We all know that as much as they love each other, mums and daughters almost never seem to agree! Here's why!
When I was growing up, I used to wonder why mothers and daughters fight. It’s unanimously and ubiquitously agreed upon that mums and their girls just don’t get along!
I’ve always found it incredibly difficult to get along with my mum. I love her more than anything in the world and I can’t get through a single day without her. Yet we disagree. We argue. We quarrel. We hurt each other. There’s all the love, laughter and joy but there are also all those tears that I simply cannot comprehend.
And I’m not alone. Many women resonate with what I’m saying. It’s almost like an epidemic of relationship conflict. Mums and daughters struggle to hear each other, to respect each other’s differences and to honour boundaries.
They would lay their life down for each other in a heartbeat yet they fight. Sadly, love fades into the periphery as the incessant arguing, harsh criticism and the inability to respect their differences become the defining factors of their relationship.
Why is this so? Just why do mothers and daughters fight so much?
People often attribute this battle of wills to the complicated nature of the mother-daughter relationship, mental health issues, personality clashes, overly similar personalities or worse, the age-old sexist theory blaming it all on hormones!
While it is true that personality clashes and mental health issues provide some insight as to why mothers and daughters fight, these aren’t the root causes. There are other reasons behind this mother-daughter relationship conflict becoming the epidemic that it is today.
1. Women’s lives have changed profoundly
Our lives don’t vaguely resemble our mothers’ lives and that’s where the problem starts. Not all mothers are able to embrace the change that increased opportunities, freedom, choices and education bring to a woman’s life.
In their time, daughters climbed into their mother’s skin and walked around in it. They had no qualms about repeating the life their mother lead. In fact, they were often conditioned to do so.
Change was not their only constant, similarity was.
But in this day and age, women have become so much more and passivity is not something they embrace. They have different views about being a woman, their sexuality and their place in society. Their views don’t necessarily reflect their mother’s views.
So whose view is right then? That’s where conflict arises.
But what both parties fail to realise is that mothers and daughters are changing and growing together and they can agree to disagree.
2. Women’s generational experience with sexism
In addition to the above dynamics, there’s the issue of women’s generational experience with sexism. Across continents and over generations women have been silenced.
At some point in time, women couldn’t go to school, women couldn’t vote, or women couldn’t work. Even if they could, it was likely to be frowned upon.
Women have been oppressed, silenced and convinced that their voice shouldn’t be heard. And it’s way beyond speaking in the desired feminine ‘soft-spoken tone’.
No. It’s a lot more than than. Women have been told that their opinions don’t matter. Their needs and wants aren’t heard because they shouldn’t be. There’s no place for all of that. They got used to not being heard.
So when their needs and feelings are neither heard nor honoured by the rest of the family, let alone society, mothers tend to fight with their daughters over who gets to be heard and whose needs get to be met. That’s another main reason why mothers and daughters fight.
It’s kind of like a power struggle. Mothers are fighting for that sense of control they lost over their life. They try to assert the control over their daughters, because they think they can. And of course, the daughters don’t give up without a fight either!
Apart from these universal reasons, there are other reasons, more specific to our Asian context, why mothers and daughters fight.
Why mothers and daughters fight in Asia
Traditionally, Asians believe in filial piety and think of family in a very hierarchical manner. The older generation tends to assert their views and beliefs strongly upon the younger ones and they do not like to be questioned or contradicted.
When daughters go against their mother, it causes friction on many levels and it hurts their mother’s pride. Even when it comes to parenting, mothers expect their daughters to heed their advice due to their experience, wisdom and seniority.
In fact, you’d be surprised to know that many Singaporean women who have gone for therapy for post natal depression, cited conflicts with their mothers (and MILS of course) as a contributing factor to their anxiety or depression.
And when their mothers hear this, they are baffled.
How can I be the reason she’s depressed when I have been the one looking after her throughout her pregnancy and confinement? How can I be the reason she’s upset when I look after her child so she can work?
They feel hurt and unappreciated. They even think of their daughters as being ungrateful. This of course escalates to arguments and fights.
The reason why mothers and daughters fight in this case is the mismatch in expectations. Asian mothers offer a lot of practical and logistical support to their daughters but aren’t exactly known for emotional support.
And this links to the earlier point about women being silenced. They aren’t used to the idea about talking about their emotions, it’s just unheard of. They have a ‘bite the bullet and go through with it’ mentality. Because in their time, they were often left to fight their own fears and wipe their own fears.
With education and changing times, women of today place more emphasis on themselves and their mental wellness. They identify and recognise their feelings, needs and wants and expect to talk about them, and for people around them to give importance to these feelings.
Sometimes it’s the emotional support that they need more than the practical support. Mothers and daughters fight because mothers cannot understand this need.
At the end of the day, I guess we all love our mums so very much. As much as we fight and in spite of all the drama, maybe we just need to take a step back and try to see the bigger picture. Our mums are probably set in their ways and sometimes we might have to be the bigger person, or even remove ourselves from potential slippery slopes.
Do what it takes to maintain harmony in the relationship but just know, and always know, that your mum loves you best! Who else but a mum would know this best?
Reference: Huffington Post