Mothers and Daughters

 

The mother-daughter relationship is the most powerful bond in the world as it affects everything from her health and self-esteem to all her other relationships. No other childhood experience is as compelling as a young girl's relationship with her mother. Each of us takes in at a cellular level how our mother feels about being female, what she believes about her body, how she takes care of her health, and what she believes is possible in life.

 

The nature of the mother/daughter relationship

How a woman sees herself, how she is in her adult relationships with partners, and how she mothers her own children, is profoundly influenced by her relationship with her own mother. Until adolescence, the mother-daughter relationship is one of general warmth and closeness. Sure, there are the occasional blow-ups, but most resolve themselves with heartfelt apologies from both sides, and lots of hugs. In the younger years the daughter looks up to her mother as an idol and the perfect image of what she strives to be when she gets older. She freely professes her love and admiration of her mother and the act of playing "dress-up" is common during the childhood years. Girls may wear their mother's dresses, jewelry, and high-heel shoes to identify themselves with "grown-up women."

 

While most five-year-old girls love their mothers with an unshakeable conviction, it's often a different story by the time they reach adolescence. The once-adored woman who rarely put a foot wrong is suddenly always doing embarrassing things. During adolescence, when the teenage daughter is faced with the task of differentiating herself, the mother-daughter relationship becomes one of alternating intimacy and hate, both marked with an intensity that only teenagers can bring to a relationship and bring out of their parents.

 

The conflict

While growing up children imitate parental and adult roles and depend upon parents for love, support, care, direction, and security. Adolescence is a phase when relationships with peers slowly replace the relationship with parents. Teenage girls want both their freedom from and their connection to their moms, but they are just not sure how to navigate the terrain and as a result they give lots of mixed messages. When teenage daughters are exercising their autonomy in their attempts to construct a differentiated self, they push their moms away.

 

Separation - To develop a sense of self, adolescent girls feel a greater need to fight, defy, or rebel against their mother's control, but given the female inclination towards relationships and connection, moms are not going to take these pushes passively. Just when their daughters need independence and are pushing away, their moms need connection and are pursuing the daughter.This process and period in young people and their parent’s lives is neither simple nor easy, and in many respects it is similar to a period of mourning, loss and grief.

 

Independence - The psychological task of adolescence is the task of becoming one's own person. The gift of independence is extremely important and the mother should allow her daughter to go through this process and stage of development. Give her permission to be herself and not another “you”. It is not healthy for a mother to live vicariously through her daughter or to try to make her daughter be like her. She should be who she wants to be. If a daughter is having trouble during adolescence, it is often because she doesn’t know who she is. Let her become her genuine self. Let her learn who that self is. Celebrate that special girl.

 

The foundation of bonding

I think we underestimate how important it is for mums and daughters to do things together in those early years. Here are some ideas:

  1. Go on regular special outings just the two of you. Even just going to the park, when your daughter is little, will be worthwhile.

  2. Start mother-daughter traditions, such as going on long walks together, dining at a favourite restaurant or spending time together updating family photo albums.

  3. Go shopping together.

  4. Make something together - cookies, a cake, an egg-carton caterpillar.

  5. Watch a movie together, even if it's just at home on the couch.

  6. Doing that builds a foundation that will help you get through adolescence.

 

Being the mother of a teenage-daughter

  • Be sure your behavior provides a good example for her to follow. Be genuine. Demonstrate and model your own family's values, from which she will build her own personal values.

  • Allow her to grow up. Let her earn privileges and responsibility by demonstrating her trustworthiness and abilities.

  • Help her care about others, and learn to give of herself without resentment. Give her plenty of practice at making decisions -- start early in life with easy choices.

  • Show her how to "let go" of disappointments and unpleasant experiences, so she avoids bitterness.

  • Allow her to feel frustrated and angry, but insist that she control those feelings in way that helps her find a solution and learn from the experience.

  • Be willing to listen and negotiate. Teach your daughter patience. Model how to remain calm under stress.

  • Let her disagree with you or others, but not in a disrespectful manner. Give her the choice and ability to "question". Give her tips on how to approach a person she needs to solve a problem with.

  • Teach her to be unassuming and not boast about being right. Make her apologize when she is wrong.

  • Make rules clear. Insist that she accepts full responsibility for her decisions and behavior, but make sure the consequences are reasonable.

  • Don't take teenage behavior too personally. The adolescent years have enough challenges without having adults overreact to their hormonal imbalances. Be sensitive to when she wants you to interact with her, and when she does not.

  • Ignore her moods. Don't bother to argue. Walk away.

  • Accept her clothing preferences, her hair and her music without too much disapproval.

  • Choose wisely, what to accept and what to argue about. Know where she is 24 hours a day. Respect her as a human being. Love her with all your heart.

 

It's never too late to repair your relationship

Try a counselling session on your own first to help you work out whether or not it will be helpful to attend counselling with your mother or daughter. Sometimes it's not possible to repair things that happened long ago. Instead, focus on working out how you would like to treat each other now.

 

Even if your mother has passed away, if you have unresolved issues you could benefit from counselling sessions. Sometimes talking through the possibilities of why something might have occurred can help you get some perspective.

HUG

Bettina Hemmingsen