Mother Daughter Relationships – Unfortunately They are Often Strained

A great many mother daughter relationships feel about as healthy as a swig of beer coupled with a joint after downing some cough syrup with codeine. They are terribly strained for years, and end up resolving themselves to a chronic stand off usually during the daughter’s thirties or forties, where the relationship can remain steadfast and indignant for the rest of either one’s natural life. How depressing.

The much less depressing news is that it doesn’t have to be this way. In some cases, it takes a lot of effort, but not always. Sometimes just a few simple changes can completely turn around a skewed and ailing relationship between the women of the family. The bottom line ends up being pretty simple. Most mothers truly love their daughters. And most daughters truly love their mothers. It’s just that between all that love there is a great big heaping helping of demolish me stew and a side order of not quite good enough carrots.

History and the research provided from years of therapy couches have proven that in many cases, mothers are much more critical of their daughters than their sons, at least openly and visibly and certainly audibly. This is most obvious in households with only two children; one boy and one girl. Of course, mothers can be critical of anyone, it is part of their job. But in a recent survey, 68% of women between the ages of 18 and 35 felt their mothers resented them for not being a specific way or worse, a specific person while 36% of women between the ages of 36 and 56 felt this way. Only 23% of women over the age 57 felt their mothers resented them for their life choices and their person. However, this statistic only takes into account the participants of the survey, which included a high number of people in therapy. The numbers could be a little off, but probably not that much.

Why? Why is the mother daughter relationship so incredibly and unreasonably strained? Freudians point to the relationship between the mother and husband and the father and daughter, which of course is the same person. Some people feel the battle for his attention between the two female counterparts causes tension early on. There is scientific evidence that explains that the child of the opposite gender tends to bond more closely with the parent of the opposite gender. Hence the terms “Mama’s boy” and “Daddy’s little girl.”

Both parties need to be involved in easing the strain on these complicated relationships. Often mothers, who wish for their daughters to learn from the mistakes the mother feels she made, will offer advice. Often this advice sounds like criticism, and often can be so far off the mark of what the daughter really wants for her life that it feels as though the mother doesn’t really know her daughter at all. Daughters often spend so much time trying to live up to their mother’s expectations that she ends up unsure about what she wants, or unable to express her needs to be different from her mother.

Communicating is the basis to unraveling the string of near suffocating tension between a mother and a daughter. Often, the mother will resent the father’s interference despite the fact that the father is not intentionally interfering. Since he is usually offering the daughter what she needs (acceptance, encouragement, and the feeling of unconditional love) the daughter will continue to gravitate toward the father and allow the relationship with the mother to deteriorate even farther.

Mothers with strained relationships with their daughters need to learn to ask their daughters what they want to accomplish, how they intend to get there, and learn to offer words of encouragement either before or instead of offering their advice. Daughters need to learn that their mothers are usually only trying to help them avoid pitfalls that the mother experienced and need to feel needed in their daughter’s life. This can often be the issues caught at the heart of the strain.

Acceptance from both parties can calm the raging beast. When both the mother and the daughter feel as though they are valued and accepted by the other party, they tend to leave the quips, the sarcasm, and the constant edge of bickering on the back burner. Many mothers and daughters who have learned to do this find that they actually do really like each other, provided there are the appropriate boundaries in place.

Boundaries can be hard for mothers.

They want things for their daughters. They don’t want to watch them be used or hurt by the guy they feel is an exact replica of their teenage nemesis they once thought they were in love with. They don’t want to watch their daughters become trampled upon at work, as though the chronic looking over for a promotion and the sexual harassment that the mother experienced is now part of the daughter’s life. Mothers need to realize two things. One, their life was theirs and their daughter is a different person, with the right to make their own mistakes. Two, their daughters want nothing more than their mother’s approval, no matter how old they become or how bitter they act. A mother who is proud and shows it will have a much better relationship with her daughter than the one who constantly echoes the voice of displeasure and disappointment.

The greatest gift that either woman can give to the mother daughter relationship is honesty. Self honesty, and honest self evaluation, can go a long way in the healing process. If you are a daughter who intentionally tells those little white lies about your life to make your mother’s blood boil under her skin (of course you wouldn’t do something like that) then evaluate it, admit at least to yourself, and change it. If you’re a mother who constantly nags at her daughter to find the right man—or woman—(of course this isn’t you) then try admitting it at least to yourself, change it, and celebrate her accomplishments the next time you speak with her. These are the most basic, most elemental steps toward opening the door to a much better relationship with the most important persons in your lives.



3 Responses

  1. I agree with this synopsis but I am facing a different issue. My daughters and I have made it through their 30s and 40s but are now faced with their 50s and my 70s. They, of course, are menopausal and prickly. Now when we talk they expect me to add nothing to the conversation especially advice or insight through personal experience. It’s like I have no right to conversational input at all. I feel like telling them I am not a priest, shrink or impartial confident and if I am not allowed to add to the conversation they need one of those and not me. I am becoming quite resentful especially when they let slip that they have been talking to each other about what they think are my short-comings. For instance; One daughter preparing to move to CA from IL was telling me her landlord changed the front door lock and back door lock-code after she gave notice of her pending move and while she was out of town on business. I tell her they cannot legally do that and she should document it. Guess I spoke too soon as she became very disgusted with me, hung up and called her sister to report I was giving unwanted advice again. It is getting so bad and sooo upsetting I feel like separating myself from them altogether for their sake as well as my own. We currently live many miles from each other but talk (they talk – I am expected to listen) most days. Due to my age, 75, I sense they fear that somehow, someway they will be responsible for me. If so, it may be what is driving their attitudes. I hope not. Maybe it is menopausal attitudes??? Can you help us?

    1. Dear Judy, I can hear your pain in your input not being welcomed by your daughters, and that they also talk about how you have “again” given unwanted advice. And I’m guessing that at your age, you long to have the better connections you had with them at their earlier ages, and that you long also to be included in their conversations and in their lives, and have the same respect and inclusion that they seem to offer each other. These are very understandable needs. What might help is that you find an alternative way of contributing to their conversations, other than adding things that you feel would help or fix the problem. This will take some restraint on your part unless you come to value what I have found to be even more helpful to my children than my advice – and that is to listen with empathy to whatever they are willing to share – to try to see it from their perspective, and make “empathy guesses.” An example would be “Are you feeling angry and frustrated that your landlord changed the lock and you weren’t able to get back into your apartment after you came back from your trip – because it didn’t meet your needs for fairness and consideration – especially since you had given him notice ahead of time so that he could find another tenant?” To most people in our culture, a question like that would not seem as helpful as advice, such as you offered your daughter – but most women mostly just want to be HEARD for their pain, and it better meets their needs for being cared about when they are just heard, and not advised! I hope this tip has been helpful for you. I have a few more on my website, as I specialize in helping mothers repair their strained relationships with their daughters. If you want to learn more, you can check me out at

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