or try to be graciously confrontive he would get so angry and defensive about it. My alarms would go off inside but I was so afraid. That was what I was locked into. You’ll find that that’s not that uncommon. I mean, I’ve met many women whose husbands had a drinking problem for twenty-five years and hid the vodka bottles.
But the fact is, it broke my heart as a mother, how it was affecting our daughter. She was the one still at home when this began. I tried to get her some counseling help. She was kind of shutting me out. Close the bedroom door.
I was just concerned about everyone so I became very co-defendant, which means I was more concerned about their lives and trying to help them, than I was about taking care of my own. I was really pulling a lot of the weight income-wise and working too hard and just trying to keep the family together.
Bob: I’m’ thinking about it. Here’s financial pressure, a husband who’s depressed because he’s out of work because things are crumbling. Alcohol is starting to enter the picture, which you’ve never wanted. You’re about to become an empty nest mom. And then, unbeknownst to you, I guess, Ali, you were starting to drink? Was this in high school? Right after high school you were starting to drink?
Ali: A part of my drinking career, so to speak, was like super typical for someone who ends up developing an alcohol problem. T he very first party I went to, and I wasn’t a partier per se, I was king of delayed. My first drink, I had that experience of “Oh, yeah, this is pretty much what I need to be able to function, to be able to talk with ease and to not feel so inhibited.” So, even though I was really young at the time, it was like this is it.
So I finished high school and as I got older I got a longer curfew if I stayed out of trouble. I didn’t drink a whole lot in high school. But when I would drink, I would drink a lot and it would sometimes be blackout drinking sort of situations.
I’d started hiding it from the family pretty early on, partly because that’s what I saw my dad do and I didn’t think of myself as a problem drinker early on. I just thought maybe this is something we have in common as strange as that sounds logically. And that it did. It kind of became the common factor between us and, in retrospect, I think that was a large inhibiter of my mom and I getting closer. I was identifying so much with my dad and trying to connect. If it didn’t work out verbally, through conversation, then, well, I would just go party and do drinking my own way and do my own thing and then somehow felt closer.
At the time, I was about eighteen and I knew that my parents were under extreme financial stress. I think what motivated a lot of my actions towards my mom, but also choices that I made after, I didn’t want to be an added burden, especially a financial burden, whereas at the beginning of my senior year I was sort of entertaining the thought of going to Wheaton or OU.
By the end of the year was when I started getting really pretty angry, getting more angry in my tone towards my mom and didn’t really give a reason for it. But that’s where I feel like our issues began on a sort of acting out level. I didn’t’ end up filling out applications that I would start because I kind of sabotaged the process. Like,” well I don’t want to be a burden, so I’m not going to be.”
Cheri: But then unfortunately I was trying to help her fill out the college applications and encourage her, “You know, you’re bright. You’re talented.” One of the problems in our family was not communicating about this because I would have paid out of my pocket for her to go to college just like we did with our boys. But she’s very sensitive and empathetic. There were just all these things going on. It was a difficult time.
Dennis: It seems to be that just the story that you all have shared here. This is a set up. Here you are, Ali, observing your dad and your mom and you’re expressing concern for them. Here you are, Cheri you are watching your daughter kind of push you out of her life and yet you don’t have much of a relationship with your husband because he’s having an affair with alcohol.
Cheri: Well, was very emotionally absent, both of us, especially me.
Dennis: It’s a set up for you to cling to your daughter, your only daughter, and for it to repel you, Ali, as one who’s trying to be cut loose and get free. Were you feeling that?
Ali: Yes. I think I was feeling that. I knew that even my presence as the only daughter, I wanted to live up to that expectation that I would continue to bring the same joy as when I entered the world as her only daughter. But like my mom said, communication was just so strenuous for us to put things on the table and talk it out.
I am a creative person. I tend to express things more through painting, through music, and at the time especially, I didn’t know how to communicate, and communicate my feelings in a real direct sort of way. I would of course, write cryptic poems and think I was communicating my heart or what was inside my brain and my life experience at the time. Or I would go in my room and I would paint these charcoal paintings because the charcoal is my favorite medium to work with. There was something even metaphorical in charcoal drawings, to me.
But I wouldn’t communicate any of that process, that a lot of what I was feeling and sensing and experiencing in the family and worrying about my dad and why doesn’t he want to talk or all those things that all of a sudden seem lost when he dove into depression and alcohol.
I reacted to life, versus talked about it. That’s where I think a very concrete difference between my mom and I is she is very verbal. Sometimes it comes down to this very complex part of our story and some parts were so simply that, had we just had the awareness or known to look at each other and go “Oh, my gosh, you are so verbal and I am so not. I wonder where our middle ground is?” Or actually just appreciating those differences instead of resenting them and I think I resented her for not reading my mind more.
Dennis: One paints word pictures. The other paints charcoal drawings. And you’re not on the same page, literally.
Bob: I think the point that you make about trying to find the common ground is where a lot of families find themselves in a struggle here. How do we, when we’re not on the same page, how do we find a middle where there is a relationship there that we can build on? That’s what you guys have tried to share as you’ve shared your own story in the book that you wrote together called Mother-Daughter Duet, which we’ve got in our FamilyLife Today Resource Center.
Our listeners can find out more about the book when they go online at FamilyLifeToday.com. It’s FamilyLifeToday.com or call toll free, 800-FLTODAY. That’s 1-800-358-6329. Ask about the book Mother-Daughter Duet by Cheri Fuller and Ali Plum. We can make arrangements to get a copy of the book sent to you.
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We want to encourage you to be back with us again tomorrow when Ali Plum and her mom Cheri Fuller are going to be here again. We’re going to hear more of their story about perfecting the mother, daughter duet. I hope you can join us for that.
I want to thank our engineer today, Keith Lynch, and our entire broadcast production team. On behalf of our host, Dennis Rainey, I'm Bob Lepine. We will see you back tomorrow for another edition of FamilyLife Today.
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