Walking the Mother-Daughter Tightrope
When a mother gives birth to a baby girl, there is potential for a tremendously strong bond to develop. Having a female child allows a mother to re-experience her own growing-up process, this time though the eyes of an adult. We mothers can see first hand the joy our children of both genders experience as they explore the world and gradually take charge of their own lives.
But the mother-daughter bond is different. We can clearly see ourselves in our own daughter as she grows up: playing girl-orientated games, choosing clothes, playing at being grown-ups, wearing your shoes, using your making, making cupcakes of their own. It’s almost like being able to step back in time and watch yourself at that age.
When puberty hits, this intense bonds often changes dramatically. This is a perfectly natural occurrence, but that does not mean that it is going to be easy! In fact, successfully making the transition through the adolescent years to form a close adult-adult bond with your daughter is one of the many challenges a woman faces in her role as a mother.
The best way to ensure a successful transition from a mother-child to an adult-adult relationship is to develop a very close and supportive bond with your daughter right from childhood. Although this does not guarantee an easy ride through the teenage years, it does provide an enduring base from which to work.
Yet despite the best of intentions, the adolescent years can still be fraught with problems. We as mothers need to realize that all relationships have their ups and downs, and just because we once shared the closest of biological bonds, doesn’t mean we have produced a clone of ourselves and that all will, or must, go smoothly. But the challenges we do face as mothers of daughters can be positive ones, allowing us to get to know each other better, and in turn, be taught new ideas by our own daughters. This is how the process of life is meant to be.
Let’s look at ways in which to make the transition through the teenage years as smooth as possible. Below are some suggestions for positive actions to help strengthen the mother-daughter relationship.
- Brush up on your listening skills. Your role as a mother is changing from one of doing most things for your daughter to one of letting her make her own mistakes. Encourage her to talk about issues that are bothering her. This is a growing-up period for you, not just for her, and part of that growing–up process on your part is allowing your daughter to have her own opinions even if you don’t agree with them. Focus instead on being an excellent listener. It will pay many dividends in the future.
- Ask her opinion about issues that affect her life. When your daughter confides in you that her 13-year-old friend is becoming increasingly involved sexually with a boy at school, resist the temptation to sound off with your own views on the subject. She already knows what your views are, and expounding them at this point in time will only put your daughter off. Instead, ask her what she thinks of the situation. Again, when she answers you, try not to be judgmental, just listen. Your daughter is paying you a compliment by sharing this information with you.
- Keep communication open. It is important that you
do not break these first tenuous lines of communication about adult
issues. By all means, gently remind her of your thoughts on the matter,
but let her know too, that you trust her judgment as well. She will
not always agree with your views. It would be unrealistic to expect
her to. But giving her space to express her opinion without fear of
censure from you, will encourage her to bring up further issues in
the future. Being able to talk openly and honestly and to “agree
to disagree” is the basis of any strong relationship. This goes
for the mother–daughter one as well.
The mother-daughter bond can be a relationship made in heaven. However, during the daughter’s adolescent years, the sweet-tempered girl you nurtured from birth may undergo a radical change. You, her loving mother, may become her biggest enemy. But it doesn’t have to be that way. Let’s look at some more tips on how to make this second “birthing” process, the birth of a new relationship, a less traumatic one.
- Trust your daughter enough to let her make her own mistakes.
You’ve taught her right from wrong all through her childhood.
You’ve shown by words and actions that you love her deeply.
Now is the time for you to go on a steep learning curve and let her
make her own mistakes. Just as she is learning to be an adult, you
have to step back and let her learn how to do just that.
Of course, it is okay to give your opinion as to a particular topic, you are entitled to do so. But we parents must understand that our soon-to-be adult offspring have a right to their opinion also. Some teenagers will constantly come to you asking for advice. Don’t always rush in to offer your years of wisdom to them. Let them learn to think for themselves. Ask them what they think is the best thing to do. You may agree with their ideas, you may not. Trust that you have done a good enough parenting job that they will make the right decision 80 % of the time. We don’t demand 100% of ourselves, so getting upset over one bad decision by our offspring does not make a lot of rational sense. Besides, we learn much more from our mistakes than our successes. Give your teenager the gift of your love in the form of being free to make their own errors.
- Take care not to be overly critical. Finding out
that your daughter is doing things of which you do not approve is
a great test of your own maturity. Your gut reaction may be to come
in with all guns blazing, offering threats, demanding behavioral changes,
and other unhelpful behaviors. This type of scenario may well be your
greatest challenge in the mother-daughter relationship, requiring
every ounce of tact and respect you can muster.
Your daughter may be technically a child, but she is both child and adult. Using the technique of addressing her as an adult with have more positive results than treating her as a child. You can be pretty confident that your daughter will definitely rebel if you speak to her as a child in these situations. The undesirable behavior will simply be driven underground. You may think she has stopped the behavior in question, but you will most likely be cleverly deluded by your offspring.
Let’s say that you have discovered your daughter is having underage sex. As difficult as it may be, the best you can do is discuss this as rationally as you can with her. Remember, she is already having sex, and she is not going to stop doing so just because you ask her to. Instead, ask her to discuss the issue with her. Also suggest that you discuss it in such a way that you both agree that if either party starts to lose control, you both agree to stop for the time being. If you can hold to these rules, your daughter may come to see that you merely want to talk about what is happening in her life, and not try to control her. You may want to control her, but the reality is you can’t. But you can use your adult skills to keep the lines of communication open with your daughter and, in doing so, increase the chances of coming to a mutually satisfying resolution. This, in turn, will have the effect of strengthening your relationship with your daughter in the future.
- Use questions to help her make responsible decisions.
When your daughter tells you she is doing something of which you don’t
approve, try to engage her in conversation rather than react in a
hostile manner to the news she has just told you. For example, let’s
say she has just informed you that she is dropping math from her high
school subjects. You strongly disagree with this decision. But rather
than tell her all the reasons why you think she is making a mistake,
instead ask her why she believes this is a good idea. Ask her how
this will benefit her in the short term. Ask her how she thinks this
move will affect her in the long term. Ask her how this will affect
her current career plans and what options may be closed to her by
making this decision. You may find that your daughter has thought
this through quite well, and her decision may well be the best one
for her. On the other hand, you may prompt her to go away and give
further thought to her decision. Either way, an argument can possibly
be avoided by being non-confrontational. And whatever her final decision
is, respect it. Few things are cast in stone. If she needs that math
in later life and is committed to a career path, she can always do
it later. But the real prize is that, in respecting your daughter’s
opinion, you will strengthen your long-term relationship.
- Be clear about what is important and what is not.
No two people agree on every subject. Neither will you and your daughter.
Mother-daughter relationships can easily turn into a battle of wills.
This is often the fault of the parent rather than the offspring. Being
overly strict and inflexible can do long-term damage to the fragile
parent-teen relationship that will be remembered long after you are
in your grave. So try to be very clear about the really important
issues in life before demanding that your newly-blooming adult child
comply with your every whim. Sometimes being a parent can just be
a series of exercises in damage control, and it’s often better
to lose a battle every now and again than win a war. Is it really
that important if your daughter wears too much make-up? Is it really
that important if she wears a thong? Is it really that important if
she drops her math course? What are the important issues in her life?
Number one issue is that she feels loved and supported by her parents.
This is what she will remember about you as she grows to maturity
and beyond. Try not to get bogged down with the meaningless issues
of life. Concentrate on the lasting ones: love, respect, compassion.
By doing so, you can hope to be given the same in return.