My mother and I have worked hard to create the amazing relationship we have today. She truly is my best friend and looking back I can see she did her best to raise her four children, as I am doing my best to raise my three children. That didn’t stop me from blaming her for absolutely everything during my teenage years, especially when she used to nag me.
“Turn the lights off.”
“Eat your dinner.”
“Do your homework.”
“Look after your brother.”
In our parenting podcast This Glorious Mess, teenager Grace Halphen wrote to Aussie celebrities asking for their extraordinary advice. Article continues after this video.
Now there’s a study that claims “nagging mums” (thanks Mum!) result in more successful daughters. The study by the University of Essex in England found girls with nagging mothers are more likely to go on to tertiary education, earn more, are less likely to be unemployed, will partner with someone successful and are less likely to fall pregnant outside of a steady relationship.
Does this mean all mums have to become naggers, or is this an excellent reason to continue to blame our mothers for our failures well beyond our teenage years. Because we don’t torture them enough…
“WHY DID YOU SUPPORT AND NURTURE ME SO MUCH. I AM A COMPLETE FAILURE BECAUSE OF YOU.”
“The key word is boundaries,” says Dr. Amanda Mullin, Doctor of Clinical Psychology/Clinical Psychologist and Director of Mindworx Psychology.
Here are 7 types of mother-daughter relationships and tips on how to navigate them.
Type 1: BEST FRIENDS
It's the age-old dilemma. You want to be best friends with your daughter but you also need to parent her. Often a "best friends" relationship is something to aspire to when you are both older. When your daughter is young, she needs you more for your guidance and parenting than for your friendship. Still, it's something to work towards.
Even Lorelai Gilmore in iconic TV show Gilmore Girls knew when to reel Rory in. They were best friends but they were mother and daughter first. The danger with prioritising a friendship with your daughter is that she could RUN WILD.
Dr. Mullin says it's perfectly fine to love your mum and to enjoy each other's company, but your mother's role is as a supportive parent, not as a best friend.
Separating from parents is a crucial task of growing up, and developing healthy boundaries and a variety of relationships is part of this. Encouraging each other to have other friends and interests that are separate from your relationship will enrich the mother-daughter relationship, giving it space to breathe and reducing pressure.
Type 2: MANAGER-MANAGED
Perhaps we shouldn't look to the Kardashians as a "good" example of this type of relationships. Millions of dollars, fame and success aside, these types of relationships have issues. Just ask Brooke Shields and Honey Boo Boo. Managing your child can make for a fraught relationship, particularly if your child ends up becoming incredibly successful. It's no fun riding on your child's coat tails.
Dr. Mullin says mothers like this are often narcissists who have little respect for personal boundaries.
Many narcissist mothers encourage or demand their daughter to achieve, and the Kardashians family is often used as an example of shameless exploitation of the family on reality television. These mothers are often concerned with appearances and the opinions of others, creating a fragile emotional connection with her daughter, who are only accepted when they follow instructions. Acknowledging the mother may lack empathy, the solution is to develop strong boundaries, something that is may be made difficult by the mother’s use of guilt or withdrawal of affection to achieve compliance.
Type 3: NAGGER-NAGGEE
Researcher Ericka Rascon-Ramirez told The Daily Mail that daughters who attempt to live up to their mother's expectations can achieve a great deal. "In many cases we succeeded in doing what we believed was more convenient for us, even when this was against our parents’ will. But no matter how hard we tried to avoid our parents’ recommendations, it is likely that they ended up influencing, in a more subtle manner, choices that we had considered extremely personal.
Dr. Mullin says you have to be careful not to spoil the relationship by nagging.
Nagging can spoil relationships. Recognising that nagging often comes from a place of love, and sometimes fear can help minimise frustration. Try phrases such as “I hear you are concerned for me”, whilst appreciating that mothers and daughters are allowed to have different values and ways of handling things.
Type 4: ROLE REVERSAL
Poor Nina Proudman, the true matriarch of the Proudman family, being pulled in all directions including that of her stunted mother Geraldine who seems intent on remaining youthfully irresponsible as long as possible. This can put a lot of pressure on a daughter who might seem at a loss when it comes to someone to turn to when they need help. Nina has Billie, and for those daughters without siblings there can often be an aunt or a best friend.
Dr. Mullin says role reversal mother-daughter relationships are different from caring for ageing parents, with many daughters finding caring for an aging parent to be "rewarding, and a chance to give back".
Psychologists call this role reversal parentification, where children sacrifice their own needs to care for the parent. Daughters may grow up to be angry, forming a love/hate relationship with their mother who they feel responsible for. It’s important to recognise this subtle type of damaging behaviour, and to set appropriate boundaries that allow the daughter to begin to meet her own needs, which may include letting herself be supported.
Type 5: INTRUSIVE MUCH
Micro-managing every single second of your child's life, without the official role of mumanger, can leave a daughter craving nurturing and unconditional love and support. It's all well and good while they are achieving, but what can they expect from you when they are failing or flailing?
I often think of how birds raise their babies, pushing them out of the nest in order to teach them to fly. If we micro-manage our children, how will they ever learn to fend for themselves? What will they do when we are no longer able to look after them?
Dr. Mullin says overbearing and intrusive mothers often come from a place of love.
The controlling behaviour is presented as being for the daughter’s own good, but the message is that the daughter is inadequate, and would fail without her mother’s involvement. Emotionally unavailable mothers can lead daughters to feel clingy and insecure. These mothers often withdraw emotionally when challenged, leaving the daughter in a no win situation.
Type 6: NURTURER-NURTURED
The Crawley family, proof you can be loved, nurtured and supported without regular hugs and other forms of bodily contact. All you need is a house big enough to fit all of you and staff that frees your time up enough to be there for your children. Who doesn't want to nuture and support their children as much and as often as possible. This is why I stayed at home for so long, moving out at the late age of 26. Just knowing my mum was around was enough for me. Instead of having to seek her out to talk about something I'd just bump into her and it would all come spilling out.
Dr. Mullin says having a supportive, caring mother can be delightful but challenging.
It’s important to check in on our communication styles, and check whether we are taking too passive – or too authoritarian a role. Being a good listener to can often be better for relationships than giving advice. Many women in the role of the daughter behave passively, then get angry later. Although you may not be able to change your mother, you can change your own role in the conversation from childlike or passive to a more assertive stance. Gentle humour is often useful in changing relationship dynamics.
Type 7: CAN'T EVEN/ESTRANGED OR SHOULD BE
The younger generation wouldn't be familiar with the story of actress Joan Crawford and her horrific "relationship" with daughter Christina which became the disturbing movie Mommy Dearest. These days toxic relationships between mothers and daughters can take many shapes and forms and it often takes adulthood before a daughter can recognise how damaging the relationship is and maybe even longer to find the strength to move on.
Dr. Mullin says daughters are hardwired to love their mothers but when the relationship isn't working, it can feel overwhelming.
It’s important to be okay with your own actions in the relationship. Simply avoiding contact isn’t always best, as many women later regret the loss of the relationship. Avoiding, seeking reassurance, getting angry or feeling emotionally overwhelmed are signs that boundaries may be an issue. Sometimes we cannot change the music, but we can choose how to dance. We can change our own reactions and responses, and in doing so we have the power to change our relationships. Understanding what’s going wrong, asserting yourself, and setting healthy boundaries can be the beginning of healthy change.
Dr Amanda Mullin is an Doctor of Clinical Psychology, with extensive and specialist training in Clinical Psychology. Contact Dr. Mullin on 0283553634 or visit her website at mindworxpsychology.com.au.