It’s one of the most fundamental relationships in the human jungle, and it’s going under the magnifying glass. The mother/daughter dynamic is at the heart of Discovery Fit & Health’s new series, My Mom Is Obsessed — premiering tomorrow, March 29 at 10pm ET/PT — which looks at mothers with obsessive or addictive behaviors and the damaged and sometimes desperate teen daughters whose lives suffer as a result.
As the girls attempt to connect with their moms and have healthy, communicative relationships with them, these mothers too often eschew their parental responsibilities in favor of shopping, working out, cosmetic surgery, partying or other concerns. Through its six episodes, My Mom Is Obsessed aims to show how, with the help of a therapist, these disastrous mother/daughter pairs can pull themselves back from the brink of a total falling out and establish a new foundation for a nurturing relationship.
I spoke with Rebecca Mayer, executive producer of My Mom Is Obsessed (and casting producer for A&E’s Intervention), to explore the series a bit further and what she learned through working on it. I was curious about how they established the initial relationships for this series. Since they couldn’t approach teens themselves, that would mean they would have to approach the mothers — likely through being pointed out by friends or relatives. As such, they might not have been so receptive to being identified as having a problem. But Mayer says it actually worked out reasonably well.
“I think we had a lot of moms who were completely aware of their issues, and we had some who were aware that there’s a problem and didn’t necessarily have the tools to identify exactly what the issue was,” she explains. “But they’re certainly aware that there’s strife between them, in the relationship between them and their daughters. And they are aware of what is bothering their daughters about their behavior. So then it just becomes a process of getting them to really see what’s happening in front of them and to really grasp onto that and go, ‘OK, that’s the specific issue, and that’s what I need to fix behaviorally in order to mend this relationship.’”
On the surface, it sounds so simple, but behavioral conditions like those described in My Mom Is Obsessed are full of nuanced emotional complexity that has consequences — for the mother as well as for the daughter. I asked Mayer to describe some of the situations she encountered in making this series. “One that springs to mind is Susan, who is addicted to cosmetic procedures,” she recalls. “One of the things we see is, it’s really hurting her daughter because she’s spent so much time on her appearance and on activities related to her appearance that her daughter really feels ignored. But on top of that, [her daughter] doesn’t understand why her mother can’t be happy with who she is in her own skin. It’s very emotional. As a daughter, you look at your mom, and you think, ‘I want to be you when I grow up.’ And to see a mother who’s dissatisfied with herself in that kind of very real physical way is extremely upsetting.”
Problems with self-image recur as a theme in My Mom Is Obsessed. “Tamara was weight obsessed,” Mayer continues. “She had a daughter Alizabeth, and that was really a powerful [episode] for me, because we were seeing a mom who was physically putting her 13-year-old daughter on a scale and making her feel like she’s overweight, having her call her from school and tell her what she’s eating, and ransacking her bedroom looking for candy wrappers — which any normal kid would have — because she’s so terrified that her daughter will gain weight and end up like her.”
In this particular case, Tamara’s concern for Alizabeth was driven by the fact that Tamara herself felt that her weight had cost her the significant male relationships in her life. For Mayer, it was crucial to see these two work past this damaging perception. “The concern becomes, in situations like that — and really, in all these situations — that these daughters won’t have the tools to resist imitating that behavior,” she says. “So seeing them work through that, and seeing Elizabeth be really honest with her mother, and seeing Tamara understand, ‘Oh — look at what I’m doing to my child just because I’m not fixing what’s wrong with me’ is very powerful as well.”
Photo: Discovery Fit & Health