As my two daughters grow into adulthood this Mother’s Day, it seems like a good time to reflect upon the lessons that they’ve taught me. Being a mom for me has always been an honor, a gift – something to feel proud of! However, no one prepared me for how much my relationship with my daughters would be altered as they grew older. In a nutshell, misunderstandings that need to be resolved, lots of love and affection, and plenty of conflicts. There are many ways to describe this relationship and not a lot of experience to draw from since my own mother passed away about a decade ago.
Some mothers may get too involved in their daughter’s lives and have difficulty setting boundaries. An expert on parenting and gender issues, Dr. Peggy Drexler notes that many mothers want to feel connected to their daughters and, in many cases, their daughters’ friends. She writes, “At a time when there is so much societal pressure to stay young, this helps keep us feeling youthful. It also helps us feel appreciated long after our children stop “needing” us to survive. Dr. Drexler makes the point that many mothers seek validation through their daughters.
In my opinion, this need could be exaggerated after divorce when the mother’s coping skills might be strained. In fact, the mother-daughter best friend idea doesn’t leave room for the more traditional role of mom and could even lead to a competitive edge between them.
Like many moms, Sarah is a woman who seeks a friendship with her seventeen year-old daughter, Becca, and this intensified after her divorce four years ago. During a recent conversation, for instance, Becca talked about needing space from Sarah: “I love my mom but sometimes things get a little intense between us.”
Likewise, Sarah described shopping trips with Becca and having difficulty setting limits on the spending. While they both enjoy many aspects of these outings, Becca admits that her mom may be living vicariously through her. Becca says, “My mom likes to go shopping with me and I don’t have the heart to tell her it’s not OK , all of the time.”
Boundaries are an important part of any relationship, but they are especially critical for mothers and daughters as they mature. As mothers, we want our daughters to grow up to be independent and self-confident. But when we are overly involved and encourage them to tell us all of their deep, dark secrets, this may make it problematic for them to break away and to establish their autonomy – a crucial developmental task of adolescent identity formation.
Another important aspect of raising a daughter is to transmit a message of optimism about relationships. Be careful not to bad-mouth her other parent or to make disparaging comments about love or marriage. Hopefully, the legacy you’ll pass on to your daughter will be one of resiliency and hope.
5 lessons I learned from my daughters:
Let her go and try not to lean on her too much. Give her space to grow and to develop her own identity – this will strengthen your bond. Keeping your expectations realistic will improve your relationship with your daughter. She can’t make up for what you didn’t get from other people or family members.
• Be her mother and mentor but realize this isn’t the same as being a friend. Don’t confide in her (when it comes to personal information that doesn’t involve her). You can enjoy each other’s company and be connected, yet be autonomous individuals.
• Honor your daughter’s boundaries. Try not to take it personally if she doesn’t want to invite you to join her and/or her friends for social activities. While it may be hard to let go, you can delight in watching her grow into a self-confident person.
• Be a strong and supportive role model. But in order to help her find her way, she’ll need to question your decisions and personality at times. Lead by example.
• Send out a message of hope about relationships. Be careful not to pass on a pessimistic view of love or mistrust of partners. Encouraging her to spend close to equal time with you and her other parent, whether you are married or divorced, will help to restore her faith in love!
In closing, on Mother’s Day and every day, mothers need to realize the value they can add to their daughter’s life by being constant, supportive, and having the skills to set good boundaries. For instance, is a good idea to be loving and friendly with your daughter but be sure to encourage her to spend time with friends and other family members. Further, pursuing your own interests and not relying too much on your daughter for emotional and physical support will allow her to be independent and have high self-esteem throughout her life.
Twitter, Facebook, and, movingpastdivorce.com. Terry’s award winning book Daughters of Divorce: Overcome the Legacy of Your Parents’ Breakup and Enjoy a Happy, Long-Lasting Relationship is available on her website.
I’d love to hear from you and answer your questions about relationships, divorce, marriage, and remarriage. Please ask a question here. Thanks! Terry