Everyone has heard the saying “There’s no stronger bond than that between a woman and her child.” This saying holds true regardless of whether that child is a son or daughter, yet the relationship between a mother and her daughter is different - Mother-Daughter Relationships introduction. It is a strange concoction created of love, trust and compassion, sometimes peppered with anger, resentment, and even hate. Unlike the father-daughter relationship, where the daughter always tends to be “daddy’s little girl”, the mother-daughter relationship changes dramatically as both mother and daughter proceed through their respective stages in life. How do life’s changes impact the mother-daughter dynamic? Why is it that mothers and daughters are best friends one minute, and suddenly exploding at one another the next?
In the book, “You’re Wearing That? Understanding Mothers and Daughters in Conversation”, linguist Deborah Tannen examines the ideas of “closeness” and “sameness” in mother-daughter relationships. It appears that these are two of the things that will change dramatically over the course of the relationship. Tannen discusses how from the very beginning, mothers are physically closer to their infant daughters in comparison to their infant sons. Throughout the younger years, the daughter retains a strong desire to be physically close to her mother (87). Tannen also discusses how young girls wish to view themselves as being “the same” as their mothers in every aspect. “For girls and women,” Tannen says, “emphasizing sameness is a way of reinforcing connection.” During these early years, the daughter has no desire to be separate from their mother whether it is physically or emotionally (92-93).
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As the daughter enters into her teenage years, she will begin looking to establish her own identity. Her desire to distance herself from her mother becomes apparent. This stage is usually the point in time where the relationship between the mother and daughter begins to become strained. Amye Walters of CWK Network, Inc. gives several common reasons as to why this happens (www.abclocal.go.com).
One reason is that mothers play the role of the “emotional caretakers” of the family. This leads to the mother’s desire to know exactly what is going on in her daughter’s life, at a point in time when the daughter is trying to distance her own identity from her mother’s. The daughter views any questions or advice her mother verbalizes as an attempt to control her life. The mother can view her daughter’s behavior as being over reactive and difficult.
Another reason for the strain is that in her effort to create her own identity, a daughter may “scrutinize her mother’s every action.” The daughter is attempting to distinguish what characteristics of her mother’s personality she would like to emulate, and which she would not. Like most people that are heavily scrutinized, the mother most likely feels as if her daughter is personally attacking her.
Last, but not least, most women simply find it very difficult and undesirable to express and deal with conflict and anger, especially as it relates to mothers and daughters. On the daughter’s part, being unwilling or unable to explain how or why you feel a certain way will lead to acting out in ways that may lead to conflict. As a mother, it can be difficult to accept that the relationship has changed, and that she feels such anger towards her little girl who has changed so dramatically in such a short period of time.
As the relationship moves into the early adult and mid-life range, many mothers and daughters can begin to feel their bond renewing. The daughter by this time has established her own identity, but still has a strong need for her mother’s nurturing and approval. There is no time where this is more apparent then when the daughter is about to become a mother herself. In fact, a study published by The Journal of Perinatal Education reports that “All of the women in the study reported a need for a positive and reliable relationship with their mothers, more so than with their partners.”(www.lamaze.org). This gives us great insight into the importance of the mother-daughter bond during this stage in life. The extreme importance of this bond, however, can lead to new challenges for a mother and daughter.
As the daughter moves into her new stages of life with a career, marriage and children, her mother’s acceptance and approval begins to mean more to her than it ever has before. Additionally, the mother sees her daughter as a reflection of herself, and may not understand why her daughter does things in a different way then what she is used to. Both mother and daughter can end up feeling as if what they are doing, or have done in the past is not “good enough” in the eyes of the other.
In an article from the Washington Post title “Oh, Mom. Oh, Honey. Why Do You Have to Say That?” Deborah Tannen explains what makes the mother-daughter dynamic so different from all other family dynamics:
…there is a special intensity to the mother-daughter relationship because talk — particularly talk about personal topics — plays a larger and more complex role in girls’ and women’s social lives than in boys’ and men’s. For girls and women, talk is the glue that holds a relationship together — and the explosive that can blow it apart. ( Washington Post, January 22, 2006, B01).
Since talk plays such a strong role in the relationship, it is often the starting point for conflict. As Tannen points out in her article, comments that would be harmless coming from anyone else, can be crushing coming from the mother. In an article entitled “Mama Drama”, written by Brenda Wade and Yanick Rice
Lamb, the authors express how it is important to “heal the anger and recriminations” that can hold back a strong mother-daughter relationship. They suggest that mothers, not just daughters, need to be nurtured, that “mothers are in need of our support as we are of theirs.”(Essence, (May 1997): 128(7)).
This becomes more obvious to most daughters as their mothers begin to age, and reach the point in their life where they are beginning to become frail. The mother and daughter have come full circle, except now the daughter has become the concerned and worried caretaker. Tannen illustrates this process beautifully and describes how the “roles began to blur” as her mother’s health weakened:
…I called her daily, mailed her loving notes and small gifts, visited often … I held her hand when we walked, slowing my pace to match hers. I helped her get ready for bed…asked her if she’d eaten enough for lunch and if she was getting enough sleep… by taking care of my mother, I came to understand how much I loved her, and how much she had loved me. (You’re Wearing That? 247).
From the glow of admiration in a young girl’s eyes, through the distancing of adolescence and the complexities of navigating together through adulthood, this eventual reversal of roles and the revelations that come from the experience are what truly make the treasured mother-daughter relationship worth every argument.
Tannen, Deborah. You’re Wearing That? Understanding Mothers and Daughters in Conversation. New York: Random House, Inc., 2006. 87, 92-93, 247.
Walters, Amye. Mother-Daughter Dynamic. 5 January 2005. abc7chicago.com. 14 March 2007 <http://abclocal.go.com/wls/story?section=News&id=2581157.>
“New Study Reveals That the Mother-Daughter Relationship Affects a Woman’s Choices in Childbirth.” lamaze.org. 14 March 2007 <http://www.lamaze.org/Default.aspx?tabid=312.
Tannen, Deborah. Oh, Mom. Oh, Honey. Why Do You Have to Say That? 22 January 2006. Washington Post. Accessed 18 March 2007. <http:www.washingtonpost.com>.
Wade, Brenda, and Yanick Rice Lamb. “Mama Drama. (Mother-Daughter Relationships)”. Essence. 28.n1 (May 1997):128(7).