Growing up, writer and podcaster Ashley C. Ford always felt like her family was keeping secrets from her. As she began to work through the traumas she endured in her relationships both in and outside of her home, Ashley uncovered truths about her family as well as herself, which she shares in her debut memoir, Somebody’s Daughter. She tells Zibby what her journey to self-acceptance has looked like, where her relationships with her parents each stand today, and how fulfilling it is to realize love can take any shape if we’re willing to embrace it.


Zibby Owens: Welcome, Ashley. Thank you so much for coming on “Moms Don’t Have Time to Read Books” to talk about Somebody’s Daughter, a memoir that I found time to read.

Ashley C. Ford: Thank you so much for having me.

Zibby: Oh, my gosh, it’s a thrill. It’s so neat when I read a memoir and then I get to interview the person right then. It does not get old for me. It’s amazing, especially yours, which is so powerful and moving in so many different ways and well-written and soulful and horrifying and inspiring and all the things that a memoir should really be. Wow.

Ashley: Thank you. That’s really, really kind of you to say. I think that that’s one of my favorite things too as an interviewer, is when I learn something new about a person or just get to read something or experience something they’ve done and then I immediately get to interview them. There’s almost nothing better than that. It’s a really nice feeling.

Zibby: Right? It’s the coolest feeling. Amazing. Here we are. For people who aren’t familiar with your memoir yet, would you mind giving a little summary of both what you — I can’t say what it’s about. It’s your entire life story. What made you even write this memoir to begin with? and what that whole thing was like. So many questions. Start there, I guess, please.

Ashley: I wrote this memoir because I had really strong memories from when I was a child, really clear and consistent memories about what it was like to feel helpless and also like there were a lot of secrets being kept around me, and the process of slowly unraveling some of the truths around those secrets and deciding what they meant to me, what they didn’t mean to me, and how they were going to change the way I lived my life, if at all. It is definitely a book about hard things, assault, incarceration, abuse, violence, but it’s also a book about hopeful and joyful things like love and family and forgiveness and moving on.

Zibby: Wow, beautiful. One of the parts that I loved was the relationship you had with your grandmother. I was always really close to my grandmother. I love watching people’s relationships, intergenerational, develop in memoir, on the page, whatever. Then I realized as you — well, I didn’t realize. You point it out. Your grandmother was only in her forties when she had all these grandchildren. I’m thinking, I can barely deal with my own kids in my forties. She had nine grandkids or something crazy. When you think about a grandmother, first, I think an older lady. Your grandmother was not old at all. Yet look what she was doing, oh, my gosh.

Ashley: Absolutely, a full-on matriarch.

Zibby: The power and being able to manage all of that, how she took care of you. Tell me a little more about your relationship with her because it comes full circle.

Ashley: My relationship with my grandmother is one of the strongest relationships I’ve ever had in my entire life. I don’t have memories before her, which I think is true for quite a few people with their grandparents, but I don’t know that everybody got to spend as much time with their grandparent as I did. My grandma and I lived together, just the two of us, really, for a year. The first year of school that I ever had, I was with her. We were just bonded in a way that not only felt real, but everybody else commented on. Everybody was always bringing up how close the two of us were to the two of us. It was just like, yeah, that’s the way it is. Despite all those grandkids, my grandma, who I love but who definitely suffered from a lack of tact, did not hesitate to make it clear that, yeah, but this is my favorite one. Yeah, I have all these grandkids, but this one is clearly my favorite. She made me feel special. It’s always special to be somebody’s favorite. There’s something about being a grandparent’s favorite that I think you just never — it puts something inside of you, like a little sparkle, like a little ember, a little flame that is really, really hard to put out despite any and all other circumstances in your life. I think when you’re a grandparent’s favorite and you know it, you always feel like you have access to a little bit of magic that other people don’t have access to.

Zibby: Totally. Not to upset my cousins or anything, but I was also, apparently, my grandmother’s favorite. They’re probably not listening. In fact, you could’ve called it Somebody’s Granddaughter too, really.

Ashley: Absolutely. You know, even my grandmother told my mother that she felt like I was her daughter sometimes.

Zibby: Your mother was so erratic and emotionally inaccessible. Your grandmother, the stability of love that you receive from her was so counter to your mother. The scenes that you described, Ashley, oh, my gosh, my heart was breaking for you as a kid. Also, the inconsistency of it, the unpredictability. You know, in science experiments, like variable reinforcement versus consistent, that’s the most potent of all, is when you don’t know, and so you keep coming back. That’s something that I feel like stays with you long after, not to mention the violence behind some of her actions and the betrayals.

Ashley: I think the hardest part for me as a kid, and even the hardest part of working on those parts of the book years later, was realizing that even then, I knew that all of that stuff was coming from fear. It was so clear to me that my mom was afraid of the world in a way that I was not. To be fair, my mom had been, pretty early on in her life, traumatized by the world over and over again. She has a mother who reinforced that. My grandmother was always very, look out for what everybody is thinking or saying about you. Look out for this. Look out for that. My mom was just kind of a ball of paranoia. The way that that played out for us wasn’t good. It wasn’t fair. I think the thing that was hardest was knowing that it would be different if this was just anger or just cruelty because at least then I could hate you. At least then I could think, the first chance I get, I’m getting away from this and I will never look back. I’m the kind of person who, if I feel like somebody is just that evil, cruel thing about them, they want to hurt, they want to harm, I’m like, get that away from me. There was this other thing I saw in my mom. That was why it was so hard for me to separate enough to feel like my own person, was because I saw that thing in her that I was like, that’s fear. You don’t hate me. I don’t even think you like the way you’re acting right now. I don’t think you like the way you’re behaving right now. It’s so sad to me that you feel like you have to and that I see that as a child when I look at you, that you feel like you have to be this way. I don’t think you do.

Zibby: You were like a little child therapist. You needed to sit her down.

Ashley: Right, but you don’t know that.

Zibby: No, I know, but that’s a lot for a young child to take on and to notice and to subconsciously deal with. I feel like the way you wrote about her, with such nuance and this sense of forgiveness, really — right?

Ashley: Mm-hmm.

Zibby: You’re still talking about how you chit-chat on the phone. You’re still close. Being able to forgive all that, I don’t know how you — I don’t know. I’m not even asking you questions. I’m just opining here.

Ashley: No, that’s okay. It’s cool. I like talking about it because that’s the thing, is that we’re not close. We’ve never been close. Our relationship, it’s easy because we’re very familiar with each other, obviously, but it’s not close. My mom doesn’t really know about my hopes and dreams and the inner workings of my mind and emotions, nor does she ask about those things. If I ask her about those things, it makes her afraid. It always has. Now she’ll tell you that it makes her afraid because, what if I write about it? I’ve been asking these questions long before I was ever a writer. The response hasn’t changed much in any context. We’re not really close. We’re friendly. I feel friendly with my mother for the most part. I do love her. The type of mother-daughter closeness that I think a lot of people experience or want to experience, that’s not what we have. That’s not what we have in the book.

I think there’s some interesting things to be said about forgiveness and what that looks like in reality. I always imagined forgiveness or the fantasy of forgiveness was me having some moment with my mom where suddenly, we connect. We see each other. We realize that we both want to do better and be better. We’re going to work on it together. Everything’s going to change. It’s going to be better. We’re going to figure it out. That’s the fantasy of forgiveness. The reality of forgiveness is that I just had to figure out what loving my mom just as she is looks like, not wishing or hoping for her to be anything different. Just as she is, the person she is today, the person she’s been, informed by the person she’s been, what does that look like for me to love her? It doesn’t look like the fantasy, but it looks like something that works. It looks like boundaries that allow me to love her and myself at the same time.

Zibby: Wow, it’s just so mature.


Zibby: No, seriously. I feel like there’s this embedded wish that an imperfect mother will change. You just come back to the well another few times. Maybe this time. Let me try again. It’s hard to wrap your mind around having the person who’s supposed to be the most loving, turns out, they’re not capable of that. That’s a lot to wrap your head around.

Ashley: It is. I’ve been in therapy for a long time wrapping my head around it, a long time. I’ve spent a lot of money wrapping my head around it. I am in a practice of every week, spending deliberate time wrapping my head around that fact. It’s not something that just rises. Oh, I’ve become so enlightened that now I don’t need this validation. I don’t need this from this parent. I can set that boundary and effortlessly go about my life. It’s not like that. It’s definitely having moments of crushing devastation that you’re not going to get the fantasy. No matter how well you dreamed up that fantasy, no matter how many details you added to it, no matter how long you’ve held onto it, you’re not going to get the fantasy. You have to allow yourself to feel devastated by that in order to move forward in your life. I was so avoiding the devastation of giving up the fantasy even as I knew it was not going to come to pass that I was not allowing myself to see myself differently, to move forward in life, to do things that matched the way I saw myself or wanted to see myself. It was so hard for me to do that because I still needed to stay. I still needed to almost stay stuck because if I moved, what if I move in the wrong direction? Then who’s going to love me? Who’s going to show up for me? Who’s going to be the person who’s number one, has my back no matter what? Everybody tells you that’s your mama. That’s supposed to be your mama, the number-one person who has your back. What happens when it’s not your mama? Then you learn the truth that pretty much all along, it was you. You were the one who had to have your back. If you trusted yourself to have your back, it would make a lot more sense to let go of the fantasy of the person who won’t, or who can’t in some cases.

Zibby: So you feel like, as a result, you still feel like you can find that elsewhere, or are you satisfied with it internally? Do you feel like there’s this external validation that you’re seeking? The praise or all that unmitigated love, really, but praise and all of that, do you search externally for that?

Ashley: Yes, we need that. It’s weird that we act like we don’t need that or like we shouldn’t need that from each other because clearly, we do. Clearly, we do. Trying to dress it up differently, judging it isn’t doing anything. Judging a need is pointless. It’s super pointless. Who cares? Who cares if it’s good or bad or wrong or right or anything? It can’t be any of those things because it’s a need. We do need it. We need to be in community with each other. We need to be connected to one another. We need to feel seen by one another, recognized, considered. It’s important. It is a need in order for us to feel safe. Feeling safe, the relative safety that we absolutely could offer each other is a need. It is an unmet need, but it’s a need. I don’t think there’s anything wrong with needing validation and community and connection. I have people who mother me. I have people who nurture me. I have people who care for me and love me in all the ways that I dreamed of and then forced myself to stop dreaming of so that I didn’t get hurt and then had to find my way back to so that I could allow myself to be loved that way. I have all of that in my life right now. My mother loves me. I do have her love. It is not necessarily the way I want to be loved. It is not necessarily the way I need to be loved, me as I am.

That doesn’t mean that I can’t find that love in a myriad of ways, not just from within myself, but also from the community that I choose and the people that I choose to have around me. This morning right before I got on here with you, I had two houseguests leave. They are both people who I’ve been friends with since I was eleven years old. One of them who’s one of my most close friends in the world, he moved away when we were fifteen years old. For the past almost twenty years, having moved away, two kids who can’t afford flights and things like that, we’ve been friends this entire time. That person’s love fills me up. Because I have people like that in my life, because I have a husband who cares for me and considers and loves me every day, a dog, friends, colleagues, there are all different kinds of love. I let that flow into me. I put it back out into the world. I don’t feel like I’m missing out. Yes, it does hurt sometimes that I don’t have the fantasy relationship with my mama. I would never pretend it doesn’t hurt. That pain is super worth it to just feel and let myself, like I said, feel devastated by it. When I let myself feel devastated by that pain, the people I reach out to to help me get back to myself, find my way back to myself if I need it are people who love me so much and so deeply that I end up just feeling grateful that I have them.

Zibby: It’s almost like grief. At some point, it’s like you lost your mom, or the ideal of it. Then this is what would happen if you actually lost your mom. The people would rise up in the community. You could say all the same things. Yet when you have a mother who isn’t able to be the person, you don’t get that layer of social acceptance. You still have a mom. What are you going to say?

Ashley: Yes, I do have a mom. Sometimes being in a relationship with her hurts me. Sometimes it does.

Zibby: I need to find your therapist. She sounds amazing. First of all, you need to split the proceeds of the book with the therapist.

Ashley: I probably should.

Zibby: Second of all, you need to post her information so you can help all the people out there with complicated mother-daughter relationships.

Ashley: I would if I didn’t have this possessive quality about me.

Zibby: No, of course, you’re not going to. No, I’m joking.

Ashley: That is very much like, it’s mine!

Zibby: Keep her. It’s great. You’re a great match. Do you feel like that need to be seen and recognized and validated has been met with the book coming out and the success of the book? I know it’s sort of nascent, but is that filling that same bucket, if you will?

Ashley: Weirdly, I’m going to be honest, I think that need had sort of been fulfilled before the book. I spent a lot of time working on my ability to recognize that. I had to do that before the book came out because I was really worried — what I didn’t want was for the book to come out and for me to be in a place where the success or failure of the book would change my perception of who I am. I was really, really worried that that would happen, so I spent quite a bit of time before the book came out, before I even finished the book, before I could finish book, honestly, getting to a place where I could say, this is the book I want it to be. No matter how it is received, I feel good about who I am. Only then could I really finish the book and then send it out into the world. The success and all of that is fantastic. It feels amazing. I’m really, really glad that I spent time working on my ability to feel it.

This is honestly the first time in my life that I’ve created something that I’ve been really, really proud of and that it’s something that came from me. It is a collaboration, but it’s not like a podcast that I did with somebody else. It’s not partnering with some company to create something together. This was my story from my brain that I had to sit down and write. I’m so glad that I did. I feel so proud. For the first time in my life, emotionally, I can feel that, not just think, oh, this is thing I can be proud of, but actually feel in my body like I am proud, smiling and sitting up straighter. I am proud. That is a completely different experience than years of disassociating on and off and scrambling here and there and being in survival mode. Now that I’ve had enough stability to be able to have that “I’m proud” feeling, I want that for everybody. I want it for everybody. I feel like that’s what I want now in life. I just think everybody should have the opportunity to feel really proud of what they’ve done and feel it fully in their body.

Zibby: You have to get Oprah to pick up even more books.

Ashley: Yeah, come on.

Zibby: Everyone should be so proud, justifiably. Can I ask — oh, gosh, we’re almost out of time. I had so many more questions. Just quickly, what are things like with your dad now? Can I even ask that?

Ashley: Yeah, absolutely. They’re good. I just saw him this past weekend. We had breakfast. We talked the whole time. It was great. Getting to know each other has been really lovely. Watching him navigate life after thirty years in prison has been, at times, really tough, but it has also been inspiring in certain ways. He’s a pretty good guy. Getting to know him has been a gift for me.

Zibby: Oh, my gosh, I had a thousand other things I wanted to say and quotes to read and all this stuff. Instead, I had to just — I don’t know. Anyway, thank you for opening up and discussing the book. I’m so happy for you, that you are feeling so proud. It’s so deserved. I am just so rooting for you having gone through all of this and knowing what you’re overcoming. Just know that I am part of that big community of people lifting you up from the sidelines.

Ashley: Thank you. Thank you. I appreciate that. Like I said, the response has been really amazing. Every interview, everything, it’s all been different, but good. Thank you for being part of that. Thank you for, once again, allowing me to have an experience that is positive and beautiful and also just challenging in all the best ways. You’ve been a great interviewer. This has been a really great time. I know I ramble.

Zibby: Thank you. No, it’s not rambling. I want to hear what you have to say. That’s why I’m here. Thank you. That was really nice. You didn’t have to say that. Thank you.

Ashley: My pleasure.

Zibby: Stay in touch. Good luck. I can’t wait to see what happens next for you.

Ashley: Thank you.

Zibby: Bye, Ashley.

Ashley: Bye.



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