Do you love or hate Mother’s Day?
If you are a mother who regularly struggles to get along with your adult daughter, the holidays can be a time of dread.
As a mediator, I have heard many official (and unofficial) rants regarding the difficulty mothers and daughters face. Recently, an acquaintance (let’s call her Gloria) outlined a long list of incidents where her daughter left her feeling dismissed and disrespected. The details seemed insignificant. Her anger, which I surmised was a cover up for hurt, overpowered everything. As her diatribe came to an end I leaned in and asked – “have you ever apologized to her for the mistakes that you made?” She looked at me as if I had two heads. “What?” she said. “Mistakes? I didn’t make any mistakes. I have nothing to apologize for.” She was adamant and I decided to save my breath.
If, like Gloria, you are struggling with the relationship you share with your daughter there are some things that you can do to start healing. First say the serenity prayer a few times. And then start practicing these eight tips for creating a more positive Mother-Daughter relationship:
1. Don’t criticize. This is the primary complaint adult daughters have about their mothers. Sadly, a mother’s efforts to motivate self-improvement will often make a daughter feel hurt and inadequate. Daughters need their mothers to view them as competent adults and beautiful women. All you have to tell your daughter is “you are wonderful.” Practice that. And then keep your mouth shut.
2. Allow your daughter to see you as the whole person you really are. Tell her about your childhood and the relationship you shared with your own mother. Share your disappointments and joys.
3. Build a positive connection. Use email, texting, and other technology to break old communication patterns. Suggest that you both read a book or watch a movie with a Mother-Daughter theme and then discuss it. Create a Mother-Daughter tradition or take your daughter on a Mother-Daughter retreat.
4. Be supportive. Listen. Empathize. And avoid giving advice that reflects your values or desires instead of hers. Ask questions to help her to figure out what she wants to do. Accept your daughter’s life decisions – even if you disagree with them. Let her make her own mistakes and find her own way through tough situations.
5. Check-it-out. Before you do anything for your daughter or intervene in anyway check it out with her and see if this is really what she wants. Remember the Golden Rule – do unto others as you would like to be done unto does NOT apply. Instead, do unto your daughter, as she wants to be done unto. The only way you will know this is to ask her what she wants.
6. Be willing to apologize. Every mother makes mistakes. (Yes, even Gloria.) Let your daughter know that you are aware that your parenting mistakes, while made with no ill intentions, may have caused her distress. And, it is that distress that you are apologizing for.
7. Accept that your daughter is an adult so that you can move beyond her adolescence. To a 5 year old, Mom is a Goddess. But ten years later, 15-year-olds regularly see their mothers as wicked dimwits. As a Mother-Daughter relationship continues to evolve dependencies should change. Ultimately, Mom is supposed to becomes a supportive ally. Those early patterns, however, often continue to influence us. And, some mother-daughter relationships stay stuck in adolescence – fraught with hurt, disappointment, disconnection, conflict, and the old control and rebellion pattern.
8. Be willing to do the work. Mothers indirectly teach their daughters how to treat them. And, mothers also set examples for how daughters will allow themselves to be treated. So, in order to improve the Mother-Daughter bond the mother has to do more of the work. Sadly, this is a task some mothers, like Gloria, seem unwilling to accept.
As a woman and as mediator, I am intrigued by how the mother-daughter bond can bring both conflict and contentment. Many of us struggle with the relationship that we share with our mothers and many of us struggle with the relationships that we share with our daughters. For many women, the mother-daughter connection is life’s most demoralizing relationship. However, our powerful and primal mother-daughter relationships can bring us unique insight and understanding. Mothers and daughters often serve as mirrors for each other. We teach our daughters to be women and we shape their lives by giving them our ideas about love, family, work, and connection. Ultimately, the things we would like to change in our daughters are frequently the things we dislike most about ourselves. So, take a long look in the mirror before you tell your daughter anything. And, the holidays (AND Mother’s Day!) will be a time you look forward to.