Mothers & DAUGHTERS
THE MOTHERDAUGHTER BOND INFLUENCES OUR LIVES IN WAYS WE MAY NOT EVEN REALISE. BY Bronwyn McNulty.
The relationship between a woman and her mother is so powerful, it affects everything from her health and self-esteem to all her other relationships, experts say. Dr Christiane Northrup, author of the book MotherDaughter Wisdom ( Hay House), says: “The mother-daughter relationship is the most powerful bond in the world, for better or for worse. It sets the stage for all other relationships.”
Dr Northrup says that no other childhood experience is as compelling as a young girl’s relationship with her mother. “Each of us takes in at a cellular level how our mother feels about being female, what she believes about her body, how she takes care of her health, and what she believes is possible in life.”
Jennie Hannan, executive general manager of services at counselling provider Anglicare WA, agrees. “How a woman sees herself, how she is in her adult relationships with partners, and how she mothers her own children, is profoundly influenced by her relationship with her own mother,” she says.
But while most five-year-old girls love their mothers with an unshakeable conviction, it’s often a different story by the time they reach adolescence. The once-adored woman who rarely put a foot wrong is suddenly always doing embarrassing things.
“The time you are going to start having major problems with your daughter will be around adolescence,” Hannan says. “Adolescence is a very difficult, tumultuous time for children and their parents, and it tends to happen in girls earlier than in boys.”
Fortunately this wild swing from closeness to remoteness usually only lasts until the daughter reaches adulthood.
“If the mother and daughter can hang in there during adolescence, your relationship moves to a different level and becomes more of a respectful friendship,” Hannan says. “I think what triggers them coming back is they become independent… they move away from home, get a job, do the adult things in life. There’s a need to grow up and the relationship shifts.”
The relationship will change again when the daughter has children. “There’s a greater level of understanding of the sort of depth of responsibility that you have as a mother to that child.”
If you had a less-than-perfect relationship with your mother, it doesn’t necessarily follow that you won’t have a good relationship with your own daughter, Hannan says.
“It gives you a head start if you had a good relationship with your mother, but lots of women who have had bad relationships with their mothers have had really positive relationships with other women in their lives.
“The idea that you can have a perfect relationship with anybody is flawed. Mothers do get blamed an awful lot if something’s wrong with their kids. But being aware of things that were good and not good in your relationship with your mum is really important in not repeating any mistakes.”
For most, the mother-daughter relationship is ultimately fulfilling. Despite conflicts and complicated emotions, 80 to 90 per cent of women at midlife reported a good relationship with their mother, a Pennsylvania State University study found.
“The relationship between mothers and their adult daughters is one in which the participants handle being upset with one another better than in any other relationship,” says researcher Karen Fingerman, author of Aging Mothers And Their Adult Daughters: A Study In Mixed Emotions ( Springer). “There is value in the mother-daughter tie because the two parties care for one another and share a strong investment in the family as a whole.”