01.05.2011

Mothers and Daughters

Mother-daughter relationship is life's most complex affecting all other relationships
Relationships counsellor Dr Charmaine Saunders suggests a way through oneof life's eternal minefields.The mother-daughter relationship is the single most complex and difficult one there is. For each of us, our relationship with our mother is the most important and significant of our lives. It affects every other we have into the future. For each mother and daughter, it takes on an added layer of meaning, never more in evidence than during the teenage years. As little girls, Mums are adored and looked up to, but around puberty, they suddenly become the enemy. Let us examine why and how it might be improved.

Firstly, why is it such a complicated relationship?

Rivalry

Being of the same sex, there is natural competition between a mother and daughter. From the mother's point of view, she sees in her daughter her own fading youth. She sees all the chances her daughter has that far exceeded her own, all the years ahead that mark the ending of her life but the blossoming of her daughter's.

From the daughter's viewpoint, she wants to break free and establish her own style. She resents being seen as a carbon copy of the older woman, compared, often unfavourably. If her mother is young and pretty, it's even worse. This sense of competitiveness can be alleviated by each focusing on their own individual qualities while emphasising the other's in a positive way.

Conflict

This is basically caused by the generation gap. Mothers tend to say things like "in my day" or "when I was your age" which goes down like a lead balloon.

Teenage girls look on their mothers as old fashioned, out of touch and generally a pain. The wise mother gives advice with utmost care, not pushing her point of view and going easy on the rules. While teenage daughter is dealing with all her inherent dramas and daily stresses, Mum might be going through menopause or mid-life crisis, which means that they cannot always be available for each other. This can create a wide emotional chasm that might last for many years. Talking frankly about this before it reaches a point of conflict is the only answer. Once there is a conflict, a third party is usually needed to help resolve it, such as an older sibling, the other parent or even an outside party who can offer an objective view.

Communication

This is probably the most difficult area for mothers and daughters. Teenagers don't want to talk to anyone but their peers, other young people who speak the same language - teenage! Mothers keep trying but often fall into bad habits and create further distance instead of closeness. Later in this article, I have offered a range of suggestions to improve communication, which is the cornerstone of all relationships in life. Without effective methods of communication, how can we ever know or understand one another? Communication is not only verbal; it's also about listening skills and body language which, when we learn how to read, can bridge a lot of gaps.

Relationships in common

Girls have a habit of idealising Dads and criticising Mums, so this can cause a good deal of discord and tension within the family and home. It's important that parents present a united front, refusing to be played off by daughters. The same applies to siblings. Other children in the family, both boys and girls, can get caught up in the mother/daughter conflict. Younger daughters who are not feeling hostility towards their mothers become confused and disillusioned when they witness the fights and arguments. If there are more than two generations in the home, as with extended family units, the complexities multiply again.

Stress

Each of the two parties has their own individual stresses. The daughter is going through all the usual teenage angst - school, emerging sexuality, peer pressure, growing up, etc; Mum has all the grown-up stresses - marriage, chores, fatigue, parenting, balancing all the different parts of life. These various stresses will clash and exaggerate the already existing difficulties. Both should practise stress management for their own individual health and wellbeing, but also in order to avoid clashing more than is absolutely necessary. Sometimes, just telling each other you feel stressed can make you feel better instead of taking out your pressure on the other person.

Strategies for improvement

For daughter:

Show respect even when you feel unfairly treatedTry not to sneak around as that will only arouse suspicion whether justified or notIntroduce your friends to your parentsAsk for the things you want rather than just rebelling to get your own wayRemember your mother has lived a bit longer than you and might know just a little moreIf you feel extra stressed, depressed or anxious, reach out and talk to your mother - she understands more than you realiseDon't expect your mother to like your taste in clothes, boys, music, movies or anything muchInsist on your right to privacy, but also don't forget parents are human and have needs tooCompromise as much as you canDo chores graciouslySee all the little acts of love your mother does every day

For mother:

Ask more, tell lessKeep rules to a minimumReduce pressure wherever possibleTamp down your anger even when severely provokedSpeak softly but firmlyDon't make threats you don't intend to keepDraw boundaries and keep to themRefuse to be spoken to rudely or tolerate swearingRespect your daughter's personal space and wishesNever attempt to deal with problems when tempers are raisedBe the bigger person - don't go down to the teenager's levelBe prepared to apologise if you believe you've been unfair or unkindGive lots of praise and only constructive criticismBe interested in your daughter's music, studies, friends, hobbiesGo shopping together but don't impose your tasteBe consistent in all things, as far as humanly possibleAnswer questions about sex openly and honestlyKeep looking for the beautiful traits in your teenage daughter, no matter how well hidden!

Once a daughter goes from teenager to young woman, a lot of these mother-daughter difficulties seem to evaporate or at least, diminish. It is said that a girl only fully appreciates her mother when she becomes one herself. If there is a residual conflict from past years, it's up to the two individuals to bury the hatchet and start afresh. All the points that have been raised - stress, conflict, poor communication, jealousy - no longer need to be obstacles to a happier, stress-free relationship. Anyway, it's worth the effort and the wait because an adult mother-daughter relationship is a fine and strong bond, built on love, friendship and mutual respect.

Charmaine is willing to answer your relationship questions to appear in NOVA Magazine, both in print and online. Email her at drchar@iinet.net.au

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