Difficulties in Mother-Daughter Relationships

What are some typical reasons mother and daughter don’t get along? Why can this relationship prove particularly difficult for some?

Typical reasons mother and daughter don’t get along:

Letting go of the parent-child role (Separation):

Tensions can arise when the daughter becomes an adult. From the mother’s perspective, the transition may be difficult because it requires her to relinquish her role of mother which may stir up feelings of grief and a loss of identity. It may be challenging for the mother seeing her child as accomplished and independent. Mother’s should allow their daughters the gift of independence and give her permission to be herself. The daughter should be her own unique person.

Similarly, a daughter may feel conflicted about how much involvement she wants from her mother. On one hand she may want parental support and conversely, she may want complete autonomy. This is part of the separation process which covers not just the physical separation of mothers and daughters, but also the need for daughters to separate emotionally. Separation occurs when both mother and daughter distinguish themselves as two different people and both have separate identities, and can occur at different stages for everyone. Squabbles and disagreements may occur which is all part and parcel of the separation process until acceptance and letting-go takes place. This is an adaptation for both mothers and daughters and may be one of the hardest experiences they go through.

Emotional dependency (Parentification):

Some mothers rely on their daughters for emotional or practical support especially in the absence of a spouse either physically or emotionally. They may rely on their daughters as their crutch or main confidante which may leave the daughter feeling overburdened, anxious and guilty. The mother may pull the daughter into a type of “caretaking” role which may leave the daughter either feeling responsible for her mother or conversely, may retract from her mother to avoid the emotional barrage.

Mothers/daughters as friends (Enmeshment):

Some mothers and daughters may see their relationship as a friendship, but when the line between them becomes too blurred, enmeshment may result. In an ideal world, a teenage daughter will form a separate identity from her mother and in doing so, become a unique individual, and discover her own needs with a secure sense of self. If both lack other close relationships, they may set up a dynamic where they provide for each other in terms of companionship and emotional support and there is an absence of boundaries. The daughter’s development can be hindered by this dynamic as she needs to have her sense of separateness validated. In addition, the mother needs to establish her own life; needs and wants which are separate from the daughter.

Poor boundaries:

In some cases, mothers may find it difficult to trust their daughter’s decisions and choices as they become adults and this may manifest itself by undermining, criticising or interfering, intentionally or unintentionally. The root of this may come from the mother’s own insecurities and wanting to “fix” or “save” their daughters which may come from a place of care but can be felt as disempowerment and sends a subliminal message of “I don’t think you are capable” which can cause anger and frustration.

Disapproval of spouse:

Sometimes, mothers may disapprove of their daughter’s choice of partner or spouse. Mothers should not get to choose who their daughters love and select as partners. The motivation behind this is perhaps a fear of the mother losing their daughter and abandonment, or in some instances jealousy. Respecting your daughter’s adult choices is important.


In the case of dysfunctional families, siblings are assigned roles in early childhood so as to manage the disorder such as drug or alcohol issues. These roles such as Golden Child and Scapegoat may continue into adulthood which may lead to anger and resentment between the mother and daughter and also between siblings. Adult daughters may only become aware of the imbalance in later life and this may lead to friction between the mother and daughter.

Some of the underlying reasons for these types of issues is commonly the generational gap between mothers and daughters and the role of women in society. Historically, the expectation was that the daughter would merely follow in the footsteps of the mother but this is no longer the case. Mothers may feel that they have been deprived in areas of their lives when they see their daughters living “different” and more fruitful lives, this may cause some sadness and maybe anger and loss.

In addition, the societal expectations of women are changing where nowadays, women have a voice and are working in professional capacities; managing both the work and mother role. There is a shift in the role of women in society today and this may cause a clash in the mother and daughter relationship.

Why can this prove particularly difficult for some?

Grief and loss of mother-daughter relationship:

Our mother is the first person we come in contact with, even before we are born as the womb where the mother emotionally bonds with her daughter. Our relationship with our mother provides the template for all future relationships in our lives so it is of vital importance and significance. We are psychologically conditioned to instinctively want to be close to our mother and gain her approval. If there are ruptures in the relationship causing communication breakdowns and unresolved conflict, this can cause huge grief and loss for both parties involved.

Create split in family and cause isolation or loneliness:

Sometimes, as a consequence of a challenging mother-daughter relationship, it can cause a split or gap in the family unit leading to either party becoming isolated or removed from the other family members. This can evoke painful feelings of sadness and loneliness for all parties. Occasionally, triangles can form in families where the dyad of the mother-daughter relationship becomes strained and one party will pull in a third party to seek support or stabilise the relationship. Triangulation can be healthy when a third party may be required to assist in resolving the conflict, but it can become unhealthy when there is excessive stress on all involved and resolution is deterred.

Loss of family unit and sibling relationships:

Damaged mother-daughter relationships can inadvertently affect relationships with other siblings as tension exists. This causes a disruption in the family system and can negatively affect relationships with siblings, which is a huge loss.


Grieving the mother-daughter relationship can elicit feelings of anger and disappointment. If the separation process has not been appropriately completed or if either parties are harbouring resentment, feelings of anger may arise for both. Acknowledge that this is a normal response to disappointment and loss, so it is OK to feel this way.

How should a person cope if they are a) estranged from there mum, and b) in a volatile relationship with their mum?

a)    How to cope if you are in an estranged relationship with your Mum

Estrangement can be extremely difficult and painful for both the mother and the daughter as there is distance and a void between them.

Seek professional help:

Enlisting the support of a trusted therapist can assist in gaining perspective and clarity on the difficulties that may be present. It is never too late to repair a relationship, and if this is something you want or not, therapy may help. Sometimes, family therapy can be of assistance, that is, if both parties are open to it. Even if your mother or daughter have passed away, therapy may bring some benefit as to why the issues occurred, to heal and find peace.

Grieve the loss:

If you feel that you cannot maintain a relationship with your mother or daughter, it is important to acknowledge and grieve the loss. Losing a mother or daughter relationship is one of the most painful events across a lifespan, so if you feel there is no reconciliation, grieving the loss can be extremely healing for you.

Stop self-blame:

Estrangement can cause you to feel shame, guilt and powerlessness. Not all mother-daughter relationships are perfect and there are usually ups and downs in navigating differences and views. Holding onto self-blame only cases you to feel hurt so try and let it go.

Cultivate supportive relationships:

Social connection and building a sense of community is imperative. Finding friends and relationships that nurture and support you are really important. Positive connections have health, happiness and well-being benefits so it is vital to seek these out.

Focus on how you can carve out your own life:

Find interests and hobbies that bring you joy so that you can focus on other aspects of your life besides family. You are entitled to have a life and to be happy, so try and learn to rely on other things in life for emotional fulfilment and love.

b)    How to cope if you are in a volatile relationship with your Mum?

Give yourself permission to take care of your own needs first:

Giving yourself permission to believe this is the first step toward making self-care an intentional, ongoing practice in your life. “Before you assist others, always put your oxygen mask on first.”

Often that begins saying no to others and yes to yourself.  Self-care is not selfish and it helps you move from existing to living and it allows you to more authentic by devoting time to yourself.

Establish firm boundaries:

Boundaries are essential in any relationship and are the limits we set in relationships to ensure they are mutually respectful, supportive and caring. Looking at ways in which you can have an OK relationship with your mother or daughter whether it be a weekly phone call, lunch or whatever you feel  would work. When your relationship is volatile, it may be necessary to limit the time you spend together to allow each other space to breathe.

Acknowledge your anger:

Your anger is there for a reason, and it is a sign that a boundary has been crossed. In today’s society, anger can be perceived as a negative emotion, but it can be really powerful tool in giving us information when a something isn’t right. Perhaps, look at ways to release your anger by exercising, screaming or journaling. These can be really effective ways to release pent-up or suppressed anger.

Be selective about what you share:

If there are certain topics that you know are “trigger-points”, then try and avoid these in conversation. Keep the conversation light and to the point. If you feel you are being sparked, it is OK to end the conversation and resume at a later date. The key here is about valuing yourself and your time and not to accept demeaning or inappropriate behaviour or be pulled into old family dynamics.

Communicate openly:

The foundations of any relationship are based on trust, transparency and clear communication. You cannot control how the other person is going to respond or react but you can control how you do so. Standing in your own power and expressing yourself openly can create clear, direct channels of communication and prevent any misunderstandings down the line. In a sense, you are modelling to the other person how you communicate and is very liberating, although sometimes scary to communicate from an authentic place.

Be assertive:

It is OK to say no to a demand, favour or request. Ultimately, as adults we are entitled to make our own choices and decisions and NO is a full sentence which does not require explanation. You are not obliged to do anything or be anywhere that you do not want to be, so determining what you want and what your needs are is crucial to taking care of yourself.

Listen to yourself:

Your feelings and emotions are essentially your road map in how you make decisions. If something doesn’t feel right, then it is probably not right so learning to trust your gut in helping you make decisions and choices.

Manage expectations:

It is worth checking in with yourself around your expectations of your mother or daughter. Are they unrealistic or too high? Or are your needs not being met? This can sometimes bring great clarity about what we actually want from our mother or daughter and if we are asking for too much or getting too little. Generally speaking, our expectations usually come from our own unmet childhood needs of love and attention and it is useful to ask ourselves if we are still relying on our mother or daughter for our own emotional needs. Finding a suitable therapist may help uncover some of these unmet needs and how you can address them.


Change can be seen as a challenge and an opportunity – as one person grows and changes, it will change the dynamic of the relationship. This process can be extremely difficult as the other is pushed to adjust to change or remain the same. Equally, change can catalyse a relationship to a different level in a more positive way. It really depends on the individuals who are in the relationship. Change is difficult as it creates a feeling of the unknown which can be scary for most. Sometimes, relationships can be like waves and it is how we surf these changes that matters. Accepting that your relationship is how it is, but maybe accepting that it is not perfect and perhaps “good enough”.

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