The mother-daughter relationship is the emotionally closest relationship many women will have. It can be the most satisfying and the most nurturing, and, at the same time, the most conflictual relationship of a lifetime. During early childhood, the mother is the daughter's first role model, and the daughter tries to emulate her mother in many ways. By adolescence, the daughter, like all children, begins the process of cleaving from her mother's side and becoming an independent individual. Mother-daughter conflict often begins at this time. But this conflict doesn't have to endure. With understanding, a mother can help her young daughter grow into healthy independence. When conflict does persist into the daughter's adult years, daughters can take steps to resolve it and develop a healthy mother-daughter relationship.
Although many variables influence the mother-daughter relationship - including genetics, family history and family dynamics - conflict is the norm for mother-daughter relationships as each individuates - becomes her own person - and puts the relationship together in a new and interdependent, rather than codependent, way. Honest, respectful communication is the key to moving from back-to-back conflict to face-to-face discussion and a side-by-side healthy, adult relationship, according to Dr. Charles Sophy and Brown Kogen in "Side by Side."
Whether you are the mother or the daughter, attention to healthy habits, such as getting adequate sleep, eating in a healthy way and exercising regularly will help you feel better physically and strengthen you emotionally. Evaluate your self-esteem needs. Consider how your daily activities help or hurt your sense of self-worth. For instance, does working outside the home give you a sense of purpose, help you fulfill a goal or feel like a burden? Make changes in your lifestyle to increase your sense of satisfaction and happiness. When you are comfortable in your own shoes, it is easier to establish boundaries respectfully and refrain from dominating others.
Listen with your head and your heart. The mother-daughter bond gives primacy to the heart connection. It takes conscious effort to use your head before you respond to an emotionally laden remark. Avoid reactive responses, such as giving advice, refuting an argument or getting angry. Take time to reflect on your communications, and only after you no longer feel a reaction in your body should you respond to an emotion-triggering statement. This is where text messages and emails can be handy. Write them but don't send them. Read them over after you have had some time to reflect. With your words in draft form, you have the option to delete or edit, instead of leaving potentially indelible negative remarks.
Healthy mother-daughter relationships are characterized by acceptance. While recognizing the similarities, respect the differences in the two of you. The closeness of the mother-daughter relationship sometimes opens the door to criticism, with mothers expecting daughters to be like them and daughters scolding mothers for behavior they have chosen to avoid. Remember that you are each individuals with the right to self-determination. Change your expectations - accept the other person and you will change the relationship.
- Virginia Tech: Digital Library and Archives: African American Mothers and Daughters
- Mother Daughter Wisdom; Christiane Northrup, M.D.
- Side by Side; Charles Sophy and Brown Kogen
- University of California Santa Barbara: Mother-Daughter Relationships During Puberty
- Psych Central: 15 Insights on Improving Mother-Daughter Relationships
- The University of Texas: Building a Healthy Relationship from the Start
For Judy Kilpatrick, gardening is the best mental health therapy of all. Combining her interests in both of these fields, Kilpatrick is a professional flower grower and a practicing, licensed mental health therapist. A graduate of East Carolina University, Kilpatrick writes for national and regional publications.
Marc Debnam/Digital Vision/Getty Images