Your relationship with your daughter is unique. The hugs, the fights, the struggles, expectations and misunderstandings are exclusive, and understanding and approaching these differences positively can help you to continue a strong and healthy connection.
“We know the maternal bond with a child is extremely important, and it starts even before birth,” says Tracy S. Cummings, M.D., psychiatrist at the Lindner Center of HOPE and chief of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry. “While many different types of caregiving scenarios can flourish, you will see a great deal of literature focusing on mother child relationships. For better or worse, there tends to be a particularly sentimental (and less scientific) view of the relationship between a mother and a daughter in our society that can cause us to have unrealistic expectations about what the relationship should be like.”
You can’t expect your relationship to be picture perfect, but according to Cummings, it’s completely natural for a mom to fantasize about her future with all of her children. And when she has a little girl on the way, it’s easy to imagine stereotypical scenarios such as tackling pubertal changes, navigating first loves and heartbreaks, shopping for the one-and-only wedding dress and believe it or not, grandkids.
“These can start even while the child is merely a black-and-white profile on an ultrasound picture,” continues Cummings. “And while it is important for us to be open to these valuable moments, it is also necessary for us not to let our hopes for ‘ideal’ situations cause us to miss the real-life moments of connection and intimacy that take place between a mother and daughter on a daily basis.”
“Mom understands me,” “Mom knows best,” — sound familiar? This helps define the bond girls have developed with their moms generation after generation. It doesn’t take scientific research to tell us this, it’s just understood, according to Heather Tietjen-Mooney LISW-S, psychotherapist and a behavioral health supervisor at The Children’s Home of Cincinnati.
“Mothers understand daughters not only because we’ve walked a mile in their shoes,” says Tietjen-Mooney, “but because our brain similarities allow us to access and share a unique emotional connectedness with our daughters.”
You gaze at her and think, “I made that tiny human”— it’s gratifying. Deep down, we all want the best for all of our kids, and we can’t help but be proud when they achieve goals we had secretly imagined in our dreams. According to Cummings, there is a very fine line we should follow in order to keep that bond and trust. It’s not about what we want, it’s about our kids’ wants, which can sometimes be lost.
Generational differences will happen and just need to be accepted rather than pushed aside with “Back in my day,” comments and held to standards that might reflect more what mom wants rather than the kids.
“Parents have to walk the fine line of introducing their children to various opportunities in the world, while still allowing them space to discover their own identities,” says Cummings. “When a mother and child can see each other as unique and vital members of a partnership, the differences can be celebrated.”
AGES AND STAGES
There will come a time when your little princess is no longer dependent on you. The same little girl who once needed you more than anything and then mocked your every move will move on in a blink. Picking out her prom dress, you may no longer fit in the equation. Her peers “come first” and it will seem like she no longer needs you. It’s life and it cycles; it’s how we cope and understand these changes that will keep her trust in you.
“Commonly teens will start to separate from their families as they test out their individual ideas and emerging identities,” says Cummings. “There may be moments when the tween or teen struggles to balance the ongoing need
for nurturing guidance with the desire for independence.”
This is hard for us. This isn’t a moment we can easily brush off and move on from. Seeking out advice from friends who have “been through it” with their girl can help you understand what is going on in your not-so-little-girl’s developing brain. You may ask yourself, “What did I do wrong?” The truth is, you did nothing “wrong.”
Your girl is going through identity and social changes, according to Cummings. Be there for her, and take time to sit and chat so you stay connected.
The shocking truth is, during these life changes, your daughter needs you the most, Tietjen-Mooney says.
“We are on the sidelines, and often put there by our daughters. So that push and pull emerges,” she says. “Be patient. They hear you. They still value your wisdom; they simply won’t acknowledge it at this stage. Stay close to the empathic feelings that unite, it strengthens the bond building a sturdy foundation.”
Once the teenage years subside, it is common for there to be a positive turnaround as your stubborn teenage girl grows to be a young adult.
“There may be moments when the tween or teen struggles to balance the ongoing need for nurturing guidance with the desire for independence,” says Cummings. “These moments can be hard for a mother to watch unfold; they can also be magical as she marvels at the young adult who is blossoming before her.”
Blink. She is testing your patience and dressing outrageously. How you react to her decisions will impact your relationship. The more you try to control or inject yourself in her life, the more likely your relationship will dwindle.
“These reactions create distance and inhibit open, healthy communication which is paramount in maintaining that bond,” explains Tietjen-Mooney. “The trick is, recognizing when we, (moms) have damaged or distanced our daughter’s through our reactions or parenting approaches. Often times these obstacles are created unintentionally, and it is a gradual erosion of the relationship.”
So how do you fix it? Patience and understanding is a start, and it won’t always be smooth sailing. If you feel you are headed down a rocky path, Tietjen-Mooney suggests circling back around to the core of the problem, and trying again.
“Take a second to reflect on your reaction, and why you reacted,” she says. “Sometimes it stems from the way we were parented, or it stems from a fear or concern, but executed in a damaging way. Circling back around and owning it, coming at it with a calmer more inclusive approach is oftentimes enough to heal the wound, removing a potential obstacle.”
If your relationship gets off track, go back to the basics. Make an effort to spend time together and to reconnect in ways you both can enjoy. Moms have to take the lead here — they are oldest, afterall. If your issues seem insurmountable, reach out to a therapist who can help you bridge the gaps in your communication. Aim to listen and communicate. Your daughter is growing and may be confused by her feelings and inability to express herself.
Although you may not have all the answers, you can model ways to work through the situation at hand.