This tug-of-war can go for decades, with the daughter shrinking and possibly going no-contact for a while, only to be drawn back into the maelstrom by a mix of her neediness, hopefulness, and denial. The constant stress can lead to illness, especially depression, which many daughters suffer from.
Daughters of unsympathetic or neglectful parents often receive little guidance on how to behave or communicate with their families. Without understanding why they are treated as they are, daughters may believe that it is their fault that they were not loved by their mothers. This can cause them to try and win their parents' love by behaving in a certain way—usually through success in school or work—but this will never succeed because it was not meant to be this way.
If you are the daughter of an absent or unreliable parent, you should know that you are not alone. Many women have told me they feel like orphans because their parents had another family they could not hurt so they gave up trying to get close to them. I understand this kind of parenting strategy well because my mother was like this too. When I would ask her why she didn't get angry when my father acted like this or say something about it, she would just laugh and tell me that people do these things for reasons known only to them.
Researchers discovered a pattern in the confrontations between mothers and their adolescent daughters. She believes she is being investigated for wrongdoing and refuses to consider the possibility that her mother is just interested in her life. Tensions mount on both sides, and a conflagration is unavoidable. The fight serves as a release for both mother and daughter.
The reason mothers and teenage daughters fight is because they need to let off some steam. When you're a mother and your daughter becomes a woman, there are many changes that happen inside you as well as out in the world. You have to let go of your baby girl when she goes to school or gets married. However, it's difficult because you want what's best for her. Sometimes, mothers get so involved in their children's lives that they forget how young women act. They think that because their daughter isn't going crazy, she must be okay with all this attention.
Mothers and teenage daughters need to talk about these issues every now and then. If something is wrong, tell them how you feel about it. Fighting isn't the only way to communicate, but it does help.
When we talk about difficulties in the mother-daughter relationship, we normally focus on adolescence, which is widely regarded as the most difficult stage. Little attention is devoted to a second, more arduous transition: the daughter's maturation into an adult. However, even before adolescents become mothers themselves, they find it difficult to accept their mothers' decisions and tend to disregard their advice.
The most difficult time for the mother-daughter relationship is when the young woman is still living at home and therefore under her control. This period usually begins just after puberty, when the girl starts to assume her identity as an independent person. She wants to follow her own dreams instead of her parents' expectations. And since her mother plays a major role in defining these expectations, the daughter feels compelled to reject some of them or to change them to suit herself. For example, she may want to go to college rather than marry right out of high school. Or she may feel that working outside the home is necessary if she is not to be a burden to her family.
These are only examples. The daughter will feel free to express her opinions and desires, but only if they do not threaten her relationship with her mother.
At first, this new autonomy is not a bad thing. It is when it becomes a compulsion that problems arise.
The sorrow of those daughters who continue in the relationship exactly because they think they would feel worse after their mothers die reveals the depth of the basic issue. "If I cut her off and she dies, I'm afraid I'll feel even more anguish than I do now," Meg says. The fact is that mothers have never stopped loving their children; what's changed is that they can't physically be with them. They're not withholding their love, just as food is not eaten because it is withheld.
Daughters remain in such relationships for many reasons, some logical and others not. For example, they may believe that their mothers will be angry if they break up with their fathers. Or they may fear their mothers won't care for them if they leave.
Sometimes a daughter stays in the relationship longer than she should because she doesn't want to hurt her mother's feelings. This is an unwise decision because it prevents her from taking care of herself. A relationship with an unloving mother is not a healthy one and therefore cannot provide true satisfaction.
Daughters need to understand that their mothers aren't intentionally trying to hurt them. If anything, their mothers are trying to protect them. It's just that they can only do so much within the limits of their own pain.
None of us are immune to our parents' issues; we all have wounds that we carry inside us.