The mother-daughter relationship is complex, complicated, and ever evolving. Some mothers and daughters talk all the time, while others speak more sparingly. Some deal with conflict head on; others avoid fighting at all costs. No matter how you relate to one another, there will be arguments between mothers and daughters. How is it that mothers and daughters are masters at pushing each other’s buttons?
Becoming the mother of a daughter can inherently trigger issues you have with your own mother, and those feelings start influencing this new relationship. You’ve probably told yourself, “I’ll never do xyz, like my mother did!” Then later, you hear yourself saying that exact phrase that used to drive you crazy. Women also tend to communicate verbally, which leads to more interactions that are perfectly aligned for conflict. A mother makes a comment about her daughter’s hair, with the intention of caring for her daughter and making sure that she is set up for success (and underlying that, proving she’s a good mother), whereas the daughter interprets that as a criticism, which triggers fears that maybe she’s not perfect.
If you are noticing tension in your mother-daughter relationship, know that it’s normal. There are easy steps you can take that can improve your relationship, although admittedly, they will require some practice in both of your parts.
• Communicate clearly – Sometimes mothers and daughters feel so close that they assume the other person just knows what they need, and therefore don’t communicate at all. Neither of you are mind readers, so you still have to be clear about what you need. It’s ok to say, “Mom, I just really need you to listen” or “I feel hurt that you yelled at me in that way.” You can also reflect back what the other person just said so that you make sure you understood their point.
• Repair damage quickly – In healthy relationships, people don’t avoid conflict. Differences of opinion are unavoidable, and therefore, we have to find a constructive way to deal with conflict. By not dealing with issues, we actually hold on to them and carry them into our future relationships. Make decisions about what will be most helpful and pick your battles about what to argue over. If you’ve lashed out or said something hurtful, apologize and take the time to explore your feelings and why that took place.
• Set boundaries – Boundary setting in very important no matter what stage of the relationship you are in. Here’s one of the best definitions of boundaries that I’ve ever heard: “What’s ok and not ok.” You can decide for yourself exactly what behaviors are ok and not ok, and then you have to communicate those and follow through.
The mother-daughter connection is incredibly special, but also challenging. It’s worth putting effort into this important relationship, as it’s a foundation for other healthy interactions in life. You both deserve to have a meaningful connection, enjoy being together, and find support from one another. What will you do to grow your relationship today?
About the Author: Erika Labuzan-Lopez, LMFT, LPC is passionate about working with couples and families looking to understand how the tough stuff plays out in interactions and how to move past the fighting. She specializes in couples therapy, infertility counseling, and the transition to parenthood. Erika is located at the South Shore Center for Couples & Families