Being a mom has always felt like an honor, a gift – something to feel proud of! However, no one prepared me for how much my relationship with my daughters would change as they matured. Too much closeness, misunderstandings, love, and conflicts – there are many ways to describe the mother-daughter relationship and not a lot of research to draw from.
Truth be told, I’ve always felt overly responsible for my daughters happiness and sense of self worth. Perhaps it’s because we live in a culture psychologist Harriet Lerner refers to as mother-blaming rather than supportive of mothers. In The Dance of Connection Learner writes, “Mothers are held responsible not only for their own behavior (which is fair enough) but also for their children’s behavior, which they can influence but not control.”
Like many moms, Karen, 50, is a woman who craves closeness with her daughter, Sheena, and this intensified after her divorce four years ago. During a recent counseling session, for instance, Sheena talked about needing space from Karen: “I love my mom but sometimes things get a little tense between us.” Karen described shopping trips with her sixteen year old daughter and her friends. While they both enjoy many aspects of these outings, Sheena admits that her mom may be living vicariously through her. Sheena says, “My mom likes to go shopping with me and my friends and I don’t want to hurt her feelings and tell her to just drop us off.”
Boundaries are an important part of any relationship, but they are especially critical for mothers and daughters. 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.
6 lessons I learned from my daughters:
• Learn to 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.
• 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.
• 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.
• Have faith in your daughter. While it may be hard to let go, you can delight in watching her grow into a self-confident person.
• 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 will help to restore her faith in love!
Terry’s new book, The Remarriage Manual: How to Make Everything Work Better the Second Time Around, was be published by Sounds True in February of 2020 and can be ordered here.