It Never Ends: Mothering Middle-Aged Daughters

By Sandra Butler and Nan Fink Gefen

As mothers and daughters age, their relationship shifts and changes in complex and often demanding ways. In It Never Ends: Mothering Middle-Aged Daughters women speak openly about the satisfactions and sorrows of mothering middle-aged daughters and discuss the issues that continue to surface, the ongoing effects of the past on the present, and the varied and often invisible ways they continue mothering. Mothers acknowledge an inevitable recalibrating of authority, autonomy, and independence now that they no longer are as central in the lives of their daughters as they once were.

Co-written with Sandra Butler, It Never Ends: Mothering Middle-Aged Daughters is published by She Writes Press and is available on


“A brave book, and one that I admire—a book that will help many aging mothers feel less alone and lead to more open exploration, both in literature and in life.”

—Ellen Bass, poet and author of Like a Beggar and coauthor of The Courage to Heal


“A rich, thoughtful, multi-layered look into the ways that mothers experience their relationships with their middle-aged daughters variously with love, joy, fulfillment, sorrow, anguish, and longing . . . a warm, clearly written, sorely needed exploration of a topic of profound importance.”

—Paula J. Caplan, PhD, author of The New Don’t Blame Mother: Mending the Mother-Daughter Relationship and Associate, W. E. B. Du Bois Research Institute, Harvard University


“A book to learn from and savor. The complex, nuanced stories of these women’s relationships with their adult daughters over time form the core of this revealing book as the authors probe the mothers’ yearnings for intimacy, issues of distance and alienation, and modes of forgiveness and renewal.”

—Joyce Antler, author of You Never Call! You Never Write!: A History of the Jewish Mother and Professor Emerita, Brandeis University


“An important work. For every second-wave feminist, this book is a continuation of the consciousness started in the 1960s, and an expansive and intimate story for anyone who has been or intends to be a mother.”

—Ruth Rosen, author of The World Split Open: How the Modern Women’s Movement Changed America


A Short Excerpt

Mother and daughter relationships are like a dance. The partners move toward each other and away, around and about, and some movements are wild and abrupt while others are more carefully attuned. Over the years the rhythm changes, but one thing is certain: the dance continues to the end.

The rhythm may shift when one of the dancers (usually the daughter) signals that she wants to be less connected. Phone calls and emails are not answered or visits are canceled. There are subtle nonverbal cues; a kiss brushed aside, a vague unavailability. Some mothers are quick to sense that their daughters want more distance. The question, then, is how to respond. A few mothers directly ask their daughters what’s going on—but more often than not, they retreat in anger, hurt, or confusion.

Being a mother at any age is a precipitous task. Perhaps even more so when a woman is in her later years, looking back over the course of her life and focusing on the state of her relationship with her daughter. If their bond is strong, there is a desire to preserve what they have, and if there is tension, to resolve it. Mothers want things settled. Time is short. No longer is there a hazy span of years opening to the future, and this realization brings a sense of urgency.

Yet living with this sense of urgency is too disruptive, and the impulse is to push away these disturbing thoughts. The concerns of everyday life take precedence. Schedules must be kept, calls made, obligations fulfilled. Their relationships with their daughters slip into a familiar perspective and life goes on in its confounding, messy way.