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Mothers vs. Daughters: Why Can't We Just Get Along?

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A lot of grown-up daughters feel that their mothers are trying to meddle in their lives, with too many comments, too many questions. Is that true?
DT: A mother may ask a question or say something because she's trying to connect with her daughter. But the daughter hears the remark as trying to butt in. In researching the book, I heard from so many mothers: "I can't open my mouth! Why is she so sensitive?" The mom is thinking, I see what she should do-it's so obvious-but I can't get her to do it. One of my students broke up with her boyfriend and was upset and thought that maybe her mother might have a unique perspective. So she told her, and the mother gave her point of view, which the daughter appreciated. But then the daughter realized why she did not do this more often-the mother kept bringing it up. "How are you feeling? Have you met anybody else interesting?" she would ask. Finally, the daughter had to say, "Please don't bring it up; you're making it harder." Her mother was hurt.

Is it ever right for a mother to refuse to back off?
DT: Sometimes, when it comes to issues of safety, it's worth risking offense. One mother felt her daughter was ignoring a health issue. The mother wouldn't let up, and it turned out there was something life-threatening going on. She felt she'd saved her daughter's life.

What's the worst mistake mothers can make when talking to their daughters?
DT: Sniper attacks. Your daughter thinks you're talking about one thing, and then suddenly-zing-you switch to an entirely different issue. If you really feel you need to talk about a difficult subject, identify it. You might think, This was the time to bring it up because things were going well. But it might actually be the worst time-you're changing the tone, and your daughter's defenses are down. She's going to feel, I never know when she's going to hit me. Then there's the spiral, where mother and daughter drive each other to ever more annoying behavior. For example, a mother calls her adult daughter to talk about how lonely she is, which makes the daughter feel guilty. The mother thinks that talking about being lonely will encourage her daughter to call more frequently, but it does the opposite. So the mother calls more often, which makes her seem even more intrusive to her daughter, who pulls back further.

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