Modern Motherhood

05 Apr 2024

With the Mother Daughter Journey, Boulder therapist Deb Rubin empowers parents with tools for connection and communication during some of the trickiest years of parenting

By Katherine Owen

Lorelai and Rory. M’lynn and Shelby. Donna and Sophie. The relationship of mothers and daughters is an iconic one, often depicted for its deep and complicated nature—but also reduced to a caricature of negative stereotypes. It’s a trope that’s understandable yet reductive, according to Deb Rubin. 

“There are so many negative stories around mothers and daughters, and we see it in the movies, and we read it in books. And the relationships that thrive with mothers and daughters just aren’t often talked about,” she explains.

Such is the focus of her work, The Mother Daughter Journey, a practice informed by her more than 20 years as a licensed clinical social worker. As Rubin began raising two daughters of her own, and experienced the conversation around raising daughters firsthand, she realized a gap existed that could be bridged by many of the same relational techniques she’d applied to her work as a couple’s counselor for so many years. 

“It was happening to me, people were coming up to me like, ‘Oh, you have two daughters, just you wait, the drama’s going to be so big.’ And I was saying it too. ‘Oh, the drama. The drama.’ And yes, there is drama, of course there’s drama. There has to be—we live in a culture where we socialize girls to be emotive and talk about their feelings and express themselves,” Rubin says. “But what I was realizing is that there’s this sort of negative flavor around it all that really translates into these hard, painful relationships that have a competitive feel and lack listening and communication skills.” 

That’s when the Mother Daughter Journey was born. Rubin set out to create workshops for mothers and daughters to learn specific skills together, like how to communicate with one another, how to ask questions that are rooted in curiosity (not interrogation) and how to get to know the person that the daughter is becoming. 

The practices are rooted in training from Rubin’s years working with couples, drawing on approaches like those taught in The Gottman Institute, a research-based program focused primarily on couples. 

“I was actually applying a lot of training related to how couples can stay updated, deeply listen and repair thoughtfully but adjusting it to make it more mother/daughter relatable. I try to empower moms to understand how to stay in their adult selves in order for their daughters to fully be themselves,” explains Deb.

In the nearly 10 years since, Rubin estimates she has worked with more than 300 mothers and 150 mother-daughter pairs, via workshops that vary from one-day intensives to four-week immersions. 

In her “Mom Magic,” workshops, Rubin works in-person with groups of moms of either middle schoolers or nine- to 11-year-olds to navigate the ups and downs of parenting daughters in each age group.

Rubin explains that nine to 11 years in particular is a pivotal point in adolescence, when emotionality really begins to kick in for young girls. In these Mom Magic sessions, mothers will explore topics like relationships, sexuality, the nervous system and brain development, technology, generational mothering and how to have “heart-forward” conversations. Through these conversations and activities, mothers gain not just knowledge, but community. 

“What’s really cool is a lot of the moms stay in touch, and then they create their own little villages. And that is my ultimate goal. I always say, no one should be mothering alone. And for these moms to be vulnerable and share their experiences and learn together and learn how to open their minds and have more perspective and trust the process together, then they can hold each other in it. When they stay in touch without me being part of it, I feel like my work is done. That feels so good.” 

Rubin notes that parenting adolescents can come with a surprising amount of isolation compared to other age groups. The Mother Daughter Journey workshops are a chance to reconnect with other parents in the very same boat. 

“When our kids are really small, there’s mommy groups and this group and that group and playgroups, and then, that all kind of goes away in middle school. And by then, people—rightfully so—feel protective over sharing about their kids. So, this is a way to have a really safe container that’s confidential where you realize you’re just not alone,” Rubin says.   

Her workshops also occasionally take the form of two-hour “deep dives,” in which she explores topics like sexuality or “counterwill,” aka teenage resistance. And since these are online, they’re a chance for parents outside of Boulder to participate in the Mother Daughter Journey programming, no matter how far. Rubin also offers a “Dads Only” workshop so fathers can better understand adolescent girls, “because most of the time they’ve never been one before.” And occasionally, she’ll host an all-day workshop for mothers and daughters that’s full of experimental, experiential programming. “It’s so beautiful, to be able to witness a mom and daughter have a whole day together that is just devoted to them learning about each other,” says Rubin. 

Whether between mothers and daughters, fathers and daughters or simply between parents themselves, Rubin says connection is at the heart of her work. 

“That’s my superpower—how to really build connection when we’re living in a culture that is very disconnected in many ways,” Rubin says. “That’s one thing I say to moms all the time: this is not about how well-behaved your kid is. My kids are doing all the same stuff as your kids. I don’t even know what ‘perfect’ would look like, but that’s not what we’re going for. What we’re going for is: how do you be the person that they come back to over and over again, and how do you create a safe space for them to learn and become exactly who they are? That’s what it’s all about.”

To learn more about Rubin’s work and upcoming Mother Daughter Journey workshops, visit and sign up for the MDJ newsletter. 

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