The mother-daughter relationship is certainly a complicated one. How many hit TV shows have been made about messy mother-daughter duos? More than one can count. And they become instant hits because so many women relate to that dynamic. So many women see themselves either in the mother, or the daughter in those shows – sometimes a bit of both. It’s only natural we go through life comparing ourselves to our moms – either to make sure we are like them or perhaps to make sure that we aren’t like them. For some women, there is no greater insult than saying, “You’re acting like your mom.” For others, it’s the greatest compliment. The bond is very powerful, so when it’s damaged, those effects are powerful, too.
Research has found that when mothers and daughters have an interdependent relationship, that can harm the daughter’s self-esteem. Good mother-daughter communication can even improve the health of mothers, according to one study. It’s not a bond to be taken lightly, or tossed out because it becomes difficult. If you ever feel that what you and your mom go through is too much, or just not normal, you might be surprised to find just how many women experience the same things. To learn more about the topic, we spoke with Jeri Godhigh and Jamia Ponder. Godhigh and Ponder are life coaches who use their brand Unfiltered to specialize in helping mothers and daughters heal bonds and break generational patterns. Here are some of the top conflicts they say come up between mothers and daughters. You can follow this duo on IG @@jeri_jamia_unfiltered for info on their upcoming book “Deeper Women Teach.”
The first point of conflict our experts mentioned was bringing up mistakes from the past – particularly from one’s childhood. It’s quite common to feel that issues you face as an adult – those could be issues in your romantic relationships, with friendships, in your career, in your self-confidence – stem from missteps on your parents’ parts in your childhood. And studies have found that having predominantly positive experiences as a child correlates with a lower risk of depression or mental health issues as an adult. Plus, what’s the first thing any therapist will ask you? “Tell me about your childhood.” So it’s only natural to, to some degree, point to parents – maybe specifically your mother, if you’re a woman – as the cause of your issues as a grownup.
How do you fix that?
Our experts: “Many daughters feel like their mothers made mistakes in the past that cost them to this day. Mistakes that the daughters are left to deal with entirely and vice versa. Some had a lacking parental relationship, weren’t emotionally available, fussed too much, didn’t allow room for personal growth, or freedoms. It really doesn’t matter the grievance…there is some feeling of negligence leaving a gap in their adult life. But the first step to making any change is admittance. Sitting for a moment to say, ‘This or that bothered me and here is why.’ Because once we acknowledge that there is an issue, only then can we address it with hopes of healing and change.”
Lack of Understanding/Generation Gaps
The second point of conflict Godhigh and Ponder discussed was a lack of understanding between mothers and daughters, and particularly how generational gaps can contribute to that. Some could argue that rapid innovations in technology in the last few decades made it so that Baby Boomer parents couldn’t possibly understand what their millennials children’s lives are like. One study even showed that millennial parents are really the first generation at all privy to what their kids might be up to online. But if you’re a millennial adult, odds are your parents lived in a “different time” and can, at times, seem out of touch with your world, and your experiences. Technological differences are just the tip of the iceberg, of course.
How do you fix that?
Our experts: “The second piece is coming to a place of understanding. For many daughters, it may be helpful to consider the sum total of their Mother’s life experiences. Not to offer this as an excuse, but it’s often difficult for anyone to give something that they didn’t have or even knew they may have needed to provide. Generation gaps and inherited traumas stifle, smother, and often kill relationships without a place of understanding. Mothers need to recognize the areas where they may not have hit the mark and daughters in turn, allow for some grace. Raising children isn’t an easy feat and it certainly comes with no manual.”
Do you keep secrets from your parents? Maybe withhold information to which you fear they wouldn’t react well? Or would judge? Maybe you’ve already had experiences in which you tried to open up to your mother about things that were important to you – relationship issues or career insecurities – and she didn’t respond in the exact way you wanted, so you stopped telling her things. Maybe as you’ve grown older, you’ve learned about some major pieces of information your mother kept from you, like about drama in the family, financial matters, affairs, abuse, history…there can be a lot of secrets in a family. While we often keep these to “protect” someone, they can of course create distance, and eventually, conflict when they come out.
How do you fix that?
Our experts: “It’s imperative that we share our experiences! So much lives and dies in silence. Wisdom, imperative information, apologies, and missed opportunities live in graveyards across the world. Secrets are the real pandemic – mothers and daughters afraid to divulge what they’ve experienced for fear of judgment, sharing on a ‘need to know’ basis.” It can be hard to realize our mothers won’t live forever, so if there’s an apology you’ve been sitting on, or a question you’ve been meaning to ask your mother, ask her. Perhaps there will be a little fallout or arguing that ensues, but that will dissipate. And if you don’t say these things, one day, you may regret it.
Perspective and control
It’s common to go into any interaction thinking, “What do I want out of this?” and any events that diverge from that vision only bring anger and frustration. As you get older, ideally, you become better at stepping out of your shoes and considering why another person does things that upset you. Funny enough, we can get good at doing this for strangers, coworkers, friends, even lovers…but we don’t always extend that grace to our own mothers. Figuratively, you are your mother’s whole life. Literally? That’s not the case. She has stresses and experiences and trauma and motivations you know nothing about. Without that perspective, you can try to push things (control) in a direction you want in this relationship, while completely ignoring your mother’s limitations and desires.
How do you fix that?
Our experts: “When we learn how to let go of the control, we can step into a realm of vulnerability and transparency. In that space, healing and transformation can occur. Have you ever seen a child acting up in public? I mean yelling and screaming and crying because the accompanying adult wouldn’t buy them chips. We, the onlookers, stand by judging, wondering why the adult doesn’t just snatch the child up and demand that they knock it off right now. What if I then told you that child just saw their father die and that the accompanying adult was the mother of that child and that was her last $10 she spent for the box of cereal, milk, and plastic bowls leaving no extra for the chips. Changes the scenario a bit doesn’t it? You see life is all about perspective and taking a moment to consider the plight of another can make all the difference.”
On a personal note, I’ve seen this one play out in my relationship with my mother a lot. When I take a weekend to visit her, it often involves my staying up late, working extra hours the days leading up to the trip, to clear the time to travel. I wake up early to beat traffic. I burn a vacation day on the visit. And the visit typically ends in her telling me I don’t dedicate enough time to her. I’m exhausted and gave all I had, and am told it wasn’t enough. On her end, I’ve come to understand she is just coming from a place of love and wanting more time with me, but the outcome of these events is that everyone – her and me – feels unsatisfied.
How do you fix that?
Our experts: “So much disappointment can live in unmet expectations. But what if you think you’re giving 100 percent but to the other person, you’re only giving 20 percent? Well, your ideals are never going to match. You’ll feel like you give and give and give and they are never satisfied when perhaps, you’re just not giving in the areas that are most meaningful to them. Mothers and Daughters have to get to a place where they are communicating those needs in a way that is reasonable and can be received.” In the case of my mother and me, perhaps I need to explain to her what I do to make those visits happen, so she fully understands that time together is important to me.