|The mother-daughter conflict could be the result of unrealistic expectations on both sides.
- Photo ©iStockphoto.com/asiseeit
By BRIGITTE ROZARIO
No one can push your buttons quite like your mother can. After all, she's the one who installed them. - Anonymous
The mother-daughter relationship can be among the most beautiful of relationships, and the most complex. While some mothers and daughters get on so well, others find that they're constantly in conflict, with screaming and arguing being the norm.
Expectations seem to be higher when it comes to a mother-daughter relationship as compared with the mother-son relationship or the father-daughter relationship. This could be because sons get married and their wives become the No 1 woman in their life. Meanwhile, for daughters, their mothers are the No. 1 woman in their life for the rest of their lives.
In addition, two females would see each other as allies – as the daughter grows up, they can share everything from clothes to secrets and feelings.
Family life educator Charis Patrick says it is a very intense kind of relationship, and often there is the issue of dependence.
In a healthy relationship, the mother and daughter each know and recognise that they are individuals.
“We can be very similar but we each know that we can take care of ourselves. There are some things that you may need to depend on your daughter for and some things that she may need to depend on you for. But, you are both inter-dependent. That means you can both exist on your own but you are also healthy enough to know that you need each other to some extent,” explains Patrick.
In an unhealthy relationship, there is co-dependence. This means the mother and daughter are overly connected and their lives and identities become enmeshed and intertwined.
Patrick explains a common scenario in co-dependent relationships:
“When the daughter wants to go and do her own things, you have an insecure mother going after her and saying, 'What about me? What about my needs? Who is going to take care of me?' And, if there is a boyfriend, the mum will look at the boyfriend as a competitor because she will then feel like the boyfriend is going to take her daughter away from her.
“Why? Because they are co-dependents. They are intertwined because of insecurity and because of an inability to let go; they cannot exist as separate individuals. The super glue between them is so sticky that when you want to pull them apart it's almost impossible. That's a very unhealthy way of relating. It's really co-relationship addiction.
“Many of the relationships that I see have elements of co-dependence. If you feel that you are having a very conflictual relationship with your daughter and you find that you want to have some kind of autonomy and can't, maybe you should reflect if your mother-daughter relationship is a little over-connected to the point of being enmeshed.”
Co-dependents find it hard to function without the other party. It is an unhealthy relationship whereby they cannot exist individually. In such cases, the mother and daughter need to learn to take responsibility for themselves and their actions. Patrick calls it a shift from being mother to mothering one's self.
Another reason for conflict to arise is if mothers expect daughters to be exactly like them. Sometimes, mothers might wonder why their daughters have traits that make them so different.
“In my opinion, both parties need to move up another level to first not expect each other to be the same and to acknowledge that you are individuals. One lesson that mothers have to learn is that you want to bring up a daughter who is never like you. Your daughter always should be better than you. When you think like that then you begin to allow your daughter to be different. I think it's parental failure if you bring up a child to be just like you. I think the next generation should always supersede yours and if you can only bring up your daughter to be as good as you, at least it's not bad, but I think they should be better in all aspects.
“I think, there should be this mindset that if you as a mother want to bring up your daughter, your daughter has to be better than you, therefore you have to allow your daughter to be different.
“I think sometimes as mothers we have a very unique way of manipulating our kids. One way is by putting unfulfilled dreams on their children, whether they are daughters or sons. It happens in subtle ways. We may not think that we want to do it consciously, but subconsciously we may pressure them to fulfil our unfulfilled dreams,” she says.
Why is there conflict?
If conflicts happen frequently, mother and daughter should reflect why they are always clashing. Mothers should review their expectations – are they expecting too much of their daughters? Or asking them to do something they don't want to do?
There must be something at the root of the conflict – what is it that the daughter is always fighting against, or what is it that you as a mother are always trying to get her to do?
Managing expectations – Could it be that the mother has expectations that the daughter does not fulfil?
“The mother might say it is nothing to do with what I want her to do, but I think underneath it the dynamic has been built such that the daughter is already resisting her because of some expectations she has.
“On the blatant level it can be societal expectations but if you go one step deeper, the mum has to review her own expectations. If the mum is secure herself, she will not allow society to put its expectations on her and thereby putting those expectations on her daughter.
“It takes a very high-functioning, self-aware and mature person to refuse that kind of pressure,” says Patrick.
Emotional time - It could just be that the daughter is emotional and sensitive and when they reach their teenage years it can be tougher on the mother-daughter relationship.
It is worse if the daughter is going through puberty and the mother is menopausal or pre-menopausal – in both females there are rapid changes in hormones. This will make them additionally emotional. Hence, the heightened emotional clashes.
Independence and letting go - Patrick explains that with a mother and daughter it is often a tug-of-war game – constantly pulling between independence and dependence. Because it's a daughter, it's harder for mums to let go. That's why there is greater intensity in their relationship.
Generally, if the daughter confides a lot in the mum it gives rise to the emotional connectedness – she confides more and more readily does it. Boys may usually be less connected to mum because it's not so easy for them to confide in mum.
Allies and expectations - Because the mother and daughter confide more in each other and are more emotionally connected, there is also heightened expectations of each other as they also view each other as allies.
When confiding in daughters, mothers should be careful not to download too much as this can become an emotional burden to the daughter. Patrick especially warns those going through marital problems to learn to take a step back rather than unload all their emotions on their daughters.
According to her, when there is too much downloading of emotional baggage on a daughter, it can potentially lead to an enmeshed relationship and co-dependence.
When there is more than one
When a mother has more than one daughter, there is a likelihood that at least one will be very similar to mum. The similar ones are the ones who will be mum's “allies.”
Patrick says a mother needs to know her children very well and realise that she will automatically connect very well with the daughters who are very similar to her.
“If she is having some pressure or insecurity, she will draw even closer to this daughter or the daughters who are similar to her. This is how they form a sense of security.
“But, the mother has to develop a sense of self-awareness so that she can be sensitive to the needs of the other daughters who are very different from her. If she doesn't, these daughters will feel very alienated and like an outcast,” says Patrick.
It is inevitable that the mum will draw closer to the ones who are similar to her but she has to be very careful and give extra attention and make intentional effort to connect with the daughters who are very different from her.
First minimise the conflict and then work on spending more time together to build that bond so that that daughter doesn't feel alienated.
Being the adult, it is the mother who should reach out rather than waiting and expecting the daughter to do something to reach out to her. It could be something simple like spending time with that daughter doing something that she enjoys.
Making it better
Having had a bad relationship with your own mother is no excuse for making the same mistakes and having an equally bad relationship with your daughter.
Patrick recommends that mothers remember and pick up the good habits of their mum and don't use the same bad habits. If your mother used to yell and scream at you, that's no reason to yell and scream at your daughter.
As adults, mothers have a choice of what to do and how to react. You may not be able to “control” how your daughter acts towards you, but you can certain control how you react towards her. You can choose not to yell and scream at her.
Walk away and talk to her later when you are both calmer.
The trick is not to react and jump because that's what the teenage daughter wants you to do.
“The only way that teenagers know that they are an individual is if they have the power to make you jump and the more they can make you jump, the more it makes them feel like an adult. So, you have to know it's the dynamics and not personal. Don't take it personally and then retreat. They are pressing your buttons to manipulate you and to get that sense of power. That's why you have to learn how to act cool and act blur. That will help.
“When they don't see you jump as much, they lose their power over you and then they will slowly not push your buttons that much,” says Patrick.
If you need help, Patrick recommends reading self-help books, consulting other mothers whom you think you can learn from, or even seeing a medical professional.
Building the mother-daughter bond
To build the mother-daughter bond, you would really want to anchor it well to first make sure that you are relatively healthy (not co-dependent) and that you are able to take care of yourself emotionally.
Then work on building a healthy connection with your daughter whereby you are open, transparent and honest. You want to role model these traits for her so that she will follow your example.
Patrick says that at some point when the daughter is a young adult, the mum can continue with that healthy connection where both women treat each other more as equals.
“The beauty of the mother-daughter relationship is when you have a mother who imparts, nurtures and teaches you everything and yet doesn't expect you to be exactly like her, but encourages you to be even better than her.
“And when the daughter grows up you can both enjoy a relationship that is mutually enriching. I think the mother-daughter relationship, more than the mother-son one, is able to accomplish that,” she adds.