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The Mother + Daughter Project.

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Women need each other. We know this intuitively. From the cradle to the grave some of our most profound and meaningful relationships are those with other women, our sisters of the soul and spirit. Whether we share DNA or not, is irrelevant. For we know that the bond is deeper and held tighter than through mere biology.

Some of us may be related in blood, some not. The sisterhood is that powerful. Some sisters are called sisters. Some are called daughters. Some are called mothers and grandmothers. Or auntie and niece. Some are connected by law. Sisters-in-mothers in-daughters-in-law. But our relatedness is not dictated by laws. It’s too powerful for that.

We seek each other out. For conversations, consultation, collaboration and commiseration. We seek each other out when we need a tender listener, a thoughtful advice conveyor, a sincere truth teller, a wise counselor, a belly laugh purveyor, a tears catcher, a kind hand holder, and a really good hugger.

They are there to catch you, to elevate you, to stand shoulder to shoulder with you. They are there to swim with you in dark waters. They’ll keep you afloat when weariness weighs you down. And most importantly, they will always provide a landing place that is safe.

If we are fortunate. If we are blessed. If we are lucky enough to have a mother – whether she brought us into this world or she chose us – we’ve had our first encounter with love. The unconditional kind. Unequivocal and encompassing the whole heart. For a very brief time in the cycle of our lives, we are hers. We are her daughter. And if we are doubly blessed she will also become our friend, one of our sisters. And if we’re really really blessed she will be one of the best.

There is nothing quite like the mother daughter relationship. It’s often complicated. Dynamic. Difficult sometimes. Frustrating as well. Rewarding almost always. Often frightening, especially when you disagree. A mother’s love is unconditional. A daughter’s, not necessarily. And as it should be.

We’ll be exploring the complexities of this entwined and deeply profound relationship in our new Girl Warrior Interview Series called the Mother + Daughter Project. We’ll introduce you to some wonderful, intelligent, talented, creative, kind, courageous and compassionate women who share the bonds of family and friendship, who bring their unique generational perspective to the conversation to tell their very personal story in a way that only a mother and daughter can. It’s a love story like no other.

So today we we raise our fists high and put our hands together in celebration of our Feature Girl Warriors, mother and daughter, Robin Middleton and Abby Owen.

Part 1. Robin, the Mother.

Robin grew up in NYC in a Jewish immigrant family, surrounded by Irish and Italian friends. In the 1960s when NYC schools were desegregated, Robin was among the white kids who were reverse desegregated to schools in black neighborhoods. It was an awakening that resulted in lifelong friendships and a unique world view. Along with other young activists, Robin picketed to wear pants to school, when John Kennedy and Martin Luther King were assassinated, and the Vietnam war. By the time she turned sixteen, and through the discovery of mind expanding and numbing drugs, Robin knew that her parent’s values were not her own. As her activism grew, she protested in Washington DC against racism, the war, bras, and the Nixon inauguration. She hitchhiked anywhere to get out of the city, which by the 1970s had become violent and dangerous. She roamed the US, Canada, and even Europe, settling in Denver for a while, but ultimately landing in Cape Breton, NS with a young man she met in her travels. Because there was no employment to be had for a girl with a NYC accent, she left for Halifax. With only 3/4 of a degree behind her, she found work in banking, gathering skills and growing up. Robin recalls that “women had dress codes, men did not, women trained men while the men moved through management and the women stayed in the same job, always earning less.” From her first jobs as a 16 year old in NYC throughout almost all of her professional career, Robin shares that she was sexually harassed and sexually assaulted. “Maybe it was the way we were raised, maybe it was stupidity, maybe it was the times, but there really wasn’t anything to do about it and we accepted it and kept going,” she reveals. Ultimately she found her way to a commerce degree program, and after nine years part-time with concurrent jobs that included the bank, bar tending, and cleaning the animal kennels at Dalhousie University, she completely her commerce degree with an accounting major. Robin left her heart and soul in Nova Scotia for beautiful British Columbia to complete her chartered accountancy articles. She endured five miscarriages before the child she thought would never happen, her curly haired, blue eyed, rock loving daughter Alex was born in 1991. Two years later Robin was ecstatic to be blessed with one more little girl, the almond eyed, strawberry haired firecracker named Abby. There were lean years where she worked part-time when her girls were little, but Robin says joyfully, “that was by far, one of the smartest things I did in my life. Those memories, those times with my girls and all of the things I learned from them are who I am today.” And now, robin has another gift, a tiny man named Jack to light up her life. Robin says, you can write on her tombstone “she loved them more than the sun and the moon and all of the stars in the sky.” And to that we say, Amen Mama!

What makes you a Girl Warrior?

Growing up and entering the workforce at a time when sexual harassment and sexual assault were commonplace and readily accepted as the norm. Starting when I was 16 and was sexually assaulted by my boss at my first job, to being sexually assaulted on the subway on the way to work, to being sexually assaulted by my doctor as a teenager, being subjected repetitive sexual assault in a professional workplace, and ultimately as is unfortunately so common, being raped by a family friend that was well known and trusted. Unfortunately, these are only the incidents that immediately come to mind, versus all such incidents. I’m a Girl Warrior because while this has all had various long term impacts, those impacts are primarily such that they inform my life rather than controlling or limiting it.

What were the biggest challenges raising your daughter?

I think it was having the guts to follow my intuition and disregard others’ reactions to her behavior. She was a great kid, and I had to choose every day to focus on the positive and find ways to channel what others saw as negative traits – but were in fact a wonderful independence, feistiness, and fierceness.

What do we need to know “for sure” about your mother/daughter dynamic?

That in the fullness of time, the mother becomes the daughter and the daughter becomes the mother. And sometimes, the daughter even becomes the grandmother. I have learned so much from my daughter because of her empathy, compassion and intelligence.

What’s the most important lesson your daughter taught you about motherhood?

That while there are hundreds of books on the subject, and everyone has an opinion, you always know your child best. And while it’s important to read, learn and listen, a mother should always follow her own intuition. And you should always listen to your children, because teaching is not a one way street, they teach you at least as much as you teach them.

What’s the best advice you’ve given your daughter?

That passion is more important than money, and she should find her passion and follow it. That if she does this, and no matter what she chooses to do, the right things will always follow.

If you could change one thing about your relationship, what would it be?

I would have been more observant during the time of the marriage breakdown. Abby was always way more advanced than other children her age and adult like even at age ten, and for sure by about age twelve. So it was easy to see her as more grown up and self sufficient than she was. In hindsight, she was just a little girl and I should have been more aware of what it felt like to be her. This I carry because I would never willingly or consciously contribute to my daughter’s feelings of abandonment. And, I would insist she travel with me. Her sister was always ready to go, but Abby was never that interested, and to me it feels as though we missed something.

What was your proudest moment in your daughter’s life – the one thing you would love to relive?

That’s a very hard question, because I’m proud of her almost every day. I’m not proud because she’s a lawyer per se, I’m proud because she followed her passion and had the tenacity to pursue her goal despite her challenges. I’m proud not of her intellect, because that’s innate, but that she chooses to use her intellect for personal growth, along with her compassion and empathy to be a wonderful family member and friend. I’m proud that when she struggles with her mental health issues, she works so hard to help herself. And I’m proud that when she does something wrong, she says she’s sorry. If I had to pick one moment, and there were several but they were all the same, it would be when she’s gone sideways, and later put her arms around me and said she was sorry. It takes a very special person to do that.

What would you say to your younger mom self about raising a daughter?

Well I was never a young Mom, I was 38 when she was born. And so I knew to be grateful for her every day. But I would remind that person that despite presenting like a much older and more mature human, she was just a little girl and I need to remember that to ensure she felt protected.

Name one book that you told your daughter was an absolute must-read? Why?

I always tell her about books, and she always ignores me because she’s not really a reader. But I would 100% tell her to read Hadley Freeman’s book House of Glass because the author is close in age to her, had a grandmother who was a holocaust survivor and grew up with a mother who suffered from the impact of inter-generational trauma and victim syndrome that many such people suffered with. It would help her to better understand her grandmother, the way her mother was raised, where this type of hoarding comes from, and why order is so important to future generations. The book made me feel less alone in the world and that other families were like mine. Also, I would tell her to read Michael Crummey’s book, The Innocents, because it’s Canadian, absolutely brilliant, tender, and could possibly help to put her own family trauma into context of a sorts. Other such wonderful books are Uneducated by Tara Westover and The Glass House by Janette Walls. These books are wonderful as they show that love, resilience and personal growth can be found in even the most dysfunctional of families, and personal happiness can be found by opening the door for a different future.

When do you feel like your most authentic self? Why?

When I’m with my girls. Work is important, and I’ve been very lucky to have had a wonderful professional career, but I am who I am because of my children. As awful as it sounds, you can ‘replace’ a husband or a partner, but children are gifts and my and relationships with them make me who I am.

What’s your favorite indulgence?

Oooooh, so many. Japanese maples and a very specific brand of bone china mugs.

Living or dead, who do you think your daughter would you like to have lunch with?

Hilary Clinton and / or Michelle Obama. It would be hard to choose between them, Hilary for intellect and Michelle for kindness, warmth and compassion.

Describe yourself in five words.

Vagabond, resilient, observant, hasty, cynical.

If a bio flick were written about your life with your daughter, what would it be called?

Raising Your Strong Willed Child with Love and Compassion.

Part 2. Abby, the Daughter.

Abby grew up in Victoria, BC where she attended the University of Victoria for her undergraduate degree. She moved to Vancouver, BC to pursue law at the Peter A. Allard School of Law. Abby is now an Articled Student at a large regional labor and employment law firm in Vancouver. She loves spending time with her family, friends, dogs, and anyone who appreciates a Steve Martin stand up special as much as she does. She also loves traveling, cooking, and her robust shoe collection. And to that we’re all head over heels!

What makes you a Girl Warrior?

Hmmmm. I don’t know that I’ve reached that status officially, but I am an aspiring Girl Warrior. I care deeply about championing women and spent a lot of years studying our oppression.

When you were growing up, what was the biggest challenge you faced in your relationship with your mom?

My mom is very passionate and leads with the heart. This is her best and worst quality.

What do we need to know “for sure” about your mother/daughter dynamic?

We’re buddies. I lean on her a lot.

What’s the most important lesson your mom taught you?

Simple lesson but absolutely key: honor the plans you had first – just because a more exciting plan comes along doesn’t mean you can cancel the first; integrity is all you can take with you.

What’s the best advice your mom gave you? The worst?

The worst advice was get bangs. The best was find female friends and hold onto them for life.

If you could change one thing about your relationship, what would it be?

I probably wouldn’t change anything – I’m a big proponent of life facilitating lessons and am grateful for some of our stumbling blocks because they have taught a lot about my self and my character.

What was your proudest moment – the one thing you would love to relive?

My proudest moment was finishing the bar. Passing was only a bonus. For me, the process of studying for the bar was incredibly stressful and I was very proud that I committed to finishing and followed through. I ordered any/all takeout that I wanted for a solid week and dried my tears at a spa.

What would you say to your younger Girl Warrior?

I would tell myself to worry a lot less – everything falls into place. I’d also tell myself to have a little more fun and hug my dogs and Nana extra tight. I’d make sure to tell myself to slow down and be more present. I think I had a lot of really special moments that I wish I savored more.

Name one book that your mom said was a must-read? Why do you think she wanted you to read it?

She tells me that a lot of books are must-reads!! She is an avid reader who always strived to give me varied perspectives on political issues. Her most recent suggestion was President Obama’s seminal release, Dreams from my Father.

When do you feel like your most authentic self? Why?

I feel like my most authentic self when I’m with my best friend (especially if we are in Tofino or Ucluelet). The best feeling is knowing you can be your whole self around someone, without any judgement. I’m very, very lucky.

What’s your favorite indulgence?

Food. Rugelach. Jewelry.

Living or dead, who do you think your mom would like to have lunch with?

She would have lunch with her Dad. A man of inspiring character and humor. I’d give anything to have lunch with him, too. My personal belief is that someday we will both be afforded this opportunity.

Describe yourself in five words.

I am resilient, curious, inquisitive, quirky, and kind.

If a bio flick were written about your life with your mom, what would it be called?

Girl, Uninterrupted: escape from NYC.