NYC Psychotherapist Blog

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Saturday, October 6, 2012

Mother-Daughter Relationships Over the Course of a Lifetime

One of the most common issues that women bring into their psychotherapy sessions is their relationship with their mothers. The bond between mothers and daughters can be complicated, whether they are currently positive or problematic. We are born "hard wired" to bond to our primary caregivers.  Most of the time, this is our mother.  Generally speaking, mothers and daughters tend to have a stronger bond than mothers and sons, and these relationships can change over the course of a lifetime, often in surprising ways.

Mother-Daughter Relationships Over the Course of a Lifetime

Problems in the Mother-Daughter Relationship
Problems often arise in the mother-daughter relationship when an insecure mother has difficulty allowing the daughter to have age-appropriate independence. Starting at around the age of 18 months to two years of age, most babies (both boys and girls) begin to want to assert themselves, sometimes in ways that are confusing for mothers. 

This is often called "the terrible twos" from the perspective of mothers struggling to cope with babies who are constantly saying "No!" to almost everything, including things they might really want. From a developmental perspective, this is exactly what needs to happen at this stage of the baby's development, even though it might be frustrating for the mother.

We Are Hard Wired to Bond With Our Mothers

The other stage that can be challenging in terms of a daughter gaining age-appropriate autonomy is adolescence. As an adolescent, a teens' peer relationships usually become more important as compared to earlier stages in a child's life. Teenage girls often give more credence to their friends' opinions than their parents' opinions at this stage. For a mother who has a hard time allowing her daughter to have more independence from her, this can be a challenging time, even when teenage daughters are using good judgment and have positive friendships.

This is often the time when power struggles abound and mother-daughter relationships break down. These struggles can continue into the adult child's 20s, 30s and beyond. Mothers who are insecure about allowing their teenage daughters to have a reasonable degree of independence often had conflictual relationships with their own mothers with the same issues. As a result, they are often ill prepared to handle this phase of their daughters' development and this stage in the mother-daughter relationship.

For mothers who had enmeshed relationships with their own mothers, they often expect to have the same type of relationship with their daughters--even if the enmeshed relationship with their own mothers was fraught with difficulties. Often, in these cases, it becomes increasingly difficult for these mothers to accept that their daughters, who may be in their 20s, 30s or older have their own separate lives where a spouse or partner is now the daughter's primary relationship.

The Mother-Daughter Bond
The mother-daughter bond, which is so ingrained, usually becomes the template for future relationships. When the template is a good one, this bodes well for future friendships and romantic relationships. But when there are serious problems, including trauma, this often leads to traumatic bonding in future relationships where the same type of problematic bonding is unconsciously recreated in future relationships. Of course, women can learn to overcome this dynamic, but it usually takes time and effort in therapy.

Problems in Mother-Daughter Relationships Can Be Worked Through

The good news is that many of these problematic issues in mother-daughter relationships can be worked out in psychotherapy if both people are willing. Initially, this might mean that the mother and daughter attend individual therapy to understand the role they are each playing in the dynamic. Then, if appropriate, the mother and daughter might attend therapy together to work through the problems together, assuming that both people are willing.

As a psychotherapist, I've seen many mother-daughter relationships improve over time when both people are willing to make the necessary commitment to work through these issues with open minds.

About Me
I am a licensed New York City psychotherapist who provides psychotherapy services to individuals and couples, including contemporary talk therapy as well as mind-body oriented therapy such as EMDR, clinical hypnosis, and Somatic Experiencing.

To find out more about me, visit my website: Josephine Ferraro, LCSW - NYC Psychotherapist.

To set up a consultation, call me at (917) 742-2624 during business hours or email me.