Even while they were starting a blog that seeks to bring mothers and daughters closer together, Jenna Gebel and her mother Ellen Resnick W80 could not have anticipated all that they would learn about each other through the process.
Gebel, a second-year Wharton MBA student, started the blog because she felt that the dialogue surrounding mother-daughter adult relationships is not open enough. She partnered with her own mom to do something about that, and the result—My Mother, My Daughter, My Friend—is a blog and a community where they and others can share stories and conversations.
Both of Gebel’s parents went to Penn (her father is Richard Gebel W80), and so to celebrate her acceptance into Wharton, mother and daughter decided to expand the blog into the first-ever Wharton Mother-Daughter Weekend, which they hosted on Wharton’s campus in October. The weekend-long initiative brought pairs of mothers and daughters together in celebration of their unique relationships, as well as to learn about new ways such duos can work together and inspire each other.
Among the events was a panel of three mother-daughter pairs who work together in Philly—at boutique Joan Shepp, bakery Brown Betty Dessert Boutique and exercise studio Urban Front Pilates. Maryellen Lamb, Wharton’s deputy vice dean of admissions, financial aid and career management, gave a keynote about her own work-life choices. Her mother and young daughters joined her for the day.
Another was a session about the “10 Ways to Improve Your Mother-Daughter Relationship,” as related by Gebel and Resnick. They are:
- Find common interests.
- Manage your moods: If you feel as though you are about to take a bad mood out on a loved one, pause and take a deep breath to re-evaluate the true cause.
- Give and receive thoughtful advice.
- Make time to connect: Busy schedules always have a little room for brunch, FaceTime or even taking a trip together.
- Uncover mixed signals: Iron out miscommunication to avoid more harm than necessary.
- Know how much time to spend together.
- Keep each other’s secrets.
- Fight fair.
- Learn to let go: Mothers will always worry, but the best thing they can do for their daughters is to demonstrate trust in them.
- Find ways to forgive.
After the weekend ended with these sage tips, I had some time to reflect on what they meant to me and my relationship with my mother. Finding common interests, uncovering mixed signals and knowing how much time to spend together really resonated with me, though I had never been able to put those struggles into words that well. Identifying exactly where our issues lie—and the strengths, as I realized that my mom and I are pretty good at giving thoughtful advice, keeping secrets and forgiving—was an incredibly productive way to start thinking about improving the health of my relationship with my mom.
I sent these tips to her, and she loved them so much that she passed them along. We’ve since decided to commit to working on where we see room for improvement.
The Wharton Mother-Daughter Weekend’s impact on other participants was clearly evident. I had the chance to speak with daughter Nidhi Shah, a first-year Lauder/MBA student, and her mother Sapna, who were touched by their experience. When I asked how her daughter inspires her, Sapna’s tears made it so that she could hardly get through the story of Nidhi standing up for herself in the face of objectification by an Uber driver in India (she made a formal complaint that contributed to the eventual punishment of the driver).
For me, it’s often enlightening to spend time thinking about ways to improve myself—and by extension, my relationships—but it is always inspiring to hear about stories like Gebel and Resnick’s. Both familial and work relationships have their own challenges, so when two people can combine the two successfully, you know you have come across people who have mastered what it means to be part of something. Even more impressive is when they can come together under the umbrella of a common mission to help others achieve the same level of closeness. Of course, the story of My Mother, My Daughter, My Friend is just that: how a mother and a daughter came together while seeking to bring others closer.
“It’s fun and keeps us connected,” Gebel says. “We’ve learned that we’re so similar and so have come to really respect each other. It keeps us together and focused because we work really well together and are similar, professionally. We have significantly improved our relationship in our adult years, which is why we’re so passionate about it and want to encourage other people to do the same.”