What Hulu's Life & Beth teaches us about the mother-daughter relationship

I devoured Hulu's Life and Beth in two days, a series from the brilliant mind of Amy Schumer. It was so well written that I immediately had to research if it was based on real life. As the leading expert in healing mother-daughter relationships, it felt too accurate to be fiction. Most women don’t know the truth about their mother-daughter relationship dynamics, they only know how they feel with their mother, but this series hit on the layers underneath the breakdowns. As this series so lovingly points out, the dynamics between us stem from our mother’s life and her mother’s life and her mother’s life. If they had a difficult or disappointing relationship with her mother, the pattern is bound to repeat from one generation to the next.

Amy Schumer put this all together and so beautifully brought attention to the disappointing relationship and a way to move forward. It was tied up with a neat bow, but instead showed the journey that one goes on to understand and heal their heart. As my life’s work is in healing mothers and daughters, I’m going to explain the dynamics we witnessed in the series and share with you the solutions. I firmly believe there is always hope and solutions to our breakdowns offer hope.

Beth's relationship with her mother is very much at the center of the story and weaves in many of her struggles as a teen girl and adult woman. We witness life from Beth’s perspective and can see clearly she didn’t get what she needed. She was unable to ask for what she needed and her life was affected by the choices her mother made. The audience is riding the emotional roller coaster of this relationship, most likely seeing their own relationship reflected back to them. Let’s break down the dynamics we witness and what is really behind them.

Mother and daughter need an equal voice in the relationship In one of the first scenes we witness a dynamic between Beth and her mother, Jane, that is eerily familiar. While Beth shares her wants and needs directly, her mother circles her with unsolicited advice that is both unrelated and unsupportive. The scene becomes a monologue instead of a dialogue between mother and daughter. Viewers learn that Jane doesn't know her daughter and Beth feels unheard and unseen. One of the most common breakdowns I see with my clients is mother and daughter not feeling heard and understood by each other. Mothers need to know they can be honest about their emotional reality and daughters need to know they’ll be heard when sharing their truth as well. Even though Jane openly talked about her dreams, wants and needs, they fell on deaf ears because Beth was feeling so unheard she disconnected from her mother as well. When we feel heard and understood by each other this equates to love.

Daughter taking care of mother

In this series you get to know Beth as a teenager and woman approaching her 40’s. This is such a relevant shift between ages because for so many of us the pain begins with our mothers during adolescence. When a mother’s emotional needs aren’t being met by herself, her partner or her own mother, she will turn to her daughter. And most often it is the eldest daughter that carries the heavy burden of taking care of her mother (like we saw with Beth). This dynamic feels too heavy because the flow of care should always go from mother to daughter, when a daughter is taking care of her mother emotionally it will always feel out of whack. We want our mothers to show up for us. We want them to be strong, have our back and love us wildly. When we are spending energy taking care of our mother’s needs we are giving up a part of us that craves nurturing. If this is a dynamic in your relationship, it’s most likely one your mother felt as well with her mother and so on. It all changes when one daughter has her eyes opened to what is getting in the way and decides to break the pattern.

The mother-daughter relationship goes through phases There are times in our lives that our mother-daughter relationship is challenged as we are moving into a new phase. According to my mentor and founder of The Mother-Daughter Attachment Model, Rosjke Hasseldine, two of these phases are when the daughter is an adolescent and when the daughter becomes an adult and moves out of the home. When mothers and daughters enter these new phases in their lives, their relationship has to adjust to reflect the change that will come. They can adjust by tuning into how they are listening to each other, the open dialogue they keeping and how much support they provide each other.

Mothers are human From what we could see, Beth’s mother had a lot on her plate. She was taking care of her two daughters, her husband, finances and work. It begs the question, who is taking care of mom? It is only with our generation that mothers are opening their eyes to the self-sacrificing care that women have been taught to provide. Not only do today’s mothers deserve to be taken care of and know how to take care of themselves, but our mothers, grandmothers and great grandmothers deserved that as well. When we can see our mother as a woman first, we see the human side of her, the little girl that had to live a life that was designed by society rather than her dreams. As Beth said, “She lived in her daydreams and that’s how she survived”. What would changed for Jane and Beth had lived out her dreams? If she had the skills to show up for herself, her children and have the support she deserved in her marriage? She would have been more present, available and attuned in all of her relationships. And if you watch closely you will see Beth repeating some of the same patterns.

Giving women permission In one of the last scenes Beth honors her mother’s journey and acknowledges that her mother “could be ornery and mean in a way that women aren’t really supposed to be”. The pressure women feel to follow a set of unwritten rules is another dynamic that affects mothers and daughters. When mothers give into the pressure to look and act as if they’re not taking up too much space, daughters feel this pressure too. Daughters typical ‘hit a wall’ as Carol Gilligan’s research tells us where they reject this pressure to conform during adolescence. If their mother is pushing them to conform as well this affects their relationship. It’s as if girls want to say to their mothers, “I just want to be myself, she is good enough. Please accept her”. If girls do not direct their frustration for society’s beauty standards on society, it is taken out on their mother. And no one knows how to talk about this.

Healing and changing the story The final episode shows the healing of the mother-daughter relationship in a way that invites you to sob. “I just knew her as my mom but she wasn’t just my mom, she was a woman and a little girl before that. With her own heartbreaks and school dances and her own parents...”. Tears of joy for witnessing Beth’s journey, for Jane’s story finally being acknowledged and for Beth’s dedication to honor her mother. This scene was so beautifully written and expressed, you can’t help but release all of the pain you carry from your mother.

It is exactly what I witness with my clients, sometimes individually, sometimes together, a beautiful moment of understanding, connecting of hearts and honoring of experiences. It’s exactly what we all deserve to feel, truly seen and understood. Beth becomes enlightened to the human side of her mother and realizes that what we do not know, we cannot teach our daughters.

When mothers are evolved they teach their daughters how to be their most authentic, lovable and human self and Beth has forgiven her mother for not being able to do this. I knew based on that scene that it was not only written by a woman who is a mother and a daughter but someone who lived these experiences. So often movies get the "complicated" mother-daughter relationship wrong. It's so stereotypical that my ears are practically bleeding by the end. They portray mothers and daughters as angry and unhinged, without showing the depth behind it. Almost always lacking a real solution or understanding by the end.

In short this series was emotional, relatable and hilarious. Ride the roller coaster of emotions, patriarchy, abandonment, success, empowerment and love to live through Beth’s perfectly imperfect journey. Yes, many of us have experienced a disappointing and painful mother-daughter relationship. And we blame ourselves. But today is the day for a new story. One of triumph, love and understanding.

There is a gift buried in these words for you my dear reader. Permission to open dialogue in order to release the guilt, shame, blame, anger and love on your mother-daughter relationship. When we understand that these dynamics connect our hearts as women and girls, we can release the blame, shame and guilt of being ‘bad mothers’ or ‘bad daughters’. Hold a new truth that we are all human, most of all our mothers, and when we know about what brings us together and what pulls us apart, we have a fighting chance of feeling the power of a truly aligned relationship for generations to come.