Mother-daughter relationships are complex and diverse

Some mothers and daughters are best friends. Others talk once a week. Some see each other weekly; others live in different states or countries. Some spar regularly. Some avoid conflict. Others talk through everything. And undoubtedly, there’s a hint of all these things in most relationships.

There also are ups and downs, no matter how positive (or prickly) the relationship. Whatever your relationship with your mother or daughter, you can always make improvements. Here’s how to enhance your communication and connection and cut down on clashes.

Many think that the only way to improve a relationship is for the other person to change their ways. But you aren’t chained to their actions; you can change your own reactions and responses.

Both moms and daughters often have idealistic expectations about their relationship. For instance, kids commonly expect their mom will be nurturing and present — always.

Communication- Lack of communication is a common challenge with moms and daughters. In some ways they can be so close or feel so close that they believe that each of them should know how the other one feels. What happens as a result is they don’t communicate. Or they communicate harshly, in ways they’d never “dare speak to everyone else,” which causes hurt feelings.

“One of the key principles in sustaining healthy and satisfying relationships”, experts say, “is to repair damage quickly”. Not resolving conflict can have surprising consequences. “If you don’t deal with your mom (and dad) by resolving conflict right away, you’re going to carry the same patterns into your future relationships with your friends, partner or boss.

If you’re a daughter, think of your mom as a woman with her “own wounds and hurts,” who was born and raised in a different generation with different values and difficult family relationships and issues. Putting yourself in her shoes can help you understand your mom better.

Learn to forgive. Forgiveness is “an individual act,” and differs from reconciliation, which takes both people and isn’t always possible. Forgiving someone isn’t saying that what happened is OK. It’s not condoning, pardoning or minimizing the impact. Forgiveness is a key for wellbeing. Quicker you forgive, quicker you can repair the damage and heal.

 Balance individuality and closeness. It can be challenging for daughters to build their own identities. Sometimes daughters think that in order to become their own person, they must cut off from their moms. Or they’re so dependant that they’re unable to make decisions without her input. Both are problematic. But daughters can find their voices and identities within the relationship. There’s a need to strike a balance between staying connected and still being true to your self.

Agree to disagree. Moms and daughters disagree on many topics, such as marriage, parenting and career, and they usually try to convince the other to change those opinions.  Moms can feel threatened and rejected that their daughters are making different decisions. Daughters think their moms disapprove of them and get defensive.

One need to realize that there are some topics that you’ll never agree on. And that’s OK, she said. In fact, “it’s really healthy for moms and daughters to have major disagreements.” Also, don’t take “something personally that isn’t personal.”

“The bottom line is that moms and daughters can be really close but they’re not the same people. [They’re] allowed to have different interests, goals and ways of handling things.” A daughter doesn’t have to change her choices to please her mom; and mom doesn’t have to change her opinions, either.

Stick to the present.
Moms and daughters tend to have “an old argument that runs like a broken record in the background,” Cohen-Sandler said. It becomes their default disagreement. Instead, avoid “bring[ing] up old gripes from the past,” and try to focus on the present.

“Use ‘I’ statements, rather than being accusatory,” Cohen-Sandler said.
You might say “I feel this way [or] this is how that makes me feel.” Similarly, avoid “sarcasm and facetiousness.” It’s easily misinterpreted, causes hurt feelings and takes you further away from resolution.

Talk about how you want to communicate.
Younger women typically don’t want to talk on the phone, said Cohen-Sandler, who often hears daughters complain that their “moms will call at the worst part of the day for them.”

Instead of harshly dismissing your mom (or ignoring her calls), communicate what works best, such as: “If you want to talk on the phone, the best time is in the morning. But if you want to reach me during the day [with something] more urgent, just text me.”

Set boundaries.
Mintle commonly sees clients who regret not trying to repair their relationships with their moms after they’re gone. Even when the relationship is negative or unhealthy, there’s still a powerful bond, she said. One way to ease into reconnecting with your mom (or daughter) is by setting clear-cut boundaries. (Boundaries are key for any healthy relationship.)

For instance, when visiting your mom or daughter for the holidays, stay at a hotel. Let her know your boundaries and the minute she starts crossing them, say that you’re going to leave. If you’re talking over the phone, Mintle gave this example of asserting yourself: “I want to talk to you and keep our relationship going but if you start to call me names or criticize me, I have to hang up the phone because that’s not healthy for me.”

Asserting yourself with your mother or daughter can spill over into other relationships. If you can create and maintain boundaries with her, then you can do this with anyone else, such as your boss or partner, Mintle said.

Don’t bring in third parties.

It’s common for mothers and daughters to bring someone else into their conflict. A daughter might involve dad because mom is driving her crazy. Mom might involve another child because she feels like she can’t talk to her daughter. Either way, talk directly to the person.

Finally, ask yourself if you’re OK with your relationship and your actions. During Mintle’s mom’s final days, she recalled sitting on her hospice bed and exchanging looks that conveyed they were both at peace. This was “worth every difficult conversation,” she said.



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