When a parent-child relationship transitions into an adult-adult relationship, things can get a little shaky — especially with mothers and daughters.
“Although it rarely happens, society has long taught us that a mother-daughter relationship should be beautiful and exceptionally close,” says Fiona Yasin, family psychotherapist and founder Wave Clinic.
When a relationship breaks down, it can be a big “shock,” the therapist says, and there can be intense feelings of shame and guilt.
In the meantime, people often like to blame female hormones or various personality traits for such cracks, for therapists who specialize in this field, this is simply not the case.
What drives moms and their grown children apart?
Ohio State University study of more than 1,000 mothers who had separated from their adult children, it found that 52% were estranged from their daughter and 45% from their son, with more than half not in contact for more than a year.
The most common reason for alienation (cited by 79%) was that family members turned their children against them. The child’s biological father or the child’s spouse or partner were most often blamed.
Almost two-thirds of mums (62%) said their child’s mental health – including anxiety, depression, addiction or alcoholism – played a role. Just over a third said that differences over values caused them to split. So, for example, disagreement on politics or raising children.
But on the opposite side of the coin, alienated children said that their splits stemmed mostly from emotional abuse, conflicting role expectations, and personality clashes.
Some of these different perspectives may have arisen from broader societal changes and Professor Sarah Schoppe-Sullivanlead author of the study, noted that there are differences between generations in what parents and children consider to be appropriate parenting.
“Over the past three decades, views on what constitutes abusive, harmful, neglectful or traumatizing behavior have changed,” she said. “What was once considered normal behavior today may be seen as abuse or neglect.”
“If women are not heard in the family, how can a mother and daughter listen to each other?”
– Dr. Roske Hasseldin, therapist
Therapist Dr. Roske Hasseldin, who has researched mother-daughter dynamics for over 20 years, previously reported by HuffPost UK she believes that society sets these relationships up for failure by expecting women to shut themselves up and put their needs last.
“Come to think of it, if women are not heard in the family, how can a mother and daughter listen to each other?” she said, assuming there was then a power struggle between those who needed to be heard.
The same pattern may apply when it comes to emotional support. “When you grow up in a family where women are expected to support everyone else but not demand the support they need, again, it’s a power struggle between mothers and daughters,” she said.
“Who Gets Relationship Support? Both mother and daughter deserve support.”
Jealousy can also play a role – for example, when a mother is jealous of her daughter’s career, success, opportunities or freedom.
“She’s ashamed to keep quiet about it,” Dr. Hasseldine said. “And what happens between mothers and daughters is that the daughter becomes what I call an ‘uncomfortable mirror.’
“The mother then sees what she was not allowed to do, what she was not allowed to be. It could be about career or education, but it could also be about the fact that mom didn’t have a loving partner.’
Yassin suggests that society’s unrealistic expectations of mothers, as well as intergenerational trauma, can affect mother-daughter relationships.
With regard to the latter, she notes that trauma can “spread” through generations if the ordeal that caused that trauma has not been effectively addressed.
Addressing moms in particular, she says the best thing to do is “work through the ordeal until it stops taking a toll on you.”
This is important because if you don’t deal with it and end up doing it again, then there is the potential for it to show up in your relationships – including your children.
How can you begin to heal when your relationship feels strained?
According to Dr. Hasseldine, an increasing number of women in their twenties, thirties and forties are seeking therapy to improve the mother-daughter relationship, which can only be a positive thing.
However, not all relationships can be fixed, which can be difficult to deal with and can be accompanied by great feelings such as grief and loss on both sides.
If you want to try to reconcile, Yassin shares some helpful tips on how and where to start.
1. Speak from a place of compassion
Reassuring that communication is coming from a place of tenderness will make it easier to navigate through more difficult moments, the therapist says. A good place to start is to talk about what you appreciate about each other.
“Discuss what you are each grateful for in the relationship and what you want to keep. Asking questions from a place of parenting can be a great way to get to know each other on a different level,” she says.
2. Listen actively and avoid jumping in
We often suffer breaks as a family, but it’s important that both mother and daughter feel free to share – and not set on each other.
“The goal is to see ourselves as an alliance, not as enemies,” Yassin says. “One way to achieve this is to introduce a prop into the conversation – such as a wooden spoon – and only speak when you’re holding it.”
That way you can both hear what each other has to say without feeling like you’re in a fight.
3. Let go of traditions that hinder your relationship
Traditions can be a great way to promote family cohesion and cohesion. But it is important to recognize that they can also be serious obstacles.
If you feel like your traditions have become too big or overwhelming, maybe it’s time to put them aside and make a change.
This does not mean that there is something wrong with you or your family, says Yassin. “In fact, reassessing the amount of time you invest in family relationships is a positive step forward.”
She compares it to taking the time to put on your own oxygen mask before helping others.
4. See the other as a whole person, not just as a mother or daughter
One thing we can do to help repair relationships is to see the other person as a whole person, the therapist suggests.
She advises her daughters to be interested in their mother’s life experience. Ask questions like: What was it like to be a mom and not have the career you wanted? How did it feel to be a parent on your own? What was it like to raise children without the help of a mother?
And if you’re a mother, tap into your daughter’s experiences outside of the bubble you once existed in together, she adds.
5. If you are a mom, let your daughter teach you
Naturally, mothers believe that their role is to teach, and daughters to learn. But as we get older, these roles change, which can be difficult to adapt to.
“Understanding that your daughter can be one of your best teachers can help ease the relationship by stopping it from always being top-down,” Yassin says.
6. Understand that your daughter’s experience is unrelated to your own
Sometimes, when we are in a very close relationship, we expect the other person to feel the same way we do, but that rarely happens.
“It can be very difficult to hear that your daughter is negative about you and your parenting,” Yasin says.
She recommends a technique called “mentalizing” – where you imagine what another person might be feeling or going through. It can help you understand that the other person’s experience is different from your own.
7. Set boundaries
It’s really important to review the mother-daughter relationship as it develops over the years and set boundaries if you feel they are needed.
“Boundaries aren’t rules, instead they’re little bridges for ourselves that we can decide to strengthen when necessary to avoid becoming overwhelmed,” adds the therapist.
8. Go to therapy together
If you are struggling to come to terms and feel the need for more support, consider seeking professional help, such as family therapy.