The Mother-Daughter Phenomenon

The role of a mother is one of the most important roles that God has given me. I don’t take it lightly and I strive to be the best parent that I can be. As a mother to both a son and a daughter, it has caused me to reflect a lot about how I parent them. When the doctor told me and my husband that we were having a baby girl, I was super excited. Mainly because I couldn’t wait to buy up all the pink things and all the cute girl outfits that we see in stores. I didn’t see past that and the focus was on being able to comb her hair and paint her nails. And all those things are great, but I never really thought about what the relationship would be like with my daughter. I assumed it would be easy and it would be so simple to make that connection and attachment to her. And it was in the beginning. Then she started talking and having her own personality and I was like woah, what am I going to do with this? We often hear things like your daughter is going to be a daddy’s girl and your son will be mommy’s boy. To some degree, I get that, but we rarely hear of the impact of a mother-daughter relationship.

I’m in the business of attachment and the relationships between parents and children. I’ve heard many stories of mothers not being able to connect to their daughters for one reason or the other. I’ve heard of adult women saying that their relationship with their mother was good now that they are adults but was poor as children. I wondered why it was like this. In my opinion, part of the reason is that the narrative of this relationship is jaded. Somehow there is a weird understanding that we want our girls to be our best friends but that honestly can’t work when in a parent and child dynamic. Sure, as a mother, we want our girls to trust us with their innermost thoughts and to feel comfortable with sharing everything. There is nothing wrong with that, but sometimes it feels that the sacrifice is made with no longer being a parent but a friend. This can cause a lot of unnecessary dysfunction in the relationship. The best friend is often there once the daughter is an adult. On the other hand, mothers just don’t have a clue about how to connect with their daughters. This last statement had me more concerned because that has been the struggle for me. After about age 5, I was not sure on how to truly have a connection with my daughter. That made me feel ashamed and less than as a mother.

I can only speak to my own experiences and the experiences that I’ve encountered as a family therapist. One thing that I’ve noticed, especially in the African American community is that there seems to be a huge stigma with being a mother of a girl. “Oh Lord, you’re having a girl?” “Oh she’s going to give you hell”. “Good luck with that”. There are some deep-rooted feelings I’ve noticed about this relationship that aren’t always positive. As I am watching my tween grow, I’ve noticed the shift in my own relationship with her. I can be the first to admit that I don’t understand my daughter. The relationship that I have with her is not what I envisioned it would be because we are past the cute bows and pink dresses. I had to go deeper to find out why there has been such a disconnect with my daughter.

I started thinking about the relationship that I had with my own mother as a child. Let me start by saying this, I love my mother dearly! There is no blame for the relationship that I had with my mom. She has done the best that she could, and I appreciate everything that she has done for me and what she has taught me. Our relationship however was different. I felt that I was in a leadership role as a child because I had to literally be the eyes for my mother. As I think back, I noticed that there were some key things missing in the relationship and I’m not sure how it got there. My mom already faced so many challenges as an adult. She was a single parent and she had a medical condition that she had to manage her entire life. My mother has a determination unlike anyone I know. But she also struggled some just trying to be the odds stacked against her.

Of course, you never understand these things until you get much older. What I remember about my relationship with my mom is that we lacked physical affection. Though I’ve improved tremendously over the years, affection is hard for me. Also, we lacked a lot of mother-daughter communication that is necessary when you’re growing up. When you factor all these things and fast forward to me becoming a first-time mother of a baby girl, I didn’t necessarily have all the tools of what that was supposed to look like. I had the basics but the key to truly sustaining my relationship with my daughter at this age was missing. Again, it’s not her fault. It was something that I noticed as I became a parent. I had to determine within myself what I wanted to get out my relationship with my daughter so that I can create a new pattern.

I find this to be a common theme for African American mothers and daughters. It goes beyond being a teen or tween, attitudes and differing personalities. It’s generational. It’s what you were taught or not taught. Why is there such a narrative that the relationship between a mother and a daughter must be hard? Why isn’t the relationship praised as much as the relationship between the mother and son? Why is there such a fear or cautiousness when mothers learn that they are having a daughter? We must dig deep and understand the messages we have received as children. We must make sure that we repair the relationship that we have with our own mothers to ensure that we do not repeat unnecessary patterns. Having a relationship with your daughter should be celebrated and treated with the utmost importance. While her father may indeed teach her about boys and how she should be treated. It’s the mother’s role to teach her how to be a woman. She’ll be a woman first before she meets any man. It’s our job to show her what nurturing means and to celebrate her femininity. It’s our role to show her positive self esteem and to love and respect other women. It’s our role to show her what being in a relationship whether it be romantic, friendly or familial looks like.

I hear often from women that they feel broken because of an absent father, and I agree. But the absent mother hits differently and shows up in a different way when you’re an adult woman. When I say absent, I’m not only referring to a mother who is no longer in a daughter’s life physically, but a mother who didn’t have the ability or who decided that they did not want to attach to their daughter emotionally. We must begin understanding our relationships with our own mothers and repairing them in order to create a bond between our daughters. If we allow these unrepaired relationships to linger, we will be dishonoring our roles as mothers. Mothers we need to create a new phenomenon. I certainly have been working to create a better relationship with my daughter. It’s always a work in progress, but it’s possible. I don’t want to wait until my daughter is an adult to say that our relationship is the best that it’s ever been. I want that now. To all the mothers who are already doing this; I salute you!

Here are few tips to increase a new mother daughter phenomenon that represents positivity:

1. Mother-daughter dates are necessary at all ages. These special times with your daughter will create a lifetime of memories. You’re teaching your daughter that its ok to treat yourself or to have self-care. You’re teaching your daughter that you can be trusted. Mother-daughter dates don’t have to be expensive. Get creative with it!

2. Be willing to teach your daughter things that you learned as well as things you didn’t. You can’t have an expectation that your daughter knows something that she was never taught. Good Lessons go along way when it’s learned from mom and not someone else. If you recognize that your mom didn’t teach you something that you felt was valuable, you can’t miss the opportunity to teach that to your own daughter.

3. Don’t cut your mom off (unless she’s toxic-that’s another blog post). A bond between all three generations can create a lot of healing space. This may mean that you must check the jealousy spirit at the door. Your mother’s relationship with your daughter is supposed to look different. That’s her grandbaby. If she can do things differently than she was able to do with you, well that just means she has grown and learned. Invite the aunties too. You’re also displaying what community looks like and friendship.

4. Choose your daughter! It sounds like this is something that we don’t have to think about. However, I hear often that mothers have chosen other people or things rather than their child. We can’t foster an attachment if we are not physically and mentally available to do so.

Alright moms let’s be great!!

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