Gabrielle mounts the stairs of her suburban home, weary from the activity of the day. Her daughter Amelia needs her, and that’s enough to make her take the first step. She sits on Amelia’s bed and asks how she’s doing. After a few false starts, Amelia shares her struggles while her mom listens and offers comfort.When she leaves Amelia’s room, Gabrielle understands afresh how important her role is in her daughter’s life. She remembers how few times her own mother mounted the stairs, and when she did, how it meant scolding, not comfort. “I have a gaping mother-shaped hole in my heart,” Gabrielle confesses, “Even so, I’m choosing to be the mother my mom never was. I don’t want my daughter to have that same hole. But it’s not easy.”
Facing mother/daughter conflict.
The mother-daughter relationship can be beautiful, problematic, and mysterious. Even so, it’s vitally important.
Brenda Waggoner, a licensed counselor and author of The Velveteen Woman, believes a mother’s role “is crucial in providing a foundation for her daughter’s emotional well-being and healthy relationships.”
But what happens when the relationship suffers? How can a mother and daughter resolve conflict?
The apostle Paul gives much-needed advice: “If possible, on your part, live at peace with everyone” (Rom. 12:18, HCSB). He tells us to speak the truth in love (Eph. 4:15). Though we shouldn’t push if the other person isn’t willing to discuss issues, there are times when a door is opened for mothers and daughters to address their problems together. When this happens, try these healthy approaches to difficult conversations.
Sift out molehills from mountains.
Russ Veenker, pastoral counselor of the Mountain Learning Center, calls molehills “personality eccentricities that can be forgiven without confronting — they are not necessarily sin issues. Mountains are monumental issues of deep hurts.” He cautions moms and daughters to let go of the molehills in order to focus on bigger issues.
Katy has learned to give her mother’s propensity for forgetfulness a lot of mercy and grace rather than lose her temper the way she used to. She now treats it as a molehill rather than a mountain of hurt. In fact, they laugh about it together, and Katy has learned to love her mother through her forgetfulness.
Dealing with monumental mother-daughter issues, such as abuse, addictions, or abandonment, may mean involving the help of a professional counselor. But dealing with these issues is crucial to your well-being and emotional health.
See yourself clearly.
Before discussing mother-daughter issues, spend alone time with God, asking Him to show you the areas in your own life that need some work (Matt. 7: 3-5). One day God gave Helen, whose daughter Casey suffers from a mental condition, special insight into impatience.
“Because of issues growing up with a handicapped brother, I didn’t have a lot of patience,” Helen confesses. “I attached motive to [Casey’s] behavior and felt like it was something she was [intentionally] doing to me. God gave me special eyes to see how my daughter suffered — how her mind wasn’t necessarily attached to her outward behavior. He gave me the grace to talk to her about the lies she heard in her mind. Now we pray every night about the lies and the love of God, and I tell her in each prayer how special she is in God’s sight.”
Not only has their relationship been transformed, but Casey’s mental condition also has improved.
Find a good time and place.
Before you have a heart-to-heart discussion with your mom or daughter, find a place with few distractions. Switch off your cell phone. If you’re uncomfortable sitting face to face, consider taking a walk. Setting a specific time and place allows for the optimal opportunity to really talk.
Say a prayer before you begin.
Confess your own sins and ask God to bring insight, grace, and peace into your conversation. Sue Harrell, a licensed marriage and family therapist, adds, “Pray together that God will reveal to both of you what the core issues are and illumine your minds as to how He wants to work in your lives.”
Listen, Listen, Listen.
The best gift you can give your mother or daughter is active listening. Strive to really hear the other person, discerning how she has been hurt or grieved. Do your best to exercise self-control, remembering Ephesians 4:26: “Be angry and do not sin” (HCSB). Waggoner counsels, “Hard discussions can’t be productive if emotions are out of control.”
Repeat what you’ve heard.
Don’t immediately share what’s on your heart. Instead, re-state what the other person told you. Suzanne sought to understand her mother during a difficult conversation. “I wrote a series of brutally honest poems about the woman I saw my mom to be. I let her read those poems, uncertain of what she would say or do. We had a long talk afterwards. ‘Do you see me that way?’ she asked. I responded ‘Yes.’ Then she told me her side of the stories I relayed in my poems. I didn’t know my mother until that day, that conversation. It took her willingness to show me who she was rather than getting upset about my honesty — a great moment for us.”
What if it doesn’t work? What if things don’t work out the way you envision them? What if the conflict becomes even more tangled? How do you continue if your mother-daughter relationship remains broken? The following wisdom can help you keep things in perspective:
• Even though you’ve done everything to be at peace, remember that reconciliation is a two-way street. Rest in what you’ve been able to do, and set appropriate boundaries in the present.
• Remember that Jesus experienced conflict-ridden relationships as well.
Conflict is a normal part of life.
• Keep a sense of humor. Instead of cataloging your mother’s faults (or your daughter’s), remember your own struggles. Break the tension you’re experiencing with laughter.
• When things are rocky on the home front, cast yourself into the arms of fellow Christians who can help to shoulder your hurt.
Working through mother-daughter issues is a difficult but rewarding task with generational implications. Waggoner sees that “the potential good in a mother and daughter working through their issues is limitless. The effects of removing unhealthy and destructive emotional patterns will impact generations to come.”
Gabrielle agrees. “I have a vital, deep relationship with my daughter today, something I longed for with my own mother. I’m so thankful God opened my eyes to the importance of pursuing the heart of my daughter, and I pray she’ll do the same when she has daughters of her own.”
NOTE: Some names have been changed to protect privacy.