Even in situations where mothers and daughters are close friends, boundaries are crucial. Elaine, whose mother was her best friend, told me that they were very careful to protect one another’s space.
“My mom is respectful of my needs and my personal time with my husband and my children,” she said. “And vice versa. I’m always careful to make sure that she has her time with her activities.”
5. Supporting Other Relationships
Closely related to the issue of boundaries is the matter of respecting and supporting relationships outside of the mother-daughter bond. Because of feeling extremely close, it is sometimes hard to accept that either mother or daughter can have other important connections; but those connections actually help enrich the relationship the two of you have.
A single relationship can become strained by the expectations placed on it. But other attachments can provide balance. One woman told me that her mother’s respect for her relationships made it possible for her to have friends and to have a successful career, which in turn strengthened her connection to her mother.
Talking about how you are feeling and clarifying situations helps to maintain all of the above. But how you communicate is extremely important. Accusing, attacking, and simply expressing disappointment is likely to keep you bogged down in a relationship stalemate. Expressing your feelings and making space for your mother or daughter to talk about her own can create a stronger connection.
When Liz finally spoke to her mother about feeling hurt that she never seemed to want to visit with her grandchildren, her mother was horrified. “I kept getting the sense that you wanted me to butt out,” her mother said. “You never seemed to be eager to try to find a time for us to get together, so I just backed off and waited for you to let me know what would work.”
They agreed that they would try to make their wishes clearer to each other rather than try to read one another’s minds in the future. “The problem,” Liz said, “is that we always think we do know each other so well. I guess that’s part of the downside of mother-daughter links, isn’t it?”
The sense that we know one another is indeed one of the problems since it means that sometimes we don’t communicate, or don’t put into words what we think is already known.
Talking about these things helps. But sometimes we think we shouldn’t say something because it will not come out the way we want it to. This was part of the problem for Elaine. Her daughter was involved with another woman, and she didn’t want to sound critical or controlling. She wanted to be supportive but didn’t feel that she had the right words, so she remained silent.
Finally, she decided the best way to approach the problem was to state her conflicts directly: “I told her that I really liked her new partner, and I didn’t want to say anything that would be problematic; but that I also wanted her to know that I was there to support her if she ever wanted to talk about any of it.”
Her daughter initially reacted with irritation, saying that she would be sure to ask if she needed any relationship advice. But Elaine replied, “I’m not offering you advice. I feel like you’re pushing me away, and if I’m overstepping your bounds, then just say so. You’re a grown woman with lots of smarts. I’m just letting you know that I’m here and that I love you.”
Her daughter apologized immediately, explaining that she was feeling insecure about the relationship and that she sort of needed to keep her walls up. But she appreciated her mother’s expression of love and support and would definitely talk to her when she was ready.
One of the most important things that Shrier and her colleagues found in their survey were that conflict is part of all relationships. In fact, they suggest, conflict helps both members of a relationship grow. So mother and adult daughter relationships do not need — in fact, should not — be all rosy and loving; they simply need to be adult.
copyright @ fdbarth2019
Written by: F. Diane Barth Originally appeared on: Psychology Today Republished with permission