Let me introduce you to my childhood sassy-side. I first (notice, I said “first”) told my mom to “shut up!” when I was just beginning my teen years. I had invited dozens of classmates to our home to practice a school performance. As rehearsal was underway, goofing off got in the way of serious work and I felt frustrated. (Talk about task-oriented!) Trying to remain cool while regaining the crowd’s attention, my mother saw my need for her support and she intervened with great warmth and guidance.
While she was acting with the best of intentions, I wasn’t ready for her help. It was uninvited and in my state of feeling overwhelmed, I let her know. “Mom, just shut up!” I shouted. The moment I heard such harsh words leave my mouth, I knew I’d made a choice that brought tender consequences. As I saw the look on my mom’s face, I knew I had hurt her deeply. In my own desire to exercise independence, I brought pain to a sacred relationship. I chose a tantrum over kindly expressed needs.
My mother was a class act in the moments following. After leaving behind a look of strong disapproval, she excused herself and allowed me and my friends to continue without her participation. After my friends left for the day, she and I talked together about that moment. I was reminded such hurtful language was not acceptable in our home. More importantly though, I became aware of how my actions were a catalyst for her pain and held the potential to injure our connection. On that day, my mother and I both became aware we were entering a new season together in our relationship—one where we would both walk with more compassion and caution.
(Isn’t she stunning?! She’s equally radiant on the inside too.)
This sassy and disrespectful childhood moment was a defining snapshot for my mother and me. It was the first time I can remember our relationship shifting. Like so many mothers and daughters, while our love for each other remained solid during the teen years, there was complexity in the years following as we navigated the myriad of bonds and tensions between a mother and her growing daughter—once a child, now a young, soon-to-be-her-own woman.
As daughters transition from girls to women, the relationship between mother and daughter can be filled with treasured memories and deep connections. It can also be filled with tumultuous times of frustration and confusion. For both mother and daughter, there is a recognition the nature of their relationship is changing. The road toward thriving closeness together begins to feel fragile.
Mothers, you’ve loved your girls throughout their childhood and have built hopes and dreams for them. You’ve also held images of the relationship you’ll have together over the years. When these dreams differ from your daughter’s present expressions or desires, it can be painful and challenging to wrestle together and ride the rollercoaster of complex emotions that may begin to fill your home. Be encouraged: Dreams take detours and this bumpy ride you’re on together is still mid-flight. Soft-landings have a way of surprising us just when we need them most.
Daughters, you know a deep desire for separation and uniqueness in the world, including the bounds of your relationship with your mother. You long to feel set apart while desiring to feel connected. As you seek your own path, it can feel challenging to balance the times when you want space as well as your mother’s presence. As you define yourself apart from your parents, do so with respect and kindness. Not only will it leave you with fewer regrets, it’s also a more successful (and rewarding!) path toward accomplishing your goals.
Where there is difference in dreams or tension in relationship, there is an opportunity to redefine together what each of you need from the other. By entering a heart-felt conversation, there is greater space for hearing one another’s heart without defensiveness or restriction. Talk together about your fears and your hopes for your relationship and what might be hindering that vision.
While the years of our teens and twenties can be uniquely challenging, they also hold the potential to be a gift to both mother and daughter. If these years are navigated well, they offer the opportunity to be an investment that will reap rewards for years to come. I encourage you to capitalize on these years, reinvent together the kind of relationship you each need in the present, and build connections to sustain your bond for a lifetime.
During times of redefining the relationship between mother and daughter, it may be ideal to begin conversations together in the safety and comfort of therapy. As you explore therapists in your area, I recommend the directory www.therapistlocator.net, a database of trained clinicians and clinical members of the American Association for Marriage and Family Therapy, therapists specifically trained in family dynamics.
Additionally, I have discovered several books I recommend pertaining to the tender connection between mother and daughter. For further reading, check out The Wonder of Girls (Gurian), I’m Not Mad, I Just Hate You (Cohen-Sandler and Silver), and Girl in the Mirror (Snyderman and Streep). You can also explore the resource page of my website for more great reads.
As a final note, to all mothers and daughters, I wish you well navigating this sacred journey together. May you find yourself honoring the past as you remember cherished memories of childhood. May you graciously explore new possibilities in the present as you reinvent your relationship in your current family season. And may you look toward a promising future together enjoying the gift of one another for years to come.
And, Mom? Thanks for loving me well and giving me the space and the support to be my own woman over the years. I still promise to never tell you to shut up again…