Making the Most of Your Mother-Daughter Adult Relationship

As an adult daughter myself, and a mother of one, this article hits close to home. What a beautifully intimate, developmentally important, and often challenging relationship. Of all our family ties, the mother-daughter one tends to remain important through adulthood. With life expectancy ever increasing, we mothers and daughters will only continue to spend more of our lives together as adult women. What a great opportunity to invest in making this bond an even greater source of strength and growth.  

Woven through my own personal mother-daughter journey, I hear stories day in and day out–some inspiring and many fraught with pain and difficulty. Let’s see how we can raise the bar for our daughters, for our mothers, and ourselves. Here are a few things to consider to make the most of our mother-daughter bond.

Leave Room For Individuality

As both the mother and the daughter, trust your soul to soul connection.  Don’t be afraid to be yourself, to be honest or different, to express your opinions and make unique personal choices.  Leave room for each of you to be individuals; your differences need not be a threat to your bond.  Don’t worry if you go through some tension together in the name of intimacy and growth. Actually, the more you can celebrate each other’s uniqueness, and safely express your feelings and views, the greater your appreciation and closeness should grow. It’s not real closeness when you can’t be authentic.

Build Your Common Interests

Whether it’s activities like knitting or thrifting, cooking or hiking. Or maybe it’s a lunch and a mani–pedi, or watching a Netflix series or talking about a cause you both believe in.  Whatever floats your boat, find what you share and build on that.  Many mom–daughters like to try something new together. Caution: if certain topics or settings push a hot button between you, maybe stay away from or at least don't visit these on a regular basis.

Spend Time Together — Not Too Much Time

Some prefer daily texting, or talking on the phone, while others like to Skype.  Some mothers and daughters wait till they enjoy quality time together face to face.  It doesn’t matter how or how often. Put in the effort to nurture the closeness between you and decide together what works best.  Be careful with too much time together.  Many report they get along much better since they don't live under the same roof–mothers and daughters can easily annoy one another.  Keeping tabs on the quantity of time spent can go a long way for maximizing the quality.

Hear Each Other, Even If You Disagree

Be open and authentic with each other. We can draw great strength from the female intimacy, particularly when we feel heard and validated.  Being more open can come with more conflict or disagreements.  Still, don't stop talking.  Stay away from the “I’m right and you’re wrong” human tendency and ask each other real and open-ended questions with the intention of understanding each others’ views and desires. I remember our daughter as a freshman in college making a choice we didn’t agree with. In a moment of grace, I managed to resist the urge to control and instead said, “I’d really like to understand what this means to you. Can you tell me more?”  She softened like a kitten and we were able to both share our views respectfully, and the closeness was palpable even from our miles away.

Allow Your Relationship To Transform

Be sensitive to the tension between autonomy and closeness, and the way this changes with life's stages. Moms shouldn’t take personally the independence that daughters must pursue. And daughters, staying close doesn’t need to be a threat–especially when moms empower their daughters with their own decision making. Conversations should become more woman to woman and less parent to child–though still maintaining some level of the mother-daughter boundary. Openly talk about how you each perceive the relationship and what you would like to create in this new adult phase. The norms are different for each generation, and certainly with this one.  Learn from each other and negotiate what you desire for your adult mother-daughter relationship. 

Accept Each Other, Don't Judge

We mothers can easily fall into fear (of our own failure mostly) if our daughters do anything concerning or less than perfect. Let go! Accept and trust the inherent power your daughter has within her to learn and grow into her full potential. Don't make it about you. Do your best to not judge (including yourself) or jump to conclusions when she seems lost or makes mistakes, or simply makes no sense.

For us daughters, realize that mothers make mistakes and are human. However your mother handled your upbringing, which might feel lacking or in any way hurtful, address those issues proactively in your own life.  Nonetheless, keep in mind there are likely countless things you didn’t see or will never remember that Mom did (right) for you.  We don’t remember anything from age 3 or younger and our brains up to age 10 can hardly keep up with what happened yesterday. Know that there is nothing more painful for a mother than feeling like she has failed you as her daughter.  Be open if there is something honest you need to express; just be mindful of what a sensitive subject being a mother is. 

Appreciate Each Other and Openly

Moms want to feel appreciated for all they have invested in the well being of their beloved and beautiful daughter; and daughters want to be appreciated for the independent, powerful and beautiful women that they are. When we feel and know we are appreciated, we are less likely to trigger one another’s insecurities and instead thrive under the light of being prized.  

Special Note For Daughters

Consider Trusting. When it comes to listening to your mother’s guidance, remember that your mother birthed you, and especially if she is a balanced woman who takes care to grow and work on herself, trust her. Even if you think she can’t understand you and wonder how could she ever be an advisor on this or that matter, go back to core truth that she is your mother and you might gain by at least considering what she has to say. Ultimately, it's your life and you have the power to decide what you do with whatever perspective others share with you. 

Follow Your Passion. We all turn to our mothers as a reference point for finding ourselves.  We can often hear ourselves saying, "I’m nothing like my mom when it comes to this or that." Or on the contrary, "Wow, I sound so much like my mom–it’s crazy."  We can be in two places at the same time. That is, we can both live from the mold of our mothers and at the same time, follow our unique passion and inner truth. I believe we each have gifts to share with the world that no one else can.  This becomes our ultimate fulfillment, and responsibility, to express our uniqueness.  

It's Not You, It's Her. Do you have a critical mother? One common challenge daughters face is having a critical, self-absorbed or imbalanced mother.  Many moms don’t even see it because they themselves were not treated as a priority, or not well loved. Their own wounds they guard often blind them from seeing how much they project their own fears, shame and insecurities onto their daughters.  Counseling can help to process and heal from this critical and complicated attachment.  But try not to take it personally. Again, it’s not you, it’s her.  You can also learn to respectfully and firmly set boundaries and teach her how you’d like to be treated.  Sometimes a safe distance is best, but don’t give up without a fight.  It’s in our best interest to invest in our own healing and in making the most of whatever relationship we can have with our mothers. They gave us birth for which we can never repay them. And through a connection to them (even if limited), there is a certain strength we cannot find elsewhere. 

Special Note For Mothers

Allow your daughter to explore how she views her childhood experiences, including being parented by you.  This can be difficult to hear, particularly if she shares any disappointments or judgments about your choices as a parent or the things you said. We often don’t even remember saying that one thing when our daughter was little that stuck with her and caused her pain.  Keep in mind, that the important thing is to allow your daughter to be heard.  Your openness allows you to continue as an unconditionally loving force in her life, a sounding board to find her own voice–even if your mothering is the subject at hand.  We don't want our daughters to feel they have to choose between being accepted by us and being true to herself.  She can have both in your relationship which can come as a great relief. Try not to go into the "Oh no, I'm a failure" movie because that is nothing but ego hogwash.  We moms tend to think we should be perfect and frankly, we might have even handled the situation the same if we had to do it over. And if we truly made a mistake, remember, "We do better when we know better."  

Don’t over-give. Many fear their daughters will not be close to them if they don't keep giving and giving. Over-giving is selfish and can lead to chaos and resentment. I say, give appropriately and then let go and trust. Find a basis for your relationship as a soul connection, not on what you give her. Do what’s best for her by helping to empower her, to live with and learn from her own choices. Don't worry, you will be connected to her.  It’s a deep desire within our souls to connect with our mother and she will respect you more for having taught her how to respect herself and earn her own fulfillment.  

Don’t be afraid to share a concern you have for their future. Holding back a concern you have out of fear that your daughter will be upset with you or disconnect, now that becomes a dangerous and selfish road of pleasing versus being honest.  Pick your topics carefully and be very sparing with any advice or guidance.  For the most part, it's crucial that we not interfere and allow our daughters to create their own lives, learn their own lessons and express their own desires.  We must believe in them and make sure they know we love them and trust them.  But the time might come when something honest needs to be said, for their own sake, and that’s the time to set your own fears and needs aside and share your opinion. Make sure you deliver your words on a platter of love, not fear or control or right/wrong energy. 

Turn around approval seeking. Look for signs of your daughter trying to negotiate for your approval.  While it’s normal, we want our daughters to know we love them unconditionally and to empower them to embrace the woman that they are. We can remind them that even if we share our opinion, they do not need our approval to make their own choices. Assure them that even if they make a mistake, we are still proud of them. We know that they have everything they need in order to learn from life and thrive.  

As wonderful or complicated as your mother-daughter relationship may be, enjoy every beautiful moment.