Mother-daughter conflicts are incredibly common throughout human history, so much so that they have taken leading roles in many classic dramas as well as modern films and literature. The relationship between a mother and daughter is unique and complex, and it can fluctuate depending on many variables: family history, societal context, life events and choices, and more. Because of all these components, mother-daughter relationships often run into conflicts that require attention and work. You might even feel like your mother hates you, but it is very unlikely that she actually does!
It is more likely that you and your mom are experiencing a rocky patch in your relationship, one that can be healed with the right approach and care. Keep reading for insight and suggestions on how to cope with mother-daughter conflict.
The Origins of Conflict
When a mother experiences fear or concern for a young (or even adult) daughter's behavior, she may be remembering when she was young and how unreceptive she was to her own mother's advice. Any daughter or mother can attest that sometimes calmly delivered advice gets bypassed in favor of shouting something along the lines of, “Because I said so!” when what is meant is more akin to, “I love you, and I am doing this because I love you!”
Why do parents often fall into the authoritarian line of “Because I said so!” instead of continuing to offer a rationale for their decisions? Part of this reluctance may come from their own memories of how they were “at that age.” If they were obstinate earlier in life and refused to listen to their own parents at the time—perhaps even declaring something like, “When I have kids, I’ll listen to them!”—then, ironically, their memories of rebellious thoughts or actions might lead them to respond in the same way that bothered them as teenagers. Even a mother-daughter relationship that has remained close and smooth until adolescence may run into these obstacles, out of the common parental fear of allowing a child to make mistakes or problematic choices.
Many mothers are determined to have a good relationship with their daughters. The intent and pledge to do so is so strong that a mother may actually lash out at anyone or anything that poses a threat to that relationship. Unfortunately, the threat could even be the daughter herself, who at a certain stage of development wishes to assert herself as independent of her mother. While this desire for independence is healthy and typical, it can also be damaging to the relationship if it is not handled properly and openly on both sides.
If you are having issues getting along with your mother, it is likely that you could be experiencing a problem with communication. It can go both ways. Some mothers and daughters share too much with each other, blurring the boundaries and roles of the relationship and essentially creating more things to argue about. Some mother and daughters want to feel like best friends. This can work as the daughter becomes an independent adult, but sooner than that can lead to more conflict. Conversely, you might struggle to communicate with your mother on a deeper level because you feel that you lack common interests or beliefs, or that she might judge you negatively based on the thoughts you might express. Both these struggles are worth examining, and counseling can help significantly.
Some mental healthcare professionals suggest that the mother-daughter relationship in particular is primed for communication struggles when a daughter approaches adulthood because of the way many societies handle—or fail to handle—women’s emotional needs. If women’s emotional needs at large in society are not being acknowledged or supported—for example, by promoting a culture of female service, male primacy, or other gender-based inequity—then each individual woman may seek emotional attention and validation within her immediate family or social circle. Within a mother-daughter relationship, if each member needs this emotional validation, then they may each be seeking more than they can offer in return. Exploring these feelings through therapy, either individually or together, might be beneficial to each of you as well as your relationship.
Multiple studies have shown that mothers are often more critical of daughters than sons. There are many different reasons this happens in some families. Maybe the mother sees herself in her daughter and tries to help her prevent some of the mistakes that she made, but all the daughter feels is criticism. Some mothers may also hold their daughters to higher standards than those they hold for their sons. Maybe these mothers want things for their daughters that they were not able to secure for themselves, such as advanced educational or career goals that were more limited a generation prior or in another culture.
If you feel that your mother is more often than not critical of your choices and your behavior, you may want to reflect on your own actions first and then have a respectful, honest discussion with your mother. If you can articulate to yourself first why you want to pursue specific goals or make certain choices—for instance, if you want to pursue a degree in education, despite your mom’s expectations of taking over a family business or becoming a lawyer—then you will be better prepared to explain to her why those choices matter to you. In having these difficult conversations, focusing on your own feelings and actions can be more productive than trying to call out your mother for things she has said or done. For example, the anger inherent in, “I can’t believe you’re being so judgmental about my major!” would be far less effective than the honesty of, “I believe deeply that becoming a teacher will help me feel like I’m making a difference, and your support means a lot to me. I hope we can talk about my major in a constructive way.”
If you and your mother are having a hard time communicating, then a psychotherapist suggests that you consider dialing back the tough conversations (for a while) in favor of spending quality time together through shared activities. Physical activities like hiking or jogging, crafty hobbies, leisure activities like shopping or book clubs, or travel can provide you with opportunities for closeness and connection without forcing you to continue confronting points of conflict. Sometimes, building this rapport will help you to revisit tough topics with more refreshed perspectives.
There are no easy answers for any mother or daughter. This is nearly always a complicated relationship, and every mother-daughter pair is different. But the above suggestions can apply to nearly everyone: open communication, addressing feelings honestly, and finding ways to stay close. A functional parent-child relationship is rooted in unconditional love. Your mother may not love every choice you make or every word you say, but that does not mean that she does not love you. And keep in mind, especially as you mature into adulthood, that this explanation of unconditional love goes both ways; it is OK to disagree with your mom, even to feel upset with her or to think that she has made a mistake. Those feelings do not mean you love her any less, and they do not need to cause you feelings of guilt or distance. Remember that your mother is human.
Daughters: Be Kind to Your Mothers. They Love You No Matter What You Do. Mothers, Be Kind to Your Daughters. They Love You No Matter What They Do.
If you are struggling to figure out your relationship with your mother, finding it difficult to talk through things with her, or even wondering, “Why does my mom hate me?” then you may want to begin working with a mental health professional. You might even want to try out family counseling alongside your mom, such as online counseling through BetterHelp, in order to improve your relationship. Remember that seeking outside help from a counselor or therapist is not saying that anyone has done something wrong, but rather that you care deeply about preserving and strengthening this relationship in the long term, and that an objective expert may be able to help. In fact, research has shown that the “relational renegotiation” of early adulthood relationships to parents can be healthy and significantly reduce tensions compared to conflicts in adolescence.
If you choose to speak with your mother about attending online counseling, focus on the ways it can help the two of you grow closer. BetterHelp can match you with a counselor who is trained to provide you with feedback and suggestions on how to improve your relationship with your mother, including how to assertively and respectfully communicate your feelings to your mother. These therapy sessions can be scheduled to fit your busy life and arranged through whatever medium works best for you: phone, email, video chat, or text message. If you find yourself struggling with frustration or other negative emotions toward your mom, individual therapy might also help you find a clearer path forward. The mother-daughter relationship can be a lifelong source of comfort, friendship, and love. You deserve to pursue that relationship with support and guidance. Consider the following reviews of BetterHelp counselors from other individuals who have sought help with relationships.
Velma is an outstanding counselor. She is a great listener, empathetic and supportive. She is very knowledgeable about many issues and provides great resources. She has helped me to consider different perspectives and motivated me to set goals for myself. I am now actively taking steps to accomplish my goals and change my life for the better. I highly recommend Velma.
I have only had two counselling sessions with Douglas but I find him to be very empathetic , knowledgeable and professional. He helps to provide valuable insight and different perspectives on specific problems. His approach has helped me to utilise different views and approaches on managing human conflict.