5 Issues I’ve Realized About The Mom Daughter Relationship

As mothers, we want our daughters to grow up independent and confident. If we are overly involved and encourage them to reveal all of their deep, dark secrets to us, it can become problematic for them to break loose and establish their autonomy – a crucial developmental task of identity formation in adolescents.

I always knew I wanted to be a mother, and since I grew up with three sisters, I thought I was well equipped to raise a daughter of my own. I made lists of the things I would teach my daughter – if I were lucky enough to have one. However, no one prepared me for how much my relationship with my daughter would change after my divorce. Too much closeness, misunderstanding, love, and conflict – there are many ways to describe this relationship and not much research to draw from.

Since nearly a third of all daughters in America have divorced parents, and most of them live with their mothers after the separation, I was surprised to find so few studies on the subject. Maybe it’s because we live in what writer Harriet Lerner calls a mother blame. In The Dance of Connection she writes: “Mothers are responsible not only for their own behavior (which is fair enough), but also for the behavior of their children, which they can influence but not control.”

Most of what we know about the post-divorce mother-daughter relationship comes from the seminal study by psychologist E. Mavis Hetherington of 1,400 divorced families over a period of 30 years. She clearly sees the bond between mothers and daughters as a protective factor after divorce. After careful study, she concludes that preschool girls develop close supportive relationships with their mothers, but that this changes during puberty when there is more upheaval in their lives.

Gifts a mother can give to her daughter

In For Better or for Worse, Hetherington writes, “There is a marked increase in conflict in these relationships in youth, especially between premature daughters and their mothers.” She notes, “Also, divorced mothers and their adult daughters are closer than divorced mothers and sons , and sons feel a little closer to their fathers than daughters. “

It makes sense for the mother-daughter bond to intensify after the divorce, as girls spend much less time with their fathers. Linda Nielsen, author of Between Fathers and Daughters, writes, “Unfortunately, only 10-15 percent of fathers and daughters can enjoy the benefits of parenthood.” Nielsen recommends that mothers and fathers encourage their daughter to spend almost the same time with both parents and convey messages to her like, “Both your father and I made mistakes in our marriage, but we are good parents.”

Based on more than two decades of research into fathers and daughters, Linda Nielsen concludes that many post-divorce mothers rely too heavily on their daughters for advice and care, and this can turn the daughter against her father. Another point from Dr. Nielsen, whom I have found in my own research, is that daughters are more upset and negatively affected by parental conflicts than sons after divorce.

Why exactly is the mother-daughter relationship so complicated? Dr. Peggy Drexler notes that many mothers like to feel connected to their daughters and, in many cases, to their daughters’ friends. She writes: “At a time when the social pressure to stay young is so great, it makes us feel youthful. It also helps us feel valued long after our children have stopped “needing” us to survive. Dr. Drexler points out that many mothers seek confirmation from their daughters.

In my opinion, this need for divorce could be exaggerated if the mother’s coping skills could be strained. In fact, the mother and daughter best friend idea leaves no room for the mother’s more traditional role and could even result in a competitive advantage between them.

For example, during a recent counseling session, Maggie talked about needing some space from her mother, Andrea: “I love my mother, but things get a little more intense between us.” Andrea has been divorced for over two years and often goes out with her sixteen-year-old daughter Maggie shop. While both enjoy many aspects of these outings, Maggie admits that her mother may be experiencing them on a proxy. Maggie says, “My mom likes fashion and always wants my opinion on her new outfits and I don’t have the heart to tell her what I really think.”

Boundaries are an important part of any relationship, but they’re especially important for mothers and daughters after a family breakup. Lauren, a 20-year-old redhead I recently interviewed, said, “Sometimes I don’t know where the lines are between my mom and me – you can say they seem blurry. I don’t like it when she confides in me bad things about my father or stepfather because I find it hard to like them.

As mothers, we want our daughters to grow up independent and confident. If we are overly involved and encourage them to reveal all of their deep, dark secrets to us, it can become problematic for them to break loose and establish their autonomy – a crucial developmental task of identity formation in adolescents.

Here are five things I learned about the mother-daughter relationship:

  • Love means letting go. Try not to lean on your daughter too much. Give her space to grow and develop her own identity.
  • Your daughter is not your girlfriend. Do not trust her when it comes to personal information that she is not involved in. They can enjoy each other’s company and be connected, but still be autonomous individuals.
  • You will always be a model for your daughter. But to find her way she sometimes has to question your choices and your personality.
  • Don’t ask too much of her. Keep your expectations realistic and find that she can’t make up for what you didn’t get from your mother or other relationships.
  • Believe in your daughter. While it may be difficult to let go, you can look forward to your daughter growing up into a confident person.

Accepting that your daughter is different from you and has her own personality, interests, and choices can leave you behind as she learns from her mistakes. You can’t live them through or save them from the pain that comes with growing up – but you can enjoy their joys.

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