The relationship between mother and daughter can be like no other. But sometimes, life can strain this bond.
Human relationships can be complex, and sometimes things happen that push people apart. The mother-daughter bond is no exception.
Occasionally, these differences are irreconcilable. Other times, self-work, patience, and intentional effort may help heal and strengthen yourself and your relationship.
As a mom, connecting with your daughter might be weighing on your heart. However, there are ways to work on your bond and open up spaces so your daughter feels more comfortable getting closer to you.
Being heard and accepted is one of our greatest needs in relationships, says Kate Fish, licensed marriage and family therapist and owner of Graceful Therapy in Oswego, Illinois.
“When your daughter is opening up and sharing, be open-minded and nonjudgmental as much as possible. Ask questions and allow her to educate you about her experience, even if you already know the answer,” Fish says.
As often as you can, take your daughter’s side.
“There are plenty of other people out in the world that can play devil’s advocate. What we need more than a naysayer is someone to validate our experience and make us feel supported,” says Fish.
Practice reflective listening
Reflective listening involves paying special attention to the content and feelings your daughter is expressing when she talks. It’s about letting the other person know they are understood.
“Show her that you’re listening and attuned by reflecting back what she is saying as she speaks,” says Fish.
Let her teach you
While the role of a mom can be about guiding and teaching, as your daughter becomes an adult, it’s important to allow her to also share knowledge with you, Fish says.
“Be open to learning new things from your daughter as a way of reminding her that you are in a two-way relationship and not just there to form her,” she says.
Give her space
Connecting also requires disconnection.
If you don’t ever spend time apart, Fish says, you may become unable to appreciate time together.
Depending on your relationship, taking a few days or weeks off from seeing or talking with each other can help make the time you reconnect even better.
Your mom may be part of your identity, whether you have remained close or distant during your life. If you’ve decided to work on your relationship, consider a few ways to open the doors to reconnecting.
Appreciate the role she’s played
Acknowledge and appreciate your mom’s role in your life and how she has helped you along the way.
This includes essential things like providing food and shelter to lessons she taught you.
Your mom may want to hear about all these things you cherish.
Show her gratitude
Fish suggests practicing and expressing gratitude for the traditions and values you have learned from your mother.
You can show gratitude by telling your mom verbally, by writing her a note, or giving her a gift.
Let your mom continue to influence you
Showing your mom that you still appreciate her input and knowledge about circumstances and situations you encounter can help her feel needed in your life.
For instance, turning to her for advice on a career choice, living situation, relationship, or parenting your own children can make her feel valued.
Let her be part of your family
While it can be hard for your mom to see you focus on your own family, allowing her to be part of your children’s lives can help bring you closer.
This may go beyond inviting her to hang around. You could also include her in family decisions, vacations, and important celebrations.
Dedicate time to continue traditions with your mom
While life as an adult can be busy, scheduling quality time to be with your mom may be an important step to getting closer.
Inexpensive options to consider might include having her over for dinner, organizing a picnic, going on a walk together, or helping her run errands.
Let go of shame
Learning to let go of the shame that comes with having complex challenges within relationships can help you heal, says Gina Moffa, a psychotherapist based in New York City.
“Society bombards us with commercials and movies that show mothers and daughters as best friends, which can lead to shame and confusion for those struggling with the desire for closeness versus the reality of sharp edges within the relationship,” she says.
Only you know the particular situations in your relationship. What you’ve experienced and felt is valid. If you want to heal yourself and your relationship, it may be a good idea to focus on what’s to come instead of what’s in the past.
Some women may carry down generations of modeling that keeps them in traditions of not communicating their own needs or not acknowledging what those needs are. Moffa says understanding your own needs, fears, traumas, and unspoken desires can help create healthy patterns and dialogue.
“We have to be careful not to communicate in projection, as this is a way of missing the mark and only closing the possibility of deeper connection,” says Moffa.
Remember you were your daughter’s age once
To let your daughter in when interactions happen, Fish suggests putting yourself in your daughter’s shoes at her age.
“Remember that your daughter, much like you at her age, needs to learn to be her own person by experiencing and developing her own relationships. It’s not an expression of what you did wrong, but a sign that you’ve done something right if your daughter ‘leaves the nest,’” she says.
Know you are good enough
If you are hurt by past relationship experiences, Moffa says trying to understand the origin of the pain can help in not projecting it onto your mom.
She explains that most daughters may be balancing two things: how to be close to their mothers and how to be independent of them.
If a mother doesn’t behave in a loving and warm way or behaves dismissively or critically, a daughter may look for ways to connect while never feeling good enough.
“In this case, it’s vital for the daughter to be validated in some way in order to feel worthy enough for healthy connections in her life,” Moffa says.
It may be helpful to remember you’re not defined by your relationships — not even the one with your mother.
Empathize with your mom’s needs
Consider giving your mother grace and acknowledging that even moms have their own needs and limitations.
Your mom may have her own hurtful experiences that she is healing from, says Fish.
It may be a good idea to remember everyone’s doing the best they can with the resources at hand.
You may feel inclined to sometimes blame your mom for strains in your relationship. Other times, you may point fingers at yourself. But learning to understand and communicate each other’s needs in a way that does not blame either of you can lead to a more honest connection.
“And therefore, the possibility of those needs being met or a connection to be created or strengthened,” says Moffa.
If either one of you has taken the first step to reconnect, these activities may help ease tension during those first times together.
- Recreate a favorite memory or tradition together, such as having afternoon tea, making a family recipe, or doing each other’s hair.
- Share a desire and a need each of you has for your relationship and take turns without interrupting or judging the answer of the other.
- Take a few minutes to talk about or write down a few things you both have in common and build on that. For example, if you both like crafting, you could create a quilt together or if you enjoy sports, you may want to go to a game together.
- Create a scenario where you have to be on a team together and get to use skills in a “you and me against the world, not each other” kind of way. This could be a board game against other family members or something more elaborate like an escape room.
- Volunteer together at a local shelter or organization you both are passionate about.
The following questions can help you understand each other deeper. You could save an afternoon together where you sit down in a park or at home and initiate conversation.
- What was the most important moment in your life?
- What fears did you have in childhood that you have carried with you?
- What has it been like being my mother/daughter so far?
- What are some things you really appreciate about me?
- What do you think is the most important thing for me to know as you?
- What do you most wish for in this relationship?
- What do you most fear about this relationship?
- If you could change one thing in your life, what would it be?
“These sorts of open questions allow for each to be human, honest, and real with one another. The rules have to be set that there is no negative feedback welcome in this activity, as it is a time for each to be open with the other,” says Moffa.
It may be time to seek professional help if it is too hard to have a conversation without escalating or shutting down, says Fish.
Moffa notes that therapy can help heal a mother-daughter relationship if trauma, loss, or abuse occurred in the family or if mothers or daughters live with mental health conditions.
“No matter the reason, it’s time to seek help if both the mother and daughter wish to be connected but simply have too much trouble finding solid ground in their relationship,” Moffa says.
If you decide to take this step, these resources may help:
- American Psychiatric Association’s Find a Psychiatrist tool
- American Psychological Association’s Find a Psychologist tool
- Asian Mental Health Collective’s therapist directory
- Association of Black Psychologists’ Find a Psychologist tool
- National Alliance on Mental Illness Helplines and Support Tools
- National Institute of Mental Health’s Helpline Directory
- National Queer and Trans Therapists of Color Network
- Inclusive Therapists
Sometimes your relationship with your mother or daughter needs a little help. There are ways to strengthen your bond on your own. However, when you have exhausted all efforts, a mental health professional can help you navigate your relationship.