The Mother-Daughter Connection

“It all comes back to the human condition, you know, searching for home, searching for belonging.”

Lauren DelGandio

When I was thinking about what I wanted my final SoFA interview to be, I decided to take time to reflect on how my work and ideas have taken shape over the years. I thought back to where my work started and immediately thought about my family. Often, my work is literally about my family and when it’s not, it revolves around the values growing up in my family left me with; connection, vulnerability, and support. So for this last interview, I decided to talk to my mother about my relationship with her, the relationships we have with our family, and how it all finds its way into my creative practice. 

Olivia DelGandio: If you could do life all over again, what would you change? 

Lauren DelGandio: I would have stayed in school and gotten a Masters and Ph.D. in sociology. I would love to research and teach. Every sociology class that I took lit me up, I couldn’t wait to read more. But I don’t think I saw staying in school really as an option, financially. And it seemed like a pipe dream.

Olivia: What was Meme’s (my grandmother’s) part in that? 

Lauren: It’s interesting because she says she always told me I could be anything but I recently said to her, “I know you said it but I didn’t believe you.”

Olivia: Why do you think you didn’t believe her?

Lauren: My self-esteem was incredibly low. I felt unimportant. Invisible. Meme and I were talking about this recently and I said I always let you find your way and Meme said that she told me the same things. I said to her, “but the difference is that Olivia believes me when I tell her she can do anything.”

Olivia: It’s interesting how those things are passed down and how they change and shift the way because I did believe you. I do believe you. 

Lauren: Words are one thing, right? But action and example are a completely separate thing and that wasn’t there. My father did not show me that he loved me. And I knew that Meme loved me but I felt like my voice was not important because of the situations and the life we were put into. So the words were, “you’re incredible, you’re talented, you’re smart” but the environment did not show me that. 

Olivia: Totally. I mean, it’s so interesting to think about how, like, we were both told the same things, but because our growing up experiences were so different, the result was so different. How did this all translate into you and Dad’s relationship?

Lauren: I mean, getting together at 16, I wasn’t even a person yet. I’ve told you I thought he was so hot and so desirable. If you ask me, like, you know, on a scale of 1 to 10 where we each were, I’d say he was a 27 and I was maybe a 5. I remember thinking, why would he want me? And I see it so clearly now, I was just reliving this dance of, if I’m good enough, my father will love me, if I’m good enough, this man will love me enough to marry me. I was always trying to prove something. So I accepted being treated very poorly because I didn’t see any value in myself. 

Olivia: You would never know that he used to treat you poorly by looking at how he is now. What changed?

Lauren: Well, we didn’t see each other or talk for almost two years when I was around 19. That was the beginning for me, I couldn’t believe I had accepted what I accepted. And for dad, he says he always knew he wanted more for himself than the hand he was dealt. Obviously a lot of how he treated me came from how he was raised. He says he knew that I would get him to grow and that we could grow together. And in that time we were apart, he realized he wanted to make that growth happen with me. 

Olivia: How do you think all of these relationships fit into how you mother me? 

Lauren: That’s really interesting. First of all, I think that I made a really conscious decision probably before I even knew it, to not be like my mother. And, you know, there are so many ways that I’m very much like my mother, but I made the decision to not parent like my mother, 

Olivia: In what way? 

Lauren: In terms of my relationship with my mother, the mother daughter connection and struggle for individuation, I still sometimes question if I’ve  individuated completely. There was just so much codependency. 

Olivia: I question that too. 

Lauren: I look at our family tree, our family connections, I think about my own friendships or lack of friendships and I realize that family filled so much of my life. I often wonder and question, you know, did I not maintain strong friendships because my family took up too much space? Every weekend was going to Miami to spend time with not just my mother but this whole extended family. It was such a special thing but I also wonder if it was a deterrent. And I think the whole dynamic also makes it so hard to explain to other people. It’s impossible to explain what losing these people and these connections meant for us because our family relationships were so different from most families. 

Olivia: Totally agree. I remember being 18 when Poppop (my great grandfather) died and I was absolutely devastated. People didn’t understand how I could feel so strongly about someone most people don’t even get the chance to meet, let alone have and see so often for my entire childhood. 

Lauren: Right. I can’t say that I regret the emphasis we had on family because the ties, the relationships, the memories, I wouldn’t trade them for the world. But there have been times I’ve wondered, how come I don’t have any close friends? What is it about me? And it’s sort of like I don’t need friends, I talk to my mother every single day but is that how it should be?

Olivia: It’s such an interesting question. Now that we live so far away from each other, I’ve thought a lot about our relationship and how we are so connected. I talk to you way more than any of my friends talk to their mothers, I probably talk to my grandmother more than my friends talk to their mothers. And if a whole day goes by without at least a text from you I’m like hm, I should check in with my mom. I’ve definitely had moments where I have to remind myself that it’s normal to not talk to your mother for a day. 

Lauren: Exactly. And I always want you to have your life separate from me, it’s an interesting thing to have to learn. 

Olivia: And I am so much like you in so many ways and I wonder how much of me is just you? Who am I without my mother?

Lauren: Well I think there’s a distinction between who am I without my mother and who am I without my mother’s approval/opinion? And I think it is an ongoing process probably for the rest of our lives. For me, just the fact that you live 2500 miles away means I’ve succeeded in letting you know that you can go out and live your life without me. It’s cliche but I’ve always wanted to give you roots to come home to and wings so you can fly away. And I don’t know that Meme ever meant the same for me. 

Olivia: I could see that. 

Lauren: It’s interesting because you have to look at who raised you, who raised me, and who raised Meme in order to understand it all. Meme always says that GG (her mother) was not affectionate and I think she wanted to be different from that. And me – I grew up watching Meme stay with a husband that treated her and us so wrong. She had to have such low self esteem to accept that for so long, which brings it back to my self esteem growing up. I didn’t know I could want more for myself. 

Me with my mother, grandmother, and great-grandmother, 2013, courtesy of Lauren DelGandio. 

Olivia: So she didn’t want to be like her mother and you didn’t want to be like your mother but, the thing is, I want to be like my mother. 

Lauren: That’s an honor. That’s a true honor. 

Olivia: I mean, we talk about how you and dad decided to break the mold and I think it’s proof that it worked because I want to be like my parents. It’s interesting to think about all of this in relation to the work that I make and want to make and how so much of it comes down to connection and conversation and family. 

Lauren: That’s interesting, it all comes back to the human condition, you know, searching for home, searching for belonging. And I think a lot of what you explore is the idea of belonging. Belonging physically as compared to belonging as a feeling, right? You know, what does belonging mean in a modern and post-modern, apocalyptic world?

Olivia: And when I think about it, home and belonging, I think of sleepovers at Meme’s house and all our weekends there together and walks on the beach with you and Meme and you and Dad, you know, the home that you made for me and my brothers. It all comes back to this connection and what that feels like. Like waking up at a sleepover at Meme’s and she’s in the bed next to me. No matter how old I got, she left Bompa (my grandfather) to come and sleep with me. Not because I needed her to anymore, but because it was this special thing, right? 

The beach where my mother and great-grandparents lived during my childhood. We’d often walk this path together, Bal Harbor, FL, 2019, photo taken by Olivia DelGandio

Lauren: Exactly. This sense of connection, it’s everything to us and it’s also what’s made death so much harder in this family. 

Olivia: It’s all coming full circle. It’s also making me think about how we started this conversation with you saying you’d be a professor if you could do it differently. I’m thinking about how I’m going to be teaching my own class soon. What does that feel like for you?

Lauren: I feel thrilled. I’ve told you a zillion times, I’m so proud of you. I love you but I also just like you so much and you’ve really created this life that you truly dreamed of. You chose it. This is all I wanted for you. 

Olivia: I really feel like this was only possible because you told me it was. And because of the true belonging you and Dad raised me within.

Lauren: Yes and I’m so proud of me and Dad. We’re a miracle from where we both came from to have created this. It makes me think of GG and Poppop (my great-grandparents) sitting at the head of the table on Thanksgiving and Poppop saying, “Ida, look at what we started,” while our whole family is running around them. That’s how I feel when I look at you and your brothers. 

Liv DelGandio (she/they) is a socially engaged artist focused on asking intimate questions and normalizing answers in the form of ongoing conversations. She explores grief, memory, and queerness and looks for ways of memorializing moments and relationships. Through her work, she hopes to make the world a more tender place and does so by creating books, installations, and textiles that capture personal narratives. Research is a large part of this work and her current research interests include untold queer histories, family lineage, and the intersection between fashion and identity. Her medium is often changing and responding to a specific place and context that she’s in.

Lauren DelGandio (she/her) is a feeler and a thinker. She’s spent a lifetime working in the nonprofit world and is currently creating community in Orlando, FL. She loves mango ginger tea, a good book, and the family she’s created with her husband. (she/her) is a feeler and a thinker. She’s spent a lifetime working in the nonprofit world and is currently creating community in Orlando, FL. She loves mango ginger tea, a good book, and the family she’s created with her husband. 

The Social Forms of Art (SoFA) Journal is a publication dedicated to supporting, documenting and contextualising social forms of art and its related fields and disciplines. Each issue of the Journal takes an eclectic look at the ways in which artists are engaging with communities, institutions and the public. The Journal supports and discusses projects that offer critique, commentary and context for a field that is active and expanding.

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