My world is one of mothers and daughters. I grew up as the eldest of four girls. My mother was an only daughter to her mother. My grandmother was the eldest of three girls. I too have only daughters. So, I should be an expert on the subject. The truth is, however, that the more I learn, the more I realize I don’t know about the complex world of mothers and daughters. On my 40th birthday my mother presented me with a beautifully embroidered cushion upon which was written “a daughter is just a little girl who grows up to be a friend.” And that just about sums up our relationship. My mother is my best friend. Her mother was her best friend until age forced them to switch roles and my mother became her mother’s caregiver. My great grandmother lived with my grandparents until she died at the age of 94. It should come as no surprise then, that I fully anticipate that my daughters and I will continue to grow as friends. Already, I see signs of special relationships. I do not shudder at the thought of my 12 year old entering her teen years. Instead, I see this period as an opportunity to strengthen our relationship. Already she says that I am her confidante and best friend – the person she likes to talk to the most. I consider this the ultimate compliment from someone her age. My four year old is following in her footsteps. She’s the first to offer me an ice pack for a headache and will often tell me that that she’s so lucky to have me as her mom.
However, I do acknowledge that as time passes, each of my daughters may relate to me in very different ways and perceive me differently too. As much as I define my mother as my best friend, my three sisters do not. Why is it that daughters, all growing up in the same environment with the same mother, see her from such different perspectives? There may be several reasons. First is birth order. An oldest child would have had the opportunity to know her mother without other children around. In my case, the relationship that developed between me and my mother may have caused my siblings to feel excluded. A youngest child may see her mother from the perspective of caregiver for longer than her siblings especially if her mother has tried to extend her childhood for as long as possible. I see that mothers often relate best to the child who shares her own birth position. For example, a middle born mother might understand her daughter’s angst at not getting the attention that an older and younger child often receives. Along with birth order, I believe that the temperament of both mother and daughter play a major role in influencing the success of their relationship. A mother who is inflexible, for example, may clash with a child who is also quite stubborn. On the other hand, a mother who is tolerant and patient may do well with a daughter who is more demanding.
It seems that mothers and daughters, regardless of temperament, go through more emotionally charged exchanges than do mothers and sons. Often during the pre teen or teen years, daughters become aware of not such nice feelings towards their mothers. Comments from daughters of this age group have included “my mother is so bossy. I hate it when she tells me what to do all the time,” and “my mother thinks she’s so cool. I wish she wouldn’t pretend to be a teenager. I feel that she’s competing with me.” Competition can be an issue at this age as teens, often as tall as their mothers, and intent on sharing their mother’s makeup and clothes, get into struggles over appropriate dress and issues around independence. Beyond the teenage years, daughters often resent “turning into” their mothers as they hear the echo of their mother’s words uttered from their own lips – words they swore they would never say. Often, the relationship between mothers and daughters can be one of love and hate.
One grandmother to whom I spoke recently, was astounded to realize that she really did not like one of her two daughters. She said that at a certain point in their lives, their relationship shifted from caregiver and child to that of peers. It was then that she pulled back, realizing that if not for being her child, she would have nothing much in common and nothing much to do with her. When speaking to mothers of younger daughters, especially those that are raising sons too, it’s interesting to note the various responses. One Aurora mother of two young daughters and a son, feels that girls are more emotionally complex and more moody than boys. Despite this, she feels that she can relate more to her girls, that they enjoy more of the same activities and like to cuddle and giggle more than her son does. Another Thornhill mother of two teenage girls and a tween son feels more connected to her son than her daughters. She says that her son is far more forgiving than her girls following an argument, more affectionate towards her and she believes that later in life, he will likely be more of a caregiver to her than her girls will. However, she says that she does have more of a friendship with her girls and that she has more in common with them than she does with her son. She believes, however, that the dynamics between them may have more to do with their individual temperaments than to do with their gender differences.
And what about the way in which daughters see their mothers treat their grandmothers? The Thornhill mother to whom I spoke acknowledges that her bond with her own mother is not very strong and that she is not very patient with her. In fact, her eighteen year old daughter has asked her to be more patient towards her grandmother. I do believe that the quality of a mother’s relationship with her daughter is in part dependent on how mothers and daughters have related through the generations.
So, is it good fortune, role modeling, position in the family, temperament or work that creates a special bond between daughters and their mothers. I’d say that it’s a bit of everything. And a little bit of good luck thrown in for good measure.