It’s Your Role…

How to Have a Strong Mother-Daughter Relationship

I remember growing up thinking my mom was overprotective and out of touch. It seemed like we butted heads on everything from how well I did my chores and homework to the clothing I wore and my hairstyle. Now I have a daughter and she would probably tell you I am overprotective. She would also tell you that we butt heads on chores, homework, sometimes clothing and for sure boys.

By Julie Baumgardner, MS, CFLE

Isn’t it funny how little girls usually want to copy everything about their mom? They play dress up and put on make up like mom. You hear them in the other room mimicking their mother, and they often can be heard saying, “When I grow up I want to be just like you.” Then the little girl gets older and she doesn’t want to look anything like her mother nor does she want to sound like her, much less be exactly like her when she grows up.

Just say the words “mother-daughter relationship” and the reactions are fraught with extreme emotion. How is it that when your mother makes a comment like, “I love your hair short,” when you are currently wearing it long or a question like, “Are you going to wear that?” makes the hair on the back of your neck stand on end? A daughter’s usual interpretation, no matter how old, is, “I don’t like your hair long” and “I don’t think that outfit looks good on you.”

The comments we make to our daughters about fashion, hair and weight are almost always seen as “loaded” and carry incredible weight. Whether we like it or not, it matters what mom thinks. The reality is mother-daughter relationships are complicated.

In her book, Mothers and Daughters, Dr. Linda Mintle says it is possible to have a meaningful adult relationship with your mom. “The mother-daughter relationship is the perfect arena to develop and practice relationship building skills that form and shape every other relationship in a woman’s life because the mother-daughter bond is such a close one. It’s so close in fact, that you can’t just forgive and forget the past. The more you learn to make peace and find a meaningful connection with your mom, the richer other relationships will be,” said Dr. Mintle.

I love what Dr. Meg Meeker said in a recent talk about raising healthy kids. She told parents, “If you don’t want something to be important in the life of your child, don’t make it important in your life.” I thought this was particularly applicable to the mother-daughter relationship. Our daughters are watching every move we make and in turn learning how to handle themselves as women, moms, daughters, wives, friends, bosses, etc. What we do or don’t do in the early years of this relationship sets the stage for how this relationship will work later in life.

Steps to a Close Relationship

Be the mom. Sometimes it is so tempting to want to be your daughter’s best friend, but what she really needs in her formative years is for you to be her mother, not her friend or her competition.

Teach her good relationship skills by using them with her. When she is angry and says “Don’t talk to me” or runs to her room and slams the door, use that opportunity to teach her that those kinds of reactions won’t get her very far in life. Instead of solving all of her problems for her, show her how to have good relationship skills, including resolving conflict.

Talk with her about tough issues. As she begins to make up her own mind about life issues, it is important for her to know what you think about certain things and why. Model for her the person you want her to become. She will learn to say please and thank you and to be respectful and honoring if she sees you doing that. She will also learn what is appropriate and not appropriate when you tell her certain language is not acceptable or her behavior is not appropriate.

Show her you care. When our daughters are little we call most of the shots, but when they get older things get a bit more complicated. Sometimes they feel so bristly you just want to keep your distance. This is the last thing they need. While smothering them is not the answer, our daughters need to know beyond a shadow of a doubt that we love them and accept them for who they are. We have to guard against trying to live vicariously through them or being critical of their every move and decision. Our goal is to love them and teach them how to live life on their own while we serve a supporting role in the background. If we start laying this foundation during the early years, the chances are significantly greater that we will have a healthy close relationship versus a volatile one.

Act your age. Daughters are very clear that they don’t want their mothers acting like them or dressing like them. It’s one thing to be stylish and up on the latest. It’s another thing to act like one of the “girls.”

Developing Positive Self-Esteem in our Daughters

Believe it or not, the best way to build positive self-esteem in our daughters is to make sure we have healthy self-esteem. If a mother places her value and worth in life by obsessing about how much she weighs, her looks, how much she makes, where she lives and what she drives, then those are the measuring sticks that her daughter will use to determine her value in life.

Take time to do a little self-examination. What really matters in your life? Most people would say having healthy relationships with the people they love, health, doing things they are passionate about, and making a difference. Our goal as mothers should be to help our daughters learn to love themselves for who they are with all their unique gifts and talents. They can sniff out fake praise a mile away. And they can tell when we are disappointed in them even when we don’t say a word. Be real.

Building Friendships that Last

Have you ever had a conversation with your daughter about what it means to be a good friend? If you have seen Mean Girls or read Reviving Ophelia you know that the tween and teen years can be brutal when it comes to friendships among girls. It is often tempting as moms to step in and be our daughter’s best friend. As hard as it may be, resist the temptation. Take advantage of the opportunity to teach her how friends treat each other. Help her learn to recognize the difference between authentic and fake friendships, where people use and manipulate people to get what they want. Love and support her and find ways to encourage her as she learns how to navigate this road. Understanding what it means to be a good friend will hold her in good stead for the rest of her life.

Relationships with Men

Our daughters learn how they should expect to be treated by men by watching how you allow yourself to be treated by men. As mothers it is our responsibility to teach our daughters how to relate in a healthy way with the opposite sex. Unfortunately, there are many girls who think the best thing they have to offer a guy is their body. We have to teach them that if their whole relationship with a guy is built on their body, that relationship isn’t long for this world.

Before your daughter is old enough to date, talk with her about the kind of guy she would like to date and eventually marry. Ask her where she thinks she might be likely to find a guy with those qualities. Discuss the kinds of characteristics you believe make for a healthy relationship. If you have no idea where to start this conversation do your homework. There are lots of good resources out there including information at firstthings.org

Spiritual Formation

One of the things I hear from young people is that their parents act one way in public and another way in private when it comes to their faith, beliefs, and their values. Operating off of the premise that none of us are perfect, when it comes to helping our daughters build a spiritual foundation it is critical that we are true blue. Our daughters shouldn’t buy what we believe, no questions asked. Encourage them to ask questions about your faith and why you believe what you believe. When she leaves the shelter of your home you want her to be able to answer the tough questions about why she believes what she believes.

As moms we typically are looking out for the best interests of our children. If we want to be in a healthy relationship with our daughters throughout their lives, we must encourage them to be the person God has called them to be. When they have children, instead of being critical of the way they parent, encourage them. Believe it or not, your approval matters to them even though they will never tell you that. If you want to spend time with them ask for some time and be patient while they work out their schedule to make it happen. Make sure you have a life of your own with strong friendships that are uniquely yours. Even though your daughter may be living on her own she is still watching how you engage and live life. The most important thing you can do as a mom is know your daughter and be willing to accept her even when she is different from you.

 Julie Baumgardner is the Executive Director of First Things First, an organization dedicated to strengthening marriages and families through education, collaboration and mobilization. She can be reached at julieb@firstthings.org

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