As children, we depend on our mothers for everything—food, shelter, love, and information about the world. As we move toward adulthood, that relationship changes, and it can be challenging for adult daughters and their mothers to navigate these uncharted waters that don’t have roles as clear cut. Here are a few tips for improving your mother/daughter relationship.
1. Be grateful:
Be grateful for the relationship you have. What would you do if you faced this person’s illness or loss? Show your mother or daughter how much you appreciate having her in your life and how much you love her by sending her a card or flowers, or even just a text message. Visit her or give her a call. Remember to count her among your blessings in life.
2. Be considerate:
It can be easy to take your relationship with your mother or daughter for granted, so think about how you treat your best friends, and treat her the same way.
“One way to improve a family relationship is (…) to view each other as individuals, not just as mother and daughter,” says NY-based life coach Stefanie Ziev, a Today Show regular. “Think about how you would treat a friend if you were upset or needed to share something with her. You wouldn’t be mean or critical of her.” Think about her feelings, and try focusing on giving, rather than demanding.
3. Communicate respectfully:
If you’re lucky enough to have a close relationship with your mother or daughter, you may feel like you can say anything to her, but think before you speak. Putting things in a thoughtful, caring way is the healthiest way to communicate.
“Use I statements and share your needs in an open, clear communicative way,” says Ziev. She suggests saying things like, “I feel hurt when you act in this way. Here’s what I wish you would say to me instead. (…) What would help me going forward is this.”
If you do react, adds Ziev, take responsibility for your behavior. “Own it. Say, ‘I apologize. I just reacted to you in a way that’s not productive. I don’t know how to respond right now, so I’m going to take a break and come back when I’m ready to tackle this.’”
4. Have healthy boundaries:
For many of us, our mom or our daughter is our best friend. But with close friends who aren’t related to you, you usually set healthy boundaries. You don’t ask more of them than you’re willing to give back, nor do you demand certain things. Before you expect your mom to babysit your kids all weekend, take a moment to ask yourself: Would I ask this of a good friend who isn’t related to me? If the answer is no, you might want to reconsider your request. The same goes for moms: If you have the impulse to share your marital challenges with your daughter, think about how it might make her feel and consider sharing those gripes with a friend or therapist instead. Then you can save the chat time with your daughter for more mutually meaningful conversations.
“Mothers and daughters each shows the other a reflection of who they are, their deepest anxieties and hopes.,” says Dr. Shefali Tsabary, a New York-based clinical psychologist and author of The Conscious Parent andOut of Control. “As a result of this enmeshment, there is a tendency to over-identify. A healthy respect for each other’s differences and camaraderie around similarities is essential (…) and [can] allow the other to emerge as an individual.”
5. Keep your expectations realistic:
Some of us are simply very different from our mothers, and it takes a lot for a person to change. If your mother is fastidious about cleanliness, and you’re not, then you may have to accept that you’ll need to tidy up when you visit her house and explain to her why yours is a little more cluttered. She’ll need to respect your housekeeping style, too.
If you live near your mother and want her to babysit your children, but she doesn’t seem interested, respect that. She raised you, after all—it’s her prerogative to cultivate the type of relationship with her grandchildren that she chooses. Likewise, if you wish your daughter would call or visit more often, take a moment to think about what’s going on in her life and try giving her a pass. If it still bothers you, consider Ziev’s suggestions for effectively communicating your needs.
6. Share new experiences:
Research has shown that couples who try new activities together tend to be happier, so why not apply those findings to your mother/daughter relationship and see what happens? Take a stroll somewhere new. Go see a play together. Swap books. Chat on Skype instead of the phone. Whether you live near each other or not, there are plenty of options for sharing new experiences together.
7. Appreciate your evolving relationship:
It can be hard to accept the changes in the adult relationship of a mother-daughter. If your mother has always been the caregiver, your tendency might be to continue relying on her for that. But as she ages, she might need you to take care of her, so be ready to embrace that role with an open mind. Likewise, your adult daughter needs the space to cultivate her adult relationships—with friends, colleagues, her partner, and children. It’s important that parents of adult children respect those boundaries and practice letting go.
So much about family relationships has to do with respect, kindness, and healthy boundaries. Closeness and honesty are wonderful, and by paying attention to the ways you say things and what you expect of your mother or daughter, you’ll continue to grow your relationship in new, healthy ways.