The mother-daughter relationship comes with a lot of power. After all, it’s the first relationship most of us will experience in life. But what starts with meeting basic human needs and pure adoration can, over time, begin to shift.
While love, for most, remains central to the bond, navigating from a parent-child relationship to both being independent adults is a period that can come loaded with conflict and strain, and for some, it leads to a breakdown in the relationship.
With that in mind, family psychotherapist and founder and clinical director of The Wave Clinic, Fiona Yassin, has shared seven ways mothers and daughters can start to heal their broken relationships.
Plus, to help mothers and daughters understand their conflict, Yassin has explored the reasons why the dynamic can become so challenging.
How to start healing your mother-daughter relationship
Communicate from a place of compassion
Ensuring communication comes from a gentle place will make it easier to move through the more challenging points. A good place to start is to talk about the things you appreciate about each other. Discuss what you are each grateful for in the relationship and what you want to hold onto. Asking questions from a nurturing place can be a great way to get to know each other on a different level. Promoting good communication in families is one of the ways we can begin to heal both the relationship and intergenerational trauma.
Actively listen and avoid jumping in
We often tolerate interruptions within families but it’s really important that both mother and daughter feel they can share freely and are not pitching themselves against one another. The aim is to see yourself as an alliance, not as enemies. One way to achieve this is to introduce a prop – like a wooden spoon or wand – into the conversation and only speak when you’re holding it. This will help to ensure you both hear what each other needs from the relationship, without feeling like you’re in battle.
The mother-daughter relationship is not a static relationship. Moving through life brings opportunities for review and change, reasserting positions or reconstructing what each other needs. But we can only do that by understanding what the other needs at each stage of life.
Ditch the traditions that are hampering your relationship
Traditions can be a wonderful way to foster connectivity and togetherness within families. But it’s important to recognise that they can also be really hampering. If you feel your traditions have become too big or burdensome, it may be time to put them aside and change things up. Know that bucking your Mother’s Day tradition this year doesn’t mean there’s something wrong with you or your family. In fact, re-evaluating the amount of time you invest in family relationships is a positive step forward. Take the time to put your oxygen mask on first before helping others.
Consider the other as a whole person, not just a mother or daughter
One thing we can do to help repair a relationship is to consider the other as a whole person. If you’re a daughter, be inquisitive about your mother’s life experiences. Ask questions such as; what was it like to be a mum 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 your own mother there to help? And if you’re a mother, be inquisitive about your daughter’s experience outside the bubble in which you once existed together.
Allow your daughter to teach you
Naturally, mums feel their role is to teach and daughters feel their role is to learn. But as we get older these roles change, which can be difficult to adapt to. Understanding that your daughter could be one of your best teachers can help to ease up the relationship by stopping it from always being top-down.
Understand that your daughter’s experiences are separate from your own
Sometimes, when we have very close relationships, we expect the other person to feel the same way we do, but it’s rarely the case. It can be really hard to hear that your daughter has negative feelings about you and your parenting. The technique of mentalising – picturing what the other person might be feeling or experiencing – can help you to understand that the other person’s experience is separate from your own.
Put boundaries in place
It’s really important to review the mother-daughter relationship as it progresses through the years and put boundaries if you feel they are needed. Boundaries are not rules, instead, they are little bridges for ourselves that we can decide to reinforce when needed to avoid overwhelm.
Society’s unrealistic expectations of mothers
Yassin said: “Although it rarely is the case, society has long taught us that the mother-daughter relationship should be beautiful and exceptionally close. So, when chinks appear or relationships break down it can be a shock and there can be a great sense of shame and blame.
“Many mothers find it difficult to be a parent and for some, it is a job they would rather not have – a contradiction to the social norm. Those who are finding the role of being mum challenging may, inadvertently, take this out on the child.
“There is an unspoken message across most cultures that the mother in the family should be deeply respected and protected. This makes it much more difficult to shine a light on that relationship, to put boundaries in place or to walk away.”
Why is the mother-daughter relationship so powerful?
Yassin said: “The mother-baby relationship is one that carries an incredible amount of weight. A baby has a huge amount of dependency on a parent – it’s life and death in its earliest form. Many of us carry this through into adulthood which is why what our mothers say has a much greater impact on us than the things that other people say. With that in mind, it’s a relationship that can be hugely rewarding or hugely damaging. It’s one of the reasons this particular relationship has the power that it does.”
Yassin continued: “We don’t come into the world with the ready-made skill of being a mother. Instead, we learn to be a mother from other mothers and the one we watch the most is often our own. Quite often, young people will decide, based on their own experiences, whether they want to do it the same way as their mum or do it completely differently. Sometimes, looking to do something the opposite way can be fraught with damage because it’s driven by the unhealed part of us wanting to heal things in another relationship and this is rarely effective.”
How does intergenerational trauma impact the mother-daughter relationship?
“Trauma can ‘spread’ through generations if the ordeals which have inflicted said trauma have not been effectively dealt with. The best thing to do is work through the ordeal until it doesn’t carry a charge for you anymore. If you don’t deal with the trauma and end up replicating it, then there’s the potential that it will manifest in your romantic relationships, friendships and relationships with your children.
“Mothers and daughters with weakened styles of attachment and their own mental health issues will, by default, have a relationship that is weaker in its construct. All evidence suggests that the mother-child relationship has a profound effect on our mental, and subsequently physical, health. If the mother-daughter relationship is out of sync from early on it can amount to a really stressful relationship. Stress can have a profound impact on the nervous system and the way we are able to function in day-to-day life. Our primary attachment figures colour the way we build all the relationships in our lives – romantic, friendship, workplace.”
Not all relationships can be reconciled
“Sometimes mother-daughter relationships cannot be reconciled. It’s a harsh reality that can come with big feelings of grief and loss on both sides – not just the loss of what we have but also the loss of the dream. This can be incredibly difficult to come to terms with. If the relationship is one you’d like to reconcile, consider seeking professional help such as family therapy.”