The complex mother - daughter relationship
I do not have any daughters; God chose to bless me with two sons, hence I regularly here, “Oh, don’t tell me you don’t have any daughters. Haven’t you heard ‘a son is a son, till he gets himself a wife, while a daughter remains a daughter for all your life’?”
All my protestations about my sons being absolute jewels get lost in those ‘poor you’ looks. This used to be my usual plight, until the other day, when a friend of mine started relating her woes concerning her teenage daughter. I listened as one by one many of my friends came out with their own sob stories. Surprisingly most of these concerned their daughters!
I came back home with a great deal of food for thought. Until now I had not considered the possibility of a ’special’ relationship between daughters and mothers. I always gave credit to an individual’s ‘heart’ skills more than their ‘gender’, for maintaining good relationships. I considered this ’son or daughter’ fixation as more of a cultural phenomenon and the effect of our social conditioning.
But now I gave some thought to my own role as a daughter, and the complexities of this beautiful relationship between a mother and a daughter.
The charm of a girl
When a baby girl is born, the mother feels an instant connection with her. As she grows into a toddler and a pre-schooler, her mother is her ‘hero’. As she enters school, some of the mother’s glory gets transferred to her class teacher. Of course, you, as mother, don’t resent that. You know that the bond between a mother and a daughter is indeed very unique, and nothing can ever break it. But once your daughter grows up and becomes her own person, this bond is often tested to its limits.
Yes, it remains the most complex of all relationships. Despite mothers and daughters sharing a special bond, there are some complex emotions that play a role in this sacred bond. These are emotions of resentment, competition (not often, but sometimes!), and of course, love. Mothers and daughters remain friends most of the times but they can be bitter enemies as well. What evokes such strong emotions in this simple relationship?
Most girls are labelled as ‘daddy’s girls’ when they are growing up. I do not know why or how this belief got propagated. This label itself sows the seeds of dissent, and competition. Now the mother has to compete for her daughter’s father’s affection; not forgetting that ‘daddy’s girl’ has the first claim on it. Why do you think this relationship gets so complicated?
Mothers and daughters definitely spend more time with each other than mothers do with their sons or for that matter, daughters with their fathers. They definitely talk more. They discuss personal topics. This presupposes that they must be close, but the fact remains that too much of interaction, that too of personal nature, can breed contempt. They also risk offending each other all the more.
Let us look at the flash points in a mother and daughter relationship.
Women are generally judged by how they look, and mothers are judged by how their daughters look; so appearance, clothes, weight, and hair-dos often become an area of dissent between mothers and daughters.
Mothers always see their daughters as little girls and want to save them from all the bad wolves of this world. Daughters resent this protective behaviour. They consider their mothers as control freaks.
Whenever mothers offer any (motherly) advice, or suggest improvements in wardrobes, hairstyles, or looks, daughters smell a rat and see implied criticism in everything that is said (or left unsaid). Mothers think that they correct their daughters because they care for their daughters; daughters think that mothers just need an excuse to criticize. The resulting tension often spills over for days on end.
If daughters sense disapproval, they won’t hesitate in keeping secrets from their mother. They feel powerful by withholding information. This sows the seeds for further dissent, and the domino’s effect carries on.
Now, what is the magic formula to make a perfect mother-daughter relationship?
Seeing things from the other party’s point of view always works wonders. Using praise from time to time is another sure winner. Humour, of course, works each and every time, without fail.
However, one important tool remains: role play. Teaching a daughter ‘how to mother’ is an important part of growing up. Dolls come handy here, but even younger siblings do as well. Because the mother-daughter relationship is a contextual background for how daughters learn to parent, this tool remains pretty important!
Telling your daughter (and vice versa) that you love her keeps you connected with her. Girls especially love to receive ‘I love you’ notes and cards from their parents. A written note is very special as it can be read again and again.
All mothers want their daughters to grow into loving, respectable, and independent adults and teach them good work ethics and family values. Mothering does not stop when your daughter becomes a young adult; it just changes form. You need to still love and guide your daughter but in an adult way. She needs encouragement and affirming to keep her self-confidence and self-esteem high. Let your daughter know that she is loved and respected.
Loving a daughter doesn’t mean that you have to give in to all her whims. To love her is to bring out the best in her. Your daughter will always remain inside of you, as she shares your genetics, but more important is the fact that you nurtured her heart (and vice versa), and provided the best model of what it is to be a woman in this world.
Only when your relationship with your daughter is friendly can you enjoy the precious treasure of being a mother.
Parenting is a tough job. It is a continuous challenge. No parent is perfect and we all make mistakes. Mothers, fathers alike.
Ultimately, it all boils down to the single quote by actress Bette Davies, ‘If you’ve never been hated by your daughter, you have never been a mother!’