Tangled Vines: The Mother-Daughter Connection

Learn how a mother and daughter's relationship differs from a mother and son's relationship.

Lives of mothers and daughters are intertwined in a way that is different than mothers and sons. The authors of The Motherhood Report: How Women Feel About Being Mothers (Louis Genevie, Ph.D., and Eva Margolies, McGraw Hill, 1988) wrote that the mother-daughter bond may be closer than mother-son because there is a greater expectation of permanency. There is no reason that young women have to give their mothers up as the number one woman in their life like men do.

Terri Apter, a psychologist who studied mothers and daughters and wrote the well-respected book, Altered Loves: Mothers and Daughters During Adolescence (Ballantine Books, 1991), believes that boys work to sever relationships in order to achieve autonomy; girls, on the other hand, struggle to redefine them. The distinction, Apter says, is significant. Autonomy means to be able to take care of oneself and at the same time remain emotionally connected. Despite the difference or the presence of a continued emotional connection, achieving this type of separation can be difficult and full of stress and strain.

A variety of other experts say here's why it gets sticky:

  • The mother-daughter relationship is dynamic and always changing.
  • The normal growth process is an ongoing pattern of pulling and pushing in and out of dependence and independence.
  • The way the youthful struggle is handled, particularly during teen years, may extend through the college years and provide the future basis for adult interaction.
  • A mother's own sense of self is critical to being able to successfully and healthily separate from her daughter and free herself to achieve her own identity.
  • The biological connection between mother and child affects the process of separation. A child's bid for autonomy can cause a twinge in a mother's mind and body and feel like a pound of flesh being taken away.
  • Autonomy can be bittersweet for the mother.
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