Mothers and daughters are suffering from relationship conflict at epidemic levels. Ask any female about whether she gets on with her mother or daughter, and chances are, you will find a large percentage of women admit to having difficulties with creating the mother-daughter relationship they yearn for. Mother-Daughter relationship conflict isn’t confined to mothers and teenage daughters, or when the mother is elderly, as is commonly believed. Mother-daughter relationship conflict is a global problem affecting women of all ages, different cultural backgrounds, and social class.
Why do mothers and daughters fight?
Through my work I have discovered 3 reasons why mothers and daughters fight. The first is the changes in women’s roles that have provided daughters with more opportunities and freedoms than their mother had. In my family, my grandmother got to vote for the first time during her twenties and it was illegal for her to continue working when she married. My mother grew up believing that she had a right to vote, but from her mother and her generation she learned to believe that mothers should not work outside of the home, unless they absolutely had to for financial reasons. So when I studied and worked as a mother with young children, my mother could not understand this. My freedom to choose created conflict between us, because through me, she saw the opportunities she had to deny.
The second reason is women’s multi-generational experience with sexism. When women are silenced, it sets mothers and daughters up to fight over who gets to be heard. When women are emotionally neglected, it sets mothers and daughters up to fight over who gets to be emotionally supported in their relationship. And limiting gender roles set mothers and daughters up to fight over their freedom, as my story above shows.
And the third reason is the marginalization of the mother-daughter relationship. This limits women’s and therapists’ understanding of the dynamics between mothers and daughters. This lack of understanding causes mothers and daughters to feel shame about their relationship difficulties. It can make them think that they are alone with their relationship issues, and that their conflict is due to their own failings. And unfortunately I hear all too often from my clients that there is a tendency within the therapy community to pathologize mothers and daughters who don’t get on, often by blaming the mother, which only exacerbates the problem.
How do we heal mother-daughter conflict?
Healing mother-daughter relationship requires an understanding that the mother-daughter relationship is a mirror reflection of how families and society treat women. The answers to why a mother and daughter is struggling to listen to and understand each other, or emotionally connect, lies in understanding what has happened to the women in their multigenerational family. Setting boundaries and teaching assertive skills though helpful, does little to explain and solve mother-daughter relationship conflict because the mother-daughter relationship is essentially a history lesson. The mother-daughter relationship teaches women about what has happened in their mother’s and grandmother’s lives, and how they have been affected by life events and, importantly, whether women are heard or silenced, and emotionally supported or emotionally neglected in their family. And it is a history lesson about how sexism and limiting gender roles and gender inequality affected the mother’s and grandmother’s life, and what skills and dreams they had to let go of because in their family, culture, and generation, women weren’t allowed, or given the support they needed, to follow their dreams and fulfill their potential.
Rosjke Hasseldine is a mother-daughter relationship therapist, speaker, and author of The Silent Female Scream & The Mother-Daughter Puzzle. Rosjke teaches mental health professionals how to become a Certified Mother-Daughter Coach. www.rosjke.com