Mothers & daughters
It’s one of the most powerful – and challenging – relationships you’ll ever have. We look at that mother-daughter bond, and how to deal with some of the problems that can crop up.
Whether you’re the type of mother and daughter who talk on the phone every day and go shopping together on Saturdays, or you have a more fraught relationship, peppered with quarrels, the connection between you will influence your entire lives. Your mum knows how to push your buttons, and a row with her can colour your whole day. Perhaps you’re now a mother yourself and catch yourself telling your daughter her room won’t tidy itself – just as your mum used to say to you…
The early years
It’s not surprising our mothers exert a powerful influence over us – after all, the relationship exists before you’re even born. ‘For most of us, our mother is our primary carer in our early years, and the way she behaves with us even when we’re babies has a powerful effect on us, especially on the way we view relationships with others in later life,’ says psychotherapist Sue Gerhardt. The connection we have with our mother is powerful for everyone – but for girls, it has an extra meaning. ‘She’s your model for being a woman,’ says Phillip Hodson, fellow of the British Association for Counselling and Psychotherapy (www.bacp.co.uk). ‘Whether you choose to follow her example or reject it, she has a potent effect on how you are as an adult.’
‘It’s the teenage years that typically bring the first obvious challenges in the mother-daughter relationship, usually around age 14,’ says Hodson. ‘In order to grow up, there’s an element of having to reject your mother, and that’s difficult when she’s the person who brought you into the world and cared for you.’ This struggle can manifest as teenage rebelliousness – demands to stay out later, wear short skirts or have piercings. You may remember this from your own teenage years, or, if you have a daughter of this age, see it going on now. But things don’t always settle down once the teenage years have passed. ‘Some mothers find it hard to let go and may treat you as a child even when you have a career and home of your own,’ says Hodson. ‘The time you have children yourself can be a flashpoint in the relationship, too – she might not agree with how you bring them up and find it hard to stay out of it.’
‘Me and my girl’
Lorraine talks about her relationship with her daughter Rosie, now 16.
‘Like all working mums, I try to juggle everything and I can only do my TV job and my writing because I have a lot of help and support from my husband Steve, my friends and my mum and dad. Leaving the house at 5.30am every day meant I obviously couldn’t take Rosie to school, but the upside was that I could usually pick her up. ‘It’s hard not to overcompensate for the time you spend away from your children. Over the years I’ve had to stop myself lavishing ‘stuff’ on Rosie when I’ve felt work has been taking over and she hasn’t been getting enough attention. I don’t think there’s any answer to it. If you work and you’re a mother you must reconcile yourself to the fact that you will always feel guilty. ‘I always wanted her to see I was eating healthily and exercising to get fitter, rather than dieting. Rosie is growing up to be a beautiful, funny and smart young woman, both inside and out. ‘My favourite part of the week is just spending time with her, even if we’re only doing maths homework or watching America’s Next Top Model on the TV and shrieking at how ghastly and bitchy the contestants are. She is such great company and I’m very proud of her.’
What type of mother is she?
Find out which category your ma fits into, then work out how to handle her
The over-anxious mother
When you were growing up, she was always telling you to ‘be careful’, and fretted about everything from you getting the bus to school on your own, to your first date. Now, she gets jittery if you don’t phone her every other day, and worries about the state of your relationship/bank account/career.
The effect on you: ‘Growing up with a mother like this can make you very anxious,’ says relationship expert Phillip Hodson. ‘She’s given you the message that the world is unsafe and you might not cope.’ What you can do: ‘Set boundaries,’ says Hodson. ‘Tell her you’d like quality time and therefore you’ll phone her once a week. If you are going through a hard time, explain that you appreciate she’s worried and cares, but that you will seek professional help if you need it.’
The best friend mother
She discusses her problems with you, likes you to share each other’s clothes, and loves hanging out with you. When you were younger, she rarely told you off for wearing short skirts, and never stopped you doing anything you wanted – your friends envied you for your cool mother.
The effect on you: ‘Parenting should be about boundaries, not about being your daughter’s best pal,’ Hodson explains. ‘This kind of mother can be fun, and you probably never argued much – simply because she never gave you anything to push against – but if you’re not careful you can be sucked into her life too much.’ What you can do: ‘If you don’t feel comfortable hearing about her problems with your father, or dislike her borrowing your clothes, you need to gently let her know,’ says Hodson.
The critical mother
You can’t do anything right. In your teens she was always telling you to work harder/smile more/stop being stroppy; now she doesn’t like your hair, thinks your heels are too high, or says you’re not strict enough with your children. ‘She probably doesn’t realise just how negative she sounds – it’s likely she just wants you to aim high,’ says Hodson.
The effect on you: ‘Chances are you’re self-critical and never measure up to your own standards,’ says Hodson. ‘So you may have low self-esteem which can lead to problems in all areas of your life, from work to relationships.’ What you can do: ‘Detach from it. Make a note of the critical thoughts you have,’ says Hodson, ’and question if it’s really what you feel, or whether your mother’s voice is coming through. Counselling may be helpful.’
The distant mother
She wasn’t available to you when you were growing up – either because she was physically absent, or emotionally distant. This may not have been her fault – she might have been ill, or suffered from depression. Or she may have grown up in an emotionally detached family, not knowing how to share affection.
The effect on you: ‘If your mother was never there for you, you’ll have got the message that you can only rely on yourself,’ says Hodson. This may mean you now avoid close relationships for fear of being hurt or let down.’ What you can do: ‘Become aware of the effects of your upbringing. Open up to your mother to encourage her to become closer, but don’t risk sharing anything too difficult; she may not know how to help and you may feel rejected again. Counselling can help’.