A mother’s treasure is her daughter and she will love her more than her life. The same happens when a daughter loves her mother since the very day she opened her eyes. Whatever the relationship is between a mother and a daughter, there will always be that special bond and layers of happiness that surround them and this relationship sets the stage for all other relationships. “The mother-daughter relationship involves a mother and her daughter in where both participate within the relationship. This can be either healthy or toxic,” explains Ndilimeke Nambinga, an industrial psychologist.
Why is it important?
Ndilimeke acknowledges that a mother-daughter bond is not always clear in terms of what it consists of. “Maintaining healthy relationships with your children as they grow up is one of the primary concerns of many parents, and having a strong bond with your daughter is the best way to ensure that that will be the case. A positive and healthy bond is very important because a mother figure becomes the model figure for a little girl as she grows,” she says. Meaning little girls tend to model their mothers as they grow up. Thus it is important for a mother to watch her character and behavioural traits while raising her daughter.
The mother-daughter relationship helps to build trust in a girl’s character as she grows. Ndilimeke affirms that when a daughter grows and become more independent, having a good bond with her parents helps her to trust them. “By staying close with your child as she develops, she’ll be more likely to share her concerns and fears with you, as well as any dangerous or uncomfortable situations that she finds herself in,” she emphasised.
This kind of bond also promotes support for one another. Ndilimeke says that just as the mothers support their daughters when they grow up, daughters can also support their mothers. Maintaining a strong bond will help to ensure this,” says the psychologist.
The mother-daughter relationship also plays a role in terms of safety and security. “Daughters who feel a strong bond with their mothers are more likely to be willing to share important details with them. This can become a primary concern when your daughter becomes older and leaves the home to go out. As a parent, having a strong bond with your daughter will ensure that she feels comfortable discussing subjects like sex, alcohol and peer pressure with you,” narrates Ndilimeke. She also added that a mother’s advice will be better received on these and other safety concerns.
Can it be challenging?
The psychologist admits that the relationship can be challenged at times depending on various factors such as trust, peer pressure from the outside world, co-dependency of either parties involved in the relationship, over controlling traits in the parents, no or lack of communication skills, lack of parent education ranging from interpersonal, social and life skills and boundaries.
“These factors can really affect a relationship for example, most people have the perception that education should be for the teacher without realising that education starts at home. It is the parents duty to educate her daughter on important life issues etc. In addition failure for parents to invest time in the above usually means that not only their relationship is disrupted but also other relationships get affected as well,” she expressed.
Improving the mother-daughter bond
In instances where mothers are experiencing distance from their daughters, Ndilimeke says that it is always important to make the first move and to avoid waiting for the other person to make the first move. “Doing so inevitably leaves relationships stuck.” Also, self-change is necessary in enhancing these bonds. “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,” she elaborates.
Moreover, it is important to have realistic expectations. Both moms and daughters often have idealistic expectations about their relationship. For instance, kids commonly think their mom will be nurturing and present — always. This idea can develop from an early age. Ndilimeke, however, admits that lack of communication is a common challenge with moms and daughters. She says that 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. “Because moms and daughters aren’t mind readers, be clear and calmly state how you’re feeling. Also, speak your “mind in a very heartfelt but gentle manner.” Is your mom treating you like a child? Simply say, “Mom, you’re not treating me like an adult”,” advices Ndilimeke.
Active listening is also of essence as it reflects back what the other person is saying, instead of assuming you already know. When you reflect back what your mom or daughter is saying, you’re telling her that she’s being heard and that you understand. Also, listen “to the feelings underlying the message,” which is often the real message. If “mom says, ‘you’re acting like a doormat,’ the daughter hears that as being horribly critical [and that she’s not good enough], but what the mom is really saying is, ‘I feel so protective of you because you’re not protecting yourself. “Forgiveness is an individual act. It differs from reconciliation, which isn’t always possible. Forgiving someone isn’t saying that what happened is OK. It’s not condoning, pardoning or minimizing the impact,” cautioned the psychologist.
Effects of broken mother-daughter bonds
Ndilimeke admits that girls who grow up in the absence of their mothers are affected saying that it is important for girls to have their mothers around. “A child in fact needs both parents present no matter what the situation may be. It is imperative for both parents to be present in a child’s life as there are usually consequences psychologically when either parent is absent,” she explains.
A child who does not have the love of a mother often goes through psychological wounds that can consist of the lack of confidence. The unloved daughter doesn’t know that she is lovable or worthy of attention; she may have grown up feeling ignored or unheard or criticized at every turn. The voice in her head is that of her mother’s, telling her what she isn’t—smart, beautiful, kind, loving, worthy. That internalized maternal voice will continue to undermine her accomplishments and talents, unless there is some kind of intervention. Daughters sometimes talk about feeling that they are “fooling people” and express fear that they’ll be “found out” when they enjoy success in the world.
“These trust issues emanate from that sense that relationships are fundamentally unreliable, and flow over into both friendships and romantic relationships. The ambivalently attached daughter needs constant validation that trust is warranted. In their words, these people “experienced love as involving obsession, a desire for reciprocation and union, emotional highs and lows, and extreme sexual attraction and jealousy.” Trust and the inability to set boundaries are, as it happens, closely connected, says Ndilimeke.
She also notes that girls who do not have a bond with their mothers find it difficult to set boundaries. “Many daughters, caught between their need for their mother’s attention and its absence, report that they become “pleasers” in adult relationships. Or they are unable to set other boundaries which make for healthy and emotionally sustaining relationships. A number of unloved daughters report problems with maintaining close female friendships, which are complicated due to issues of trust (“How do I know she’s really my friend?”), not being able to say ‘no’ (“Somehow, I always end up being a doormat, doing too much, and I get used or disappointed in the end”), or wanting a relationship so intense that the other person backs off.
Perceiving themselves accurately also becomes a difficulty to these girls. Ndilimeke says that lacking confidence or feeling fearful sometimes puts the unloved daughter in a defensive crouch so that she’s avoiding being hurt by a bad connection rather than being motivated to possibly find a stable and loving one. These women, on the surface, may act as though they want to be in a relationship but on a deeper, less conscious level, avoidance is their motivator.
An unloved daughter may be sensitive to slights, real and imagined; a random comment may carry the weight of her childhood experience without her even being aware of it. Having a mother who’s un-attuned also means that unloved daughters often have trouble managing emotions; they tend to overthink and ruminate as well.
Unloved daughters tend to replicate the mother bond in relationships. “Alas, we tend to be drawn to what we know—those situations which, while they make us unhappy in the end, are nonetheless “comfortable” because they are familiar to us. While securely attached individuals tend to go out into the world seeking people who have similar histories of attachment. This sometimes has the effect of unwittingly replicating the maternal relationship,” concludes Ndilimeke.
The mother-daughter relationship is one of the strongest and complex bonds in the world. It is one of the most powerful connections in nature that only mothers and daughters understand and share among themselves. However, the most difficult part in a mother-daughter relationship might be when mothers see their child make wrong choices in life which is why they should always be present in their daughters lives to guide them.
By Ndilimike Nambinga