Being a mom is hard. It's not just the laundry and carpooling and picking up toys and never having enough time in the day to do it all -- it's also the constant feeling that everything you're doing (or not doing) is in some way scarring your child for life. According to new research, that feeling may not be unfounded -- especially when it comes to daughters.
A recent study from the University of Georgia found that, even more than other family dynamics, the mother-daughter relationship determines a girl's future relationship skills and self-esteem. When mothers are overly critical, their daughters are more likely to have poor social skills and unhealthy attitudes toward eating, compared with girls with more supportive moms.
The finding is not entirely surprising, says lead researcher Analisa Arroyo, PhD. "We've long known that children's sense of self-value and self-image are strongly influenced by messages sent by parents," she says. "But I think this study raises awareness of the mother's role in daughters' self-views, social competence, and mental health."
Suzanne Degges-White, PhD, agrees. She's the author of Mothers and Daughters: Living, Loving, and Learning Over a Lifetime. "The mother-daughter relationship is important in a multitude of ways," she says. "Essentially, it's a female's first experience of an intimate relationship, and through this relationship we learn about trust, about separation and connection, about putting another's needs ahead of our own, and about who we are as individuals."
So how can you ensure a strong mother-daughter bond, one that gives your daughter a good foundation for healthy relationships -- both with others and herself? It's all about communication. Experts offer these tips.
Focus on the positive. Try to make most conversations constructive, rather than critical, Arroyo says. For example, instead of pointing out something she's wearing that you don't like, point out something you do: "The color of that shirt looks great on you!" And it's not just about appearance. "When your daughter makes a bad decision -- which she's bound to do -- don't focus on the error of her ways. Focus on helping her enhance her decision-making skills in the future," says Degges-White.
Stop talking about weight. In our culture, we're conditioned to bemoan our own bodies as well as criticize others'. "Instead of making weight the focus of your conversations, focus on being healthy, strong, and/or fit," Arroyo says. And even if you're not talking directly to your daughter, she will pick up on and learn from what you say to yourself and others.
"If you raise your daughter with unconditional love, mutual respect, healthy boundaries, and realistic expectations, she will always find her way back to your arms and your heart, no matter how far afield she seems to wander." -- Suzanne Degges-White, PhD
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