The relationship between a mother and daughter is unique, and incredibly strong. So much so that eighty to ninety percent of women say they have a good relationship with their mother, despite sometimes having conflicts and complicated emotions .
A woman’s relationship with her mother can have a profound impact on her life. Her interactions with her mother as a girl can influence who she becomes as she becomes an adult, for better or for worse.
The Mother-Daughter Relationship
“Our mothers are usually the most significant, and consistent figures in our lives,” explains psychotherapist Dr Susie Orbach. “As we mature from girls into women, our smiles, voices, gestures and tastes cannot help being moulded by their influence” .
There is a scientific explanation for this bond: the mother-daughter relationship is the strongest out of all parent-child bonds because of the way their brains process emotions.
A 2016 study published in the Journal of Neuroscience found that the part of the brain that regulates emotions is more similar between mothers and daughters than any other intergenerational pairing [3,4].
This is the reason your mother always seems to be able to understand your perspective when you go to her with a problem, because she is better able to put herself in your shoes. Daughters tend to have a similar ability, which creates a strong bond between the two generations .
One study suggested that there are three dimensions to the mother-daughter relationship: connectedness, interdependency, and trust in hierarchy. The researchers determined that the strength of each of those dimensions could predict the self-esteem of the daughter. Basically, the strength and nature of the mother-daughter relationship can be incredibly positive for the daughter, but has the potential to do the opposite as well .
How to Raise a Strong Daughter
Because the relationship between mother and daughter is so powerful, it is crucial that mothers use it to raise strong, confident, independent women. Here are some tips from the experts for how you can influence your daughter for the better:
Encourage her to pursue a passion. Rachel Simmons, author of Odd Girl Out, explains that engaging in a passion will give your daughter the opportunity to grow her confidence and self-esteem by mastering challenges, and take her focus away from less-important things like appearance.
“Having a passion lets her go shoot baskets or play an instrument, for example, instead of being swept up in online drama,” she says .
Give her a voice. As much as possible, allow your daughter to make her own decisions. Even making small choices like what to wear that day, or what after-school activity she wants to participate in, will give her confidence in her own decision-making abilities. It will also give her the opportunity to try new things to discover what she’s interested in .
Have her solve her own problems. It may be tempting to want to solve all your daughter’s problems for her, but it won’t help her in the long run.
“When parents take over, girls don’t develop the coping skills they need to handle situations on their own. Ask your daughter to consider three strategies she might use to deal with a situation, and then ask her about the possible outcomes. Let her decide what she wants to do (within reason). Even if you disagree with her choice, you give your daughter a sense of control over her life and show her that she is responsible for her decisions,” says Simmons .
Be an example. Your daughter is watching everything you do, so do your best to be the type of woman you want her to become. Modelling healthy behaviour, like exercising regularly, will teach her to take care of her health and love her body. Identify the values that are most important to you and your family, and make sure you exemplify them regularly, so your daughter can follow suit [6,7].
Encourage her uniqueness. A girl’s self-esteem drops 3.5 times more than a boy’s does between elementary and high school. Encouraging your daughter’s individuality will give her the emotional tools she needs to better navigate adolescence, and later on, adulthood .
Allow her to disagree with you. You may not enjoy arguing with your daughter, but allowing her to disagree with you and creating a safe space for her to express her own opinions will help her develop the ability to stand up for herself in other situations, such as with classmates, teachers, boyfriends, and future bosses .
Guide her use of social media. As much as possible, limit your daughter’s use of social media to give her more space to develop her own opinions and ideas. As she gets older and you are less able to control the media she takes in, check in regularly with her and talk about the messages she is seeing. Help her to see the bigger picture, and talk to her about why appearances and looks do not define her value .
Praise her mistakes. Girls are inadvertently groomed to be perfect, which can often make them fearful of making a mistake. This, in turn, can dissuade them from taking a risk or trying something new. Research says that taking risks and messing up is what builds self-confidence, so whenever your daughter doesn’t quite get something, praise her for trying and encourage her to not give up.
Better yet- try an new activity together where you can both “mess up” just for the fun of it .
Allow her to express emotion. Girls learn early in life that they are supposed to take care of others’ emotions first, before their own. They often mistakenly believe that negative emotions like jealousy, anger, or insecurity need to be pushed away, and that they should always feel happy and excited.
U.S. Senator Kirsten Gillibrand credits her mother and grandmother for teaching her that negative emotions are acceptable, and how to make her voice heard.
“Emotions are an incredibly powerful tool, and we need to teach moms and girls that when you feel angry or upset, it’s a signal that something is important to you, and you should express it,” she says .
Tell her you love her. Tell her you love her no matter what she looks like, no matter her size, no matter her likes or dislikes. Listen to her opinions and let her know how much you appreciate her for who she is .
Enjoy the Powerful Woman You are Raising
The mother-daughter bond is one of the most special relationships two women can have. If you are lucky enough to have one, hold onto it, nurture it, and enjoy it. As much as two powerful women can sometimes butt heads, your connection will always bring you back together when you need each other.