If you’re the mother of an adult woman but feel your relationship with your daughter isn’t all you want it to be, the solution may not be grabbing on tighter: it may be letting go of some things. As someone who has a shaky relationship with her own mother, I can tell you that I never love my mom more than on the rare occasion that she isn’t particular about things—on those frequent days when she doesn’t need to make things go a certain way between us. I don’t know exactly why those magical days happen (honestly, if they include a few glasses of wine that’s fine with me—if it works, it works!) but I’m grateful when they do. On the flip side, never do I want to run from my mom more than on the days she’s trying to force or control our relationship. If you want a relationship with your daughter, let go of these things (no matter how hard it is).
Having her be like you
So you wanted a mini-me and you didn’t get one. You wanted, let’s say, a free spirit who marched for social issues and took a gap year in Europe. You got a very mathematics-inclined, tight-laced individual who wouldn’t touch a tie-dye shirt with a ten-foot pool. Accept that she’s different from you. And realize that perhaps your similarities lie beneath the surface.
Controlling her appearance
Moms will always want to control their kids’ appearance, even if their kid is no longer a kid. Moms just feel like their kids are representations of themselves. But if you think about the big scheme of things, isn’t it a shame to ruin your interaction with your daughter, all over your comment on her sweater? And it does ruin the interaction every time, doesn’t it?
How often she calls
Don’t fixate on how often your child calls you. I know that mothers want to feel that their kids are grateful to them (and they should be!) but that can leave them fixating on keeping score of their child’s displays of affections. If your child is met with “So nice to hear from you!” when she calls rather than “Look who decided to finally call,” she’ll call more often.
How often she visits
Take everything said about the phone calls and apply to visits. Don’t spend your daughter’s visit complaining that she doesn’t visit enough or that this visit is too short. Talk about how happy you are to see her. Talk about how much this time means to you.
Having her visit you
Also remember that you can visit her, too. If she’s a working adult now, then she’s probably busy. If you’re retired, then she’d appreciate you visiting her, since you’re the one with more time to travel.
Having her ask about you
This is another way mothers keep score of their kids’ displays of affection—they track how often their kid asks about them (their job, their night class, their social life). If your child never asks about you and always talks about herself, that’s not good. But do remember that she is your baby and she’s used to the focus being on her. That should shift over time, but it won’t be like she’s your best friend over night. The mother/daughter relationship isn’t supposed to be a total two-way street like a friendship.
How much money she makes
Does she make enough to pay rent and eat? Then maybe let go some of the money talk. You can always say things to encourage her to go after more, but don’t criticize her lifestyle or make her feel bad for what she earns.
What she does for a living
Then there’s the topic of what your daughter does for a living. Even if she makes a lot of money, maybe you don’t like what she does. Here’s what I’ll say to that: if she is genuinely in the wrong line of work, she’ll probably figure that out for herself. But if she seems really happy, you won’t help your relationship by putting her work down.
Whom she dates
Does he treat her with respect? Does she smile when she talks about him and is around him? Okay, look, even if she doesn’t seem that happy, so long as he isn’t abusive, you just need to let your daughter figure out for herself that this is the wrong guy. And she will. Most people don’t like to remain unhappy. But if she is happy, let it go.
How deep you go in conversation
It’s great when you and your daughter get into a deep, tearful, emotionally complex conversation. But some mothers—certainly my own—seems to believe that our interaction wasn’t meaningful unless we had a meaningful conversation. It’s okay to sometimes just talk about shopping and movies. It’s still time spent together.
What she does when she visits
If your daughter comes to town to visit you, don’t jump down her throat if she leaves you one afternoon to have lunch with a childhood friend. She does have other relationships in her hometown that she’d like to keep up. When else is she to keep them up if not when she visits her childhood home?
Having her love your new spouse
If you are remarried, hopefully your child realizes she can’t totally reject her stepparent forever. But also, don’t fixate on the progression of their relationship. Let go of the idea of them being best friends. If they’re respectful of each other, that might be all you’re going to get—for now. Be happy for that rather than upset it’s not more.
If/when she has kids
Obsessing over when your daughter has kids is a completely useless expenditure of energy. Nobody should have kids until they feel completely ready. So, even if you fear her biological clock is ticking too quickly, saying so won’t make her have kids today—it will just harm your relationship with her.
What she tells outsiders
Your daughter needs to talk to other people about her relationship with you. She even needs to talk to them about your relationship with your husband—that relationship affects her. Don’t ask her not to do so. Worry less about what outsiders think about you and more about making sure your daughter feels safe and free.
Expectations for the relationship
Ultimately, do not set specific expectations for the relationship. Don’t compare it to other mother/daughter relationships—you don’t know what goes on in that family. Take it one day at a time. Be grateful for nice moments, rather than thinking of how they could be better.