Here’s a surprising idea for a healthy relationship between adult daughters and mothers.
“My adult daughter is in a serious relationship. I think it’s a good one for her, and I don’t want her to mess it up like she did her last one,” said Margot,* a businesswoman in her 50s.
“My mom is my best friend. I tell her everything. Is there something wrong with that?” said Elaine,* a mom who had decided to stay home to bring up her children.
“My daughter never brings my grandchildren over to visit. I always have to initiate any time with them,” Jeanette,* a schoolteacher, told me.
“My mom never asks to see her grandchildren. I always feel like I’m imposing when I ask her to come for a visit. Shouldn’t she want to spend time with my children?” asked Liz,* a single mother.
Although mother-daughter relationships are often idealized in our minds, in reality, they are frequently complex and surprisingly complicated. They are also highly varied. There are cultural differences in how mothers and daughters relate to one another as we get older. Every relationship between mom and daughter changes over time, but they also take many different forms, even within the same culture — or the same family.
We all know that there are toxic mother-daughter relationships that can’t be repaired no matter what you do. Yet there are other relationships that seem to be in trouble that, with the help of a few changes, can become healthy, positive connections between adult daughters and mothers.
Although we have many ideas about these all-important relationships, most of our beliefs are based on personal experience and widely held opinions. However, in a major in-depth survey on the topic, Dr. Diane K. Shrier and her colleagues found that very little scientific research has been done on mother-daughter relationships between the end of adolescence and old age.
Like many psychotherapists, I have gathered a great deal of anecdotal information about mother-daughter relationships over the years. My own observations fit closely with the findings of a group of psychoanalytic theorists who have noted that while traditional Western theories focus on the importance of increasing separation and independence as we get older, for many women a healthy adult sense of self comes from a growing capacity for ever more complex relationships. Empathy and mutual support are two of the key components of these connections.
The following suggestions are drawn from my belief that relationships play an extremely important role in our self-esteem, sense of who we are, and our ability to cope with our feelings.
Mother-daughter relationships often have different meanings and may be given different power in a person’s life; but one of the important things to remember is that as daughters mature into adulthood, these connections must, in some ways, be dealt with as any other relationship between two adults.
Therefore, many of the suggestions below are also applicable to other important adult bonds.
6 tips for healthy relationship between mothers and adult daughters
Contemporary cultures have a number of conflicting expectations for mothers and daughters. In some, daughters are expected to be submissive to and always respectful of their mothers’ desires, while in others, young women are expected to move away from their mothers’ influence and develop their own independent goals and interests.
Often these mutually exclusive expectations come into conflict. For instance, one woman, a first-generation United States citizen, felt that she had always been encouraged to be independent and successful, unlike the women of her mother’s culture.
Yet when she fell in love with a man from a very different culture, her parents became enraged that she was not following the very traditions from which they had always encouraged her to separate herself. When she married that man, her mother stopped speaking to her.