Every May, families across the United States come together to celebrate their mothers. This year I spent Mother’s Day weekend at a book event for What’s Mom Still Got to Do With It? at a local Barnes and Noble, in collaboration with another mother-focused author. I gave a short book talk and signed a lot of books!

We asked the women who came to the event to write a short word or phrase to describe how their mother influenced their lives and their careers. Women and girls of all ages participated and we came away with many index cards filled with a variety of answers, from one-word answers to general explanations to specific anecdotes. We compiled all of the responses we got into a word cloud to see what these women and their mother-daughter relationships had in common.

Some of the larger words in the word cloud show that encouragement from a mother can go a long way and that many women feel that their mothers have instilled in them a value of independence and family. Many women claimed to have the “best” mom. Some women included their profession — teacher, lawyer — to show where they ended up thanks to their mother’s influence.

Looking at the largest, most common words we can create a phrase such as “The best independent mother who always influenced and encouraged others”, but when we look at the subtext found within the smaller words we can also see the more painful subtleties of the relationship in a phrase such as “My gentle, quiet mom was fiercely selfless and caring, which could be frustrating and complicated”. Even so, while compiling the stories we collected a pattern emerged that whenever a woman included a negative about her relationship with her mother it was followed by a “but”. None of the women who participated included an unfavorable aspect of her relationship with her mother without following it up with a positive. It seems that these women are still carrying some guilt when they have negative feelings about their mother. Such intense love, as is found in mother-daughter relationships, can cause a lasting sting.It just goes to show, every woman has a story about her mother’s influence upon her and the mother-daughter relationship dynamic, while it varies from woman to woman, there are very clear common threads!

Thank you so much to everyone who participated and shared their personal stories and insights at this event!