Crossing the Broken Bridge

By on January 15, 2018
Crossing the Broken Bridge

By Sandra Butler –

Have I been a good-enough mother to my daughter? This question hovered in my thoughts on past sleepless nights when I replayed the scenes of my maternal mistakes—for which I had tried, judged, and sentenced myself. The choices I made as a young woman continued to reverberate painfully through her life and in retrospect, were so foolish, even though they seemed so urgent and necessary then. But crossing the “broken bridge” has taken time. 

In the past decade, as I approach eighty and my daughter lives through her fifties, we have finally able to come closer to naming who and where the two of us are. Together. It has taken all these decades of living to wear us down and strip us of our need for carefully-constructed defenses and the imagined need for safety. In the past, I was careful that none of the historic third-rails of our past might surface, and she did her best to present me with the most successful version of her adult life. I was grateful for her eager offerings, filled with vulnerability, sacrifice, and passion. But we had yet to find a way to one another, yet to find the words that would allow her disappointments in me, her losses that stemmed from my mothering, and the truth of her life as my daughter to emerge.

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There are reasons, of course. There are always reasons. I married too young. Divorced too precipitously. Was alone in the New York City of the 1960s with two small children, feeling the exuberant pull of the cultural and political landscape of that time. But my emotional and financial vulnerabilities both illuminated and obscured the truth that my daughter left home much too young to find her own way forward because I was unable to provide the stability, and safety she needed. And deserved.

Our relationship was a warm and loving one, yet so much was unsaid. I bit my tongue. She undoubtedly did the same. We maneuvered around the pot holes of whatever might accidentally brush against an old wound or an unfinished piece of history. I was afraid to open a deeper conversation because I still needed to protect myself from hearing what she might say.

But inevitably, life delivered its inevitable bruises, leaving both of us stripped of the stories we had carefully constructed about who we were, and we were required to release our dreams for an imagined future. For her, it was the inability to become pregnant, and the exhausted and sorrowful acceptance that she and her husband would not be able to have their own child. For me, it was the dissolution of a painful relationship in which I was forced to confront my repeated patterns in choosing partners unconsciously designated to heal the emotional deficits of my childhood. It was not our good intentions but our losses that allowed us to be brave enough to turn more fully and honestly toward one another.

During the last decade, she moved to a city closer to my own, allowing regular visits. Our weekly phone calls became longer and deeper extensions of those visits, each of us taking more risks with what we felt ready to say. I acknowledged the ways I had tried to mother with spontaneity and a sense of adventure, not wanting her to chafe under the conventional experience of maternal rules and expectations I had grown up with. She responded by letting me know how much she had wanted and needed guidance and consistency, neither of which I was then able to provide. 

Each of these recognitions released the courage to see ourselves and one another more clearly without self-protective judgment. In being able to stand in the stripped-down honesty of my own life, divested of the superficial and public layers of identity, I could finally begin to give my middle-aged daughter what she wanted and deserved when she was young. The truth of her mother.  

Psychotherapist and journalist Nan Fink Gefen and co-producer and award-winning documentarian Sandra Butler have teamed up to put together a one-of-a kind self-help book to help older mothers continue caring and mothering their daughters. With first-hand accounts from over 75 moms, It Never Ends: Mothering Middle-Aged Daughters provides readers with strategies and techniques they can adopt to balance their own aging alongside that of their daughters. It’s an intriguing and relatable fall read that you won’t want to miss! Website:



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Crossing the Broken Bridge