Introduced in the The Next Generation episode “Haven,” Lwaxana Troi, the mother of Counselor Deanna Troi, often divided fans—some saw her as a great character that let Majel Barrett-Roddenberry have fun, while others saw Lwaxana as little more than a stereotypical ‘kooky overbearing mother.’ Yet the relationship between Lwaxana and Deanna can teach audiences about motherhood, the struggles that can come from it, and how to rebuild relationships between mothers and children.
In her first appearance, Lwaxana is portrayed as eccentric and overbearing, flirting with Picard even though he does not return these feelings, then pressuring Deanna to marry Wyatt Miller. Wyatt is a man Deanna has been betrothed to since childhood, even though neither has spent time with each other, making them literal strangers. Many of Lwaxana’s scenes show her in a very unflattering light; she comes across as ‘My Beloved Smother’ as she chastises Deanna for speaking instead of communicating telepathically then acts very over the top during the betrothal dinner—complete with wearing a plant boa that reacts.
Lwaxana continues, being dismissive of Picard before flirting with him. Deanna keeps trying to rein in Lwaxana, reminding Lwaxana that Picard deserves respect and chastising Lwaxana for making other members of the crew uncomfortable by being very frank about sexuality. Their relationship in this episode in particular shows how important setting boundaries are for parents and children. Even though Lwaxana often dismisses Deanna’s comments, Deanna is clearly asserting herself to let Lwaxana know when she oversteps.
Lwaxana’s next episode, “Manhunt,” does not focus on their relationship, but it does establish the different ways people react to Lwaxana being overbearing. Whereas Deanna very clearly establishes her boundaries by verbally and mentally chastising her mother, Picard either assigns others to deal with Lwaxana or flees to the holodeck. Would Lwaxana have kept flirting with Picard if he had stood up to Lwaxana and told her that her attentions were unwanted?
Worf is very clear with his boundaries, telling Lwaxana not to mess with the Enterprise controls and correcting her every time she misnames him as “Mr. Woof”. Worf is very clear and concise with his comments, not allowing Lwaxana to focus on part of his comment to turn it into a long discussion. Compare this to when Deanna states the Enterprise crew is her family. Lwaxana retorts that Deanna should marry and have children, then complains that Deanna has “ruined” her chance with Riker, to which Deanna storms off, enraged. Deanna often seems frustrated with her mother, but because she asserts her discomfort and sets her boundaries, Lwaxana does capitulate slightly. Unfortunately, these are small compromises, not major shifts in their relationship. Lwaxana may not stop her overall goal to get Deanna married, but at various times when Deanna sets boundaries with Lwaxana, Lwaxana backs off briefly. A brief respite may be a small thing, but it is progress.
Lwaxana’s later appearances show she is very slowly learning to respect Deanna’s boundaries. Deanna tells Lwaxana she has aged out of Lwaxana’s nickname for Deanna, ‘Little One,’ and Lwaxana does stop using that nickname briefly. A particular episode that helps strengthen their bond is “Menage à Troi” when Lwaxana and Deanna are kidnapped by the Ferengi. Their captors use technology to remove their clothes against their will and plan to use Lwaxana’s position in the Betazed aristocracy to improve the rewards the Ferengi will receive from a trade agreement being negotiated on the Enterprise. Using their telepathy, Lwaxana and Deanna work together to try to outwit the Ferengi, using the leader Tog’s attraction to Lwaxana to try to get his codes to unlock their prison cell. Even though this is thwarted, Lwaxana and Deanna were able to work together to try to get the information they needed from Tog, clearly indicating when they work together they can do great things.
It is one of Lwaxana’s last appearances in TNG that is the most important to understanding their dynamic though: “Dark Page.” While on a diplomatic mission, Lwaxana appears to be suffering mentally. It turns out a child who is part of a delegation seeking admittance to the Federation is reawakening suppressed memories of Lwaxana’s first child: Deanna’s sister, Kestra. Kestra died in an accident shortly after Deanna and Lwaxana repressed the memories entirely. All proof of Kestra’s existence—photos, belongings, and more—is erased, even parts of Lwaxana’s personal journals are deleted. Due to her PTSD from losing Kestra, Lwaxana even refused to let her husband talk about their daughter. His death shortly after Kestra’s may have contributed to the very uneven relationship between Lwaxana and Deanna as Lwaxana focused all her energy on Deanna without addressing the loss of Kestra in a mentally healthy way.
Deanna is stunned by this knowledge as she is just learning of a long lost sister, understanding that her father died without getting to acknowledge the loss of his first child, and how her mother has been avoiding the emotional toll the event has taken on her. Hindsight can even add more to the nickname “Little One” that Deanna hated—she was the younger daughter and just a few months old when Kestra died. Although the death of Kestra did not exist in the original character brief for Lwaxana, it does provide a strong context for her and her relationships with others. Deanna was raised in a family that never got to emotionally process their grief and had to ignore the loss. Did Lwaxana become more dramatic and high strung due to decades of repressing difficult feelings?
Throughout TNG, Lwaxana Troi was a sharp contrast to her daughter Deanna. Lwaxana was very dramatic and determined to see her daughter married while also seeking a new husband for herself. Their relationship was often uneven. Deanna tried to set boundaries whileLwaxana often pushed her daughter further as she wanted Deanna’s life to go in a different direction. The revelation that Lwaxana lost Deanna’s older sister in an accident and has never truly processed her grief and PTSD reveals how trauma can shape a family relationship. Although the reconciliation between mother and daughter mostly happens offscreen, they are seen looking at a picture of Kestra and Deanna then Lwaxana starts telling Deanna about Kestra as the episode ends, implying they can now have emotionally healthy conversations with each other.