Relationships

Mothers and daughters: Maturing together and apart

Angry words can rupture relationships, but the good news is that issues are usually resolved

Special to The TribuneMay 6, 2014 

SEATTLE TIMES ILLUSTRATION

The mother-daughter relationship is a complex bond that can both infuriate and delight its participants.

At first, girls are inextricably linked to their female parents. They depend on Mom for food, safety and comfort. As they grow, they make gradual moves toward independence, playing games with friends at day care or venturing off to scout camp for a week. Still, they trust Mother will be waiting when they return, maintaining an ever steadying presence in their lives.

By the time girls reach adolescence, the ultimate stay-out-of-my-life phase, they long for separation yet need emotional support more than ever. Too many mother-daughter relationships are ruptured by angry words and slamming doors as disgruntled young women storm out of the house yelling, “I can’t take this anymore!”

Growth and adaptation

This angst is painful for both parties. But it’s one more developmental phase that requires growth and adaptation to move through.

It’s vital for 20-somethings to ascend to adulthood, making their own decisions and paying their own bills.

It’s equally important for mothers to keep the door open when grown daughters decide they’re ready to reconnect. Angry mothers may not want to. They may harbor badly bruised feelings.

But the relationship will most likely improve.

Research conducted by Karen Fingerman, Ph.D., at Penn State, found that 80 percent to 90 percent of midlife women reported good relationships with their mothers (http://www.psu.edu/ur/2001/motherdaughterconfct.html).  

Setting boundaries

Meanwhile, mothers must set boundaries with their grown daughters. Mom doesn’t need to cave in to her daughter’s every wish.

She doesn’t need to be subjected to verbal tirades.

Mothers can have their own lives, friends and interests. They can say no without guilt and still be close to their girls.

While many women seek to be friends with their daughters, their relationship is always more involved. Friendships form because two people share similar interests. They’re also specific: We have one set of friends in our book group, another at the gym.

But mothers and daughters are never in the same stage of life together. Their relationship is based on an inherent hierarchy of generations, differing backgrounds and experiences. Mothers also feel an overarching concern for the well-being of their daughters that transcends even the closest of friendships.

There is nothing they won’t do to ensure their daughters’ health and happiness.

Nothing.

TIPS FOR MOTHERS

• Demonstrate mutual respect. Don’t confuse intimacy with unacceptable language. There is never a time to be rude or verbally aggressive. Be on your best behavior whenever you’re together.

• Resolve conflicts productively. It’s natural that you’re going to occasionally disagree, but launching into tirades is never acceptable. Stay calm. Address the issue. Reach a workable conclusion.

• Schedule fun times together. Plan outings. Get pedicures. Take a cooking class. You’ll have lots to talk about, and you’ll show you care.

• Call before coming over. It’s invasive to pop in on someone unannounced. Always check to be sure your presence is welcome.

• Respect primary relationships. Don’t allow mother-daughter time to interfere with your or your daughter’s marriage.

• Establish traditions. Celebrate your birthdays at the same restaurant every year. Attend an annual yoga retreat together. Traditions give you something to look forward to and help cement a close relationship.

• It’s OK to say no. Your daughter may have plans that seem exorbitant to you. Don’t feel pressured. Decide what you’re willing to do, then state your case. You’re in control.

• Limit contact. Occasional phone calls or texts are great. But you needn’t be connected multiple times throughout the day. Decide on a specific time to communicate. Let that be enough.

• Don’t give advice. Be judicious about stating your opinion. Even when it’s asked for, it’s not always wanted.

Linda Lewis Griffith is a local marriage and family therapist. For information or to contact her, visit http://lindalewisgriffith.com.

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