“She died when I was just 13 years old. She missed my graduations from high school and college, my wedding and the birth of my children. There is a huge void in my life. I had no role model. My Dad did the best he could, but he could not replace my Mom.” To a therapist, these words are all too familiar. Yet, on another day, a woman might share the excitement of a trip she is planning with her mother. “Every year we spend a week together,” she might say. “We laugh and cry, giggle like kids and thoroughly enjoy each other’s company.” She might add that her relationship with her mother was not always this rewarding. There were times when they did not speak to each other, but through a great deal of commitment, communication and risk taking, they created a satisfying and fulfilling relationship.
Mother-daughter relationships run the gamut, but have one common denominator: this relationship is probably the most powerful and influential relationship in a woman’s life. This is true whether the mother is present or absent, loving or abusive, birth mother, stepmother or adoptive mother. Mothers matter more than many women want to admit.
As women, there are many areas that are deeply impacted by the relationship we had or did not have with our mothers: our relationships with partners, friends, and children; our ability to be intimate; and our confidence and self-image. Many of us look in a mirror and see our mothers looking back at us. We speak to our children and hear our mother’s words coming out of our mouths.
As a group, mothers are held to very high expectations. We, consciously or unconsciously, demand that they love perfectly, live selflessly and never make mistakes. Yet mothers are just women with the same needs, the same self-esteem issues, and the same weaknesses and strengths as everyone else. If only we could see that. Instead, daughters tend to lay on their mothers the expectation of being super-mom, while many mothers tend to displace their own needs on their daughters. Thus begin the conflicts.
The good news is that within every mother-daughter relationship there is a potential for growth.