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A Walk in Her Shoes’: Building Empathy Between Mothers and Daughters

by Lauren Fallat, LPC LPAT ATR-BC

What would it be like to walk in your mother’s shoes for a day? Or your daughter’s for that matter? Often our perspectives on one another’s lives, especially between a mother and daughter, can be skewed by our feelings in the moment. The mother-daughter relationship is one that can be full of love, support, and understanding, or one of tension, rivalry, and resentment. Mothers may struggle with maintaining positive support and understanding if they believe that their daughters don’t appreciate them, and daughters may feel that their mothers don’t understand them when this occurs. This can result in a lot of frustration and resentment on both sides.

Empathy is the ability to understand and share the feelings of another. It is the bridge that connects us with each other, and it is what allows us to see beyond our own perspective. Often when we are seeking a positive and compassionate way to navigate our relationship with our daughter or mother, it can be challenging to overcome our own feelings of hurt and frustration. When we realize that our relationship is not as expected- warm, forgiving, supportive, and/or accepting- it can be difficult to find empathy with the other person and forgive their flaws or inability to meet our needs or expectations.

One way to build empathy and understanding is by engaging in an art therapeutic directive called “A Walk in Her Shoes”. The directive uses the process of drawing to help mothers and daughters visualize what it's like to ‘walk’ in the other person's shoes- to live a life with their responsibilities, worries, goals, ambitions, stressors and strengths. When presented with this directive, both the mother and daughter are asked to create a drawing of real or imagined shoes- shoes they own or shoes they make up in their mind. The mother will create her own pair of shoes and the daughter will create her own pair. Through these drawings, both the mother and daughter will have a chance to reflect on how they want to depict themselves and their lived experience through the life of the shoes. Will these shoes look worn and tattered, brand new and unused, or worn into perfection? Will these shoes be sneakers, high heels, flip flops, or ballet slippers?

The symbol of the shoes is meant to be the first step towards building a foundation of understanding between these two individuals struggling to know each other. When the daughter explains the meaning that her shoes hold to her mother, there is a chance for the mother to show interest, care and consideration towards her daughter’s current lived experience. Perhaps the daughter might be able to express how often her shoes have run up and down the soccer field in hopes of making a goal or how often her shoes have been stained by the grass when she has made efforts to mow the lawn.

There is a lot of power in the act of storytelling. It is a way for us to make sense of our world, and to share our experiences with others. The drawings in this directive are meant to be symbolically simple, yet powerful in the narratives that stem from these images. The hope is that the image and symbol of the shoes will help to open up communication and understanding between mothers and daughters as they learn about and get a glimpse of what it is each person is going through and experiencing daily in their own lives. In a world where communication between mothers and daughters is often fraught with misunderstandings and hurt feelings, these images offer a simple but profound way of building empathy between the two groups.

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