Growing up, a lot of us had challenging relationships with our moms. I don’t know about you, but my mom and I had fights that included slamming doors, screaming, cussing (ouch), and occasionally, throwing things across the room.
We had a lot of breakdowns.
It’s pretty normal; the mother-daughter drama. After all, mothers and daughters tend to have complicated relationships. Especially during the teen years, when the mother-daughter breakdowns seem to accelerate. But sometimes, those breakdowns can derail a relationship and cause lasting damage.
My mom and I are good now. But wow, back then, we were a hot mess. Our communication was terrible. We both had a lot of opportunities for improvement.
During my teen years in particular, I felt angry and helpless. These feelings followed me into adulthood and impacted my relationships, how I reacted to situations and how I felt about myself.
So when I learned I was pregnant with a girl, I promised myself I would do everything I could to create healthy communication with my daughter – from the beginning. And I started being very intentional about our mother-daughter relationship from the time she was very young. I wanted to raise my daughter differently.
More than anything, I wanted to build a relationship with my daughter that did not entail yelling, chaos, or fighting.
I wanted to build her up so that she had confidence, self-esteem, and knew that no matter what, she was enough.
“But how do I do it?”
That was my big question.
It terrified me. The question that was always on my mind:
“How do I raise my daughter in a way that is completely different than what I experienced?”
In talking to other moms of daughters, I’ve learned I’m not alone. I’m not the only girl-mom that worries about creating a healthy relationship.
Many mothers and daughters struggle in their communication and relationships. This can be due to a variety of reasons—everything from trauma and past hurts to personality and temperament.
I know many moms who still struggle, because they weren’t necessarily taught healthy communication. Then they simply continue the behavior they learned when they were young. They continue the pattern.
The good news is that things don’t have to stay that way. You can change how you communicate with your daughter. And you can start by changing three very common behaviors that disrupt mother-daughter communication:
Mother-Daughter Communication Behavior 1: Criticizing
Let’s be honest, all moms can be critical at times. But criticizing all – or most – of what your daughter says and does will have damaging consequences to both her self-esteem and your relationship.
Maybe you don’t like the clothes she wants to wear. Or she wants short hair, but you think she should wear it long.
You think she should lose five pounds. And you always tell her how she could be doing things better.
Regardless of the situation, when you constantly critique her, you are sending her the message that she isn’t good enough. Regular criticisms is hurtful and shuts down communication, which is the exact opposite of your goal.
If you’re in the habit of criticizing, it can be hard to stop. When you do find yourself being critical, stop and think:
Is this helpful? Or is this hurtful? If I were in her shoes, how would this make me feel?
Do you remember what it was like when your mother criticized you?
How did you react? How did it make you feel about yourself? How did it impact your self-esteem?
My guess is that it hurt.
Think back to those times before you start throwing out all of your thoughts and opinions that contradict who your daughter is and what she wants.
Helpful advice and feedback is good. But criticizing your daughter is not.
Remember she is just trying to figure out who she is. How you respond to her will shape how she feels about herself.
Mother-Daughter Communication Behavior 2: Controlling
Often, moms tend to project their own issues and needs onto their daughters. At times, it can seem as if the daughter is a project and not a person.
Do you find that there are times you care excessively about appearances, expect perfection, or try to push and mold the daughter into who you want her to be versus who she truly is at heart?
Controlling behavior on the part of the mother deters daughters from understanding who she really is and being able to think and act on her own.
Likewise, it can lead to strong rebellion she doesn’t feel she can just be herself and be loved and accepted for who she is. (Ask me how I know.)
One question to ask yourself when it comes to communicating with your daughter: Are you treating her as a reflection of yourself and how you want others to see you? Or are you giving her space and freedom to figure out who she is?
Be honest. If you’re worried about how your daughter appears, talks, and acts because you’re worried about “impressions,” then you could be sending your daughter the wrong message.
She needs to know she is free to be herself without worrying about what other people think of her (or you).
Mother-Daughter Communication Behavior 3: Shaming
Sometimes, moms use shaming when communicating with their daughters. Why? Because shame is an effective tool to manage others.
Shaming others gets people to do what you want and, in that moment, having your way can feel pretty darn good.
Shame can be subtle (is that what you’re going to wear?) or outright (you shouldn’t wear that!).
Sure, she’ll get the message either way: you don’t like what she’s wearing. But the problem with using shame to communicate is that it hurts your daughter and damages your relationship with her.
If you find yourself shaming your daughter, take a timeout and apologize.
You might say something like, “You know what? It’s not my business what you wear. What matters is that you feel good about yourself in that outfit. I’m sorry if I made you feel bad. I think you’re awesome and I love you.”
And then you can ask yourself, why is it so important for your daughter to wear/do/be what you think she should?
What is hindering you from letting her truly be herself, as long as she’s being appropriate and respectful?
A Final Note About Communicating with Your Daughter
If you’ve been using any of these three methods to communicate with your daughter, it can feel difficult to change your communication style at first.
It’s true what they say: Old habits die hard. It’s especially hard if you grew up witnessing these kind of communication methods, whether with your own mom, or even between your mom and her mother.
Those generational patterns stick, for sure. But if you want to create a strong mother-daughter relationship, it’s up to you to be mindful and intentional about how you talk to your daughter.
Keep working on it and soon you’ll be reaping the benefits of a better mother-daughter relationship and healthier communication.