Successful Daughter-Mother Relationships: Five Critical Keys

By Gayle Trent and Josie Brown

mother daughter, middle aged mother with young adult daughterThe dress you’re wearing. The way you cut your hair. Even the men you date—or worse, the ones you don’t date.

Everything about you is wrong.

No, certainly that’s not your opinion. It’s your mother’s.

At least, it would seem that way.

Of course, you see things differently. You’ve spent your whole life on one seemingly unattainable goal:

Pleasing her.

That said, if your relationship with your mother is dysfunctional, then it’s her fault, not yours.

According to Dr. Benjamin Schutz, PhD, a licensed clinical psychologist in Springfield, Virginia, conflict and trouble does not equate with dysfunctional. “Getting along all the time is not reality. It’s a Norman Rockwell painting. There’s no harder job than parenting. Nobody gets it right all the time.”

As a single adult, Deborah Tannen constantly faced her mother’s obsession with Tannen’s unmarried state. In a Washington Post article Tannen muses: “If she called to tell me she enjoyed a visit to my home, she would end by saying how bad she felt when she and my father drove away and left me standing alone. On hearing I was planning a trip with my best friend, she would try to convince me to go to Club Med instead, hoping to enhance my chances of finding a husband. Time and again, I’d forbid her to raise this issue, and she would try to comply. But then she would relapse, I’d get angry, she’d say that I was too touchy, and the cycle would start again.”

But Tannen is also quick to remind us to consider our mothers’ perspectives. In an article that appeared last year in the Los Angeles Times, she writes that her mother came to the United States from Russia before she was twelve years old, and had to drop out of high school in order to help support the family. Tannen then surmises how terribly remote her own professional achievements must have seemed to her mother, considering these differences in how they were raised.

Do mother-daughter conflicts arise out of generational differences? Not necessarily, says Schutz. “Every generation has had its problems. [Yet] the popular wisdom of previous generations prevails.”

Which explains why, eventually, so many of us find ourselves repeating advice our parents gave us to our own children. Or, as Schutz points out: “As our relationships, ideas, and circumstances change, we simply must adapt.”

Does that mean our mothers’ points-of-view are a valid perception of us?

No more than ours are of them.

Schutz explains that we must deal with the “tyranny of the ideal. We set unrealistic expectations for ourselves and our relationships, and then we are inevitably disappointed.”

In BBW magazine, essayist Mary Friedel-Hunt writes: “As a group, mothers are held to very high expectations. We, consciously or unconsciously, demand that they love perfectly, live selflessly and never make mistakes. Yet mothers are just women with the same needs, the same self-esteem issues, and the same weaknesses and strengths as everyone else. If only we could see that. Instead, daughters tend to project onto their mothers the expectation of being super-moms, while many mothers tend to displace their own needs on their daughters. Thus, the conflicts begin.”

Five Keys to a Successful Daughter-Mother Relationship

#1: Mutual Acceptance.

Friedel-Hunt believes that accepting each other, just as you are, is the key to mending the complicated mother-daughter relationship. We agree. Your mutual success will also be ensured if you are willing to:

#2: See her has a friend, not an enemy.

Your mother will always love you, unconditionally. Just accept the fact that she is programmed that way. She revels in your triumphs, and feels your pain. Through you, she gets a different perspective of the world. Sound familiar? It should. If this describes your best friend, you now know the role your mother was meant to play in this phase of your life.

#3: Let her have her say.

Because she loves you, she will have an opinion. Then again, so do you! You may not always agree with what she has to say, but allowing her to say it shows that you care to listen.

#4. Treat her with respect, always.

Even if you don’t agree with her, even if you feel she has overstepped a boundary, you can be kind and polite (two traits that, hopefully, she instilled in you). When you calmly explain your reasons for thinking so, you dampen any fire to argue otherwise.

#5. Treat her as an adult — and when she doesn’t do the same to you request respectfully that she does.

Many parent have a hard time treating their grown children as adults. Yes, we are still their children, but in their minds, we are still in need of nurturing. What they need to understand — and can, with your help — is that they should be offering a different kind of nurturing now: more as a good friend you can count on when you’re in need of them. Ask them to give you the courtesy of your own age and life experience. After all, you’ve earned it.


Finding-Mr-Right-Banner-AdBesides being the Relationship Channel Editor for, Josie Brown is also the co-author, along with her husband, Martin, of THE COMPLETE IDIOT’S GUIDE TO FINDING MR. RIGHT, the perfect self-help manual for your BFF (…okay, and for you, too).

Josie is also the author of two novels: IMPOSSIBLY TONGUE-TIED, and TRUE HOLLYWOOD LIES. Look for her third novel SECRET LIVES OF HUSBANDS AND WIVES in bookstores September 2010.


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