Parenting young children — 21 August 2005
The many joys and challenges of mothering your daughter

”It’s a girl”! Mothers are often thrilled to think of pink and lace, cuddling and pampering their daughter in the best way possible. A baby girl is often viewed by her mother as the masterpiece of beauty, grace, sweetness and joy, the fresher, innocent replica of herself.

It all starts very well and often progresses beautifully for about twelve years. Up to that point, most mothers feel blessed with the wonderful child they have and pride themselves for a job well done. Small difficulties are accepted and handled at once. Girls are indeed “sugar and spice and everything nice”.

Once the daughter reaches adolescence, the picture drastically changes. The delightful, compliant and easy child is suddenly acting in a rude, sullen, disobedient, challenging and disrespectful manner. She no longer seems receptive to parental instructions, recommendations, suggestions, guidance or assistance. She is moody, emotional, rebellious, angry and contemptuous.

This is when the battle for control versus autonomy often begins. The daughter is struggling to find her unique identity, and trades her mother’s guidance for reliance on the peer group. Daughters want control over themselves, mothers want to maintain the control over their daughters. The split agenda defines the battleground.

For mothers this is a period of deep loss. They miss the tender cute girl who was being groomed to become her mother’s friend and companion. They miss the fun loving times of playfulness and unburdened joy. They yearn for the responsive and adoring daughter who absorbed every word and nuance of her mother’s messages and moods. They grieve for the child who wanted to emulate her mother and be just like her. They also feel the loss of their job, status, gifts of motherhood and most of all the deep connection with their daughter that suddenly seemed to have evaporated.

Some mothers react by withdrawing in resignation, others amplify the efforts to control and perhaps even punish the daughter for insubordination. Some wait and pray. Other mothers recall their own teen years and remember them as a sad transition to a later reconnection with their mothers.

As the daughter leaves home for school, work or marriage, the mother is often pleased and sad. Pleased that her daughter is embarking on her new life, sad for the yet unhealed bond.

Mothers are always expected by their daughters to be the guardian of the relationship. Adult daughters want attention, appreciation and love, not advice and ideas for improvement. Mothers often feel that their job is a lifetime task, and they must continue to guide, correct and advise. This gap in expectations only aggravates the estrangement between them.

Daughters want to be accepted as adult females and still admire their mothers. They are no longer little girls who require teaching and ongoing guidance. Mothers also want a loving connection, but need to restrain the parenting mode. Mothers are wise to not say to their daughters anything they would not say to a close female friend. Mothers and daughters can be friends, but not best friends. Once the generational lines are erased, neither woman gets the respect she desires from the other.

The age gap between mothers and daughters instantly places them in conflict about values, standards, customary ways, and what is proper and best. Each woman operates with the child rearing values of her grandmother’s since these are the ways her mother raised her. Telling your daughter how to better raise her children will only raise her defensiveness, hurt, pain and lower her reverence for you.

Mothers need to praise and affirm their daughters’ choices in all their roles: as wives, mothers, workers, friends and precious beings. Only if neglect, abuse, abandonment or risks are present to the grandchildren, should the grandmother intervene.

“Why don’t you do it this way?” is hurtful and offensive. “I am interested in the way you do this, tell me more about it”, said in a curious, kind voice, is open and supportive.

Mothers, please remember:

• You are your daughter’s role model of a woman, worker, friend, wife, mother, and human being. Be for her the best role model you can.
• The pre-adolescence love and joy you imparted to your daughter is an enriching lifelong gift.
• Adolescence produces a temporary break from bonding between you and your daughter. Your connection will resume later.
• Your daughter’s emancipation from you is a healthy, normal process in her maturation into a competent, independent, adult female. Affirm her and love her even when her behavior is different from yours.
• Throughout her life your daughter will yearn for your approval. Even when she becomes a senior, every comment you make to her still strengthens or weakens her sense of self-esteem. Keep this in mind and be positive and supportive.
• Be your adult daughter’s friend, but not “her best friend” or view her as “your best friend”. This erasing of the generational differences may make you inappropriately immature or her inappropriately burdened with your issues.
• Daughters want to be close to their mothers, have fun, share life and always avail themselves to their mother’s experience and wisdom. Express it as information rather than an expectation.
• Control over your adult daughter is inappropriate. Your daughter’s autonomy and decision-making must be honored even when you disapprove. Criticism has no place in a loving parental relationship.
• Only when grave harm to others can occur as a result of your daughter’s behavior, should you directly intervene. Speak to her privately, lovingly and with compassion.
• Your daughter does not have to be like you to earn your support, love and admiration. You raised her well and she will express it in her ways.
• With all the complexities of the mother-daughter relationship, you can achieve an harmonious, respectful, loving and fun connection with your daughter and watch with joy how she continues to do so with her daughter.

August 21, 2005

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About Author

Offra Gerstein, Ph.D. is a licensed psychologist in clinical practice in Santa Cruz, California for over 25 years, and specializes in relationship issues for couples and individuals for improved quality of life. Her work includes: mate selection, marriage, long term relationships, gay and lesbian couples, work relationships, parenting issues, family interactions, friendships, and conflict resolutions. Offra has lectured extensively to various groups, conducted support groups for several organizations, and has been writing a weekly column "Relationship Matters" for the Santa Cruz Sentinel since 2001.

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