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Naomi Judd speaking May 16 at Women Helping Women

She brings to town a suitcase of mother-daughter issues

Naomi Judd is headed to Spokane this month.

She won’t be singing. That happens June 25, when The Judds play Northern Quest Resort and Casino.

On May 16, Judd will be the keynote speaker for the Women Helping Women Fund’s annual luncheon.

Spokane in both May and June? Judd, who has performed in the Inland Northwest before, said in a recent phone interview:

“I’ve always grooved on Spokane.”

Spokane is hosting Judd, 65, during a fascinating time in her life. Famous in the 1980s and ’90s as a country-music duo with her daughter, Wynonna, she is experiencing major mother-daughter issues.

Her younger daughter, actress Ashley Judd, recently published a memoir that depicts Naomi as an absentee mother.

And on “The Judds,” a reality show on the Oprah Winfrey Network, Naomi and Wynonna travel with a therapist to help them sort through their mother-daughter baggage.

“The mother-daughter relationship is the most complex relationship in the universe,” Wynonna says in the series’ debut.

That’s a sentiment likely shared by other mother-daughter duos in the Inland Northwest this Mother’s Day 2011.

The Judds, in their quirky, very public way, are role-modeling some ways to heal this most complex relationship.

• • •  

Naomi Judd’s story is as famous as she is.

Beautiful and talented nurse and single mom sings her way out of poverty with daughter Wynonna. Her second daughter, Ashley, reaches fame, too, as a well-regarded actress.

Then Naomi comes down with hepatitis C, stops touring, and Wynonna’s stellar solo career takes off. Things end well for Naomi, too, who manages the devastating liver disease so well you’d never even know she was once deathly ill.

Meanwhile, Ashley marries a dashing race car driver, stars in movies and reaches out, in stunning philanthropy, to women trafficked for sex throughout the world.

These accomplished Judd daughters are in their 40s now, and they are into some truth-telling about their mother.

Ashley has just published a memoir, “All That is Bitter & Sweet,” that is mainly about the women she’s helping throughout the world through Population Services International, a global health organization.

But most of the media attention has focused on what she writes about her childhood – the terrible aloneness she felt as a child, moved from town to town, left alone for long periods, estranged from her father, even sent to Tokyo, without a chaperone, to model when she was just 15, where she was pawed by icky older men.

“By the time I was in sixth grade, I was coming home from school and putting a gun to my head on a regular basis, thinking of killing myself,” Ashley writes.

She and Naomi are showing what you can do when painful truths emerge about this complex mother-daughter relationship. You give each other space.

In a People magazine article, Ashley said that her mom called her to correct a fact in the book, then backed off and said, “I’m so sorry. I’m not doing that again.”

In the recent phone interview, Naomi said: “I want Ashley to know I acknowledge she has her own reality.  I may see things differently. We can agree to disagree. I want her to know I love her unconditionally. That she has a right to her own reality.

“I haven’t gotten through it yet, but I’m going to read this book in its entirety so that I know where she’s coming from so I can meet her halfway.”

• • •  

On “The Judds” reality show, which debuted April 10 and airs Sundays at 10 p.m., Naomi and Wynonna are preparing for the 18-city tour that will stop in Spokane.

Their therapist is a key player in their ongoing drama. Mother and daughter both cry a lot on the show, rehashing the painful past.

Wynonna tells the therapist that she sees the tour as a second chance with her mother.

“I want my mother to approve of me in a way that’s just not healthy,” she says. “I used to take everything as a judgment, a criticism. I could be No. 1 in the country on the radio, but she’d be mad at me about something and I would pay more attention to her mad at me. She casts a mighty shadow.”

Naomi explains some of her behavior by blaming her own mother, who is now 83.

“One of my regrets is that I don’t have a safer, healthier relationship with my mom,” Naomi said in the recent interview.

“My mother couldn’t validate me. She couldn’t love me or show affection or approve of me. She didn’t have the skills. She was parenting the way she was parented, which was not good.”

These Judd women are open about seeking outside help to work on their issues, especially the mother-daughter kind.

Wynonna did an in-treatment program for an eating disorder. Ashley, during her own in-treatment program, describes in her book curling into a fetal position during a family counseling session and crying out the years of neglect.

And these Judd women use what they’re learning for a greater good.

Ashley, a sex abuse survivor, travels the world to expose the devastation experienced by sex slaves. And Naomi can identify with the issues facing many of the women who benefit from programs supported by the Women Helping Women Fund.

Single mom living on welfare? In an abusive relationship? Zero self-esteem? She’s been there.

“I was 22. I had been beaten and raped by an ex-boyfriend stalking me. I was working two minimum-wage jobs and on welfare,” she said.

“I was trying to raise the kids. I felt like an unfit mother because I couldn’t give them what they deserved. I had no self-respect.”

Naomi said she is trying to give up trying to control.

It was while in bed in the early 1990s, ill with hepatitis C, that she had this epiphany.

“When you’re flat on your back it gives you time to think,” she said. “I started realizing what wasn’t working. I couldn’t control everything. I couldn’t be the general manager of the universe.”

Naomi said she’s realizing that as you get older, “You either get bolder or bitter.”

She’s trying for bolder. She’s working out the mother-daughter stuff.

And bringing her bold self to Spokane – twice in two months.

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