Mother says, “You’ve done something different with your hair.”
Daughter hears, “Your hair looks awful.”

Even in the happiest of relationships, there is one consistent communication issue between mothers and daughters. Mothers give advice; daughters hear disapproval. An innocent remark becomes searing napalm when delivered by a mother! Daughters feel criticized. They may avoid their mothers. Mothers can feel shut out of their daughters’ lives. The dance of discontent ensues. Obviously, this issue plays out differently in each mother-daughter relationship.

Father- son, father-daughter and mother-son relationships trigger no such struggle. In fact, mothers may experience jealousy over the hero worship or closeness the daughter demonstrates for the father. Linguist Deborah Tannen, author of You’re Wearing THAT?, documents three areas in which almost all mothers feel compelled to give advice to grown daughters: (1) hair, (2) clothing and (3) weight. Ironically, daughters, while resenting this advice, feel free to give advice on the same Big 3 to their mothers!

Even among daughters and mothers who rate their relationship as excellent there is a struggle to find the right balance between closeness and distance.  A daughter wants to be seen and valued for who she is. The mother has “defined” who she is by becoming the mother. The daughter must exist apart from her mother; yet she seeks her mother’s approval. Our need for validation and approval from our mother is a life-long quest. Some people seek it even after their mothers are departed from earth,

Many women comment that their mothers don’t even know who they are, much less understand them. Our mothers have their own notions of what is important for their daughters and it may not match the daughter’s interests or abilities. The mother longs for an “easy” relationship with her daughter. Mothers generally long for more contact with daughters than they are receiving. Each may see the other as falling short of who she “should” be.

A daughter’s most dreaded moment is when she catches herself looking, sounding or acting “just like my mother”. A mother’s most dreaded moment is when she realizes that flaws in the daughter might be genetic! The mother quickly determines that the deficient genes are from the father’s side, of course!

What is a Mother to Do?

  • Affirm or compliment your daughter frequently. Give approval where you can.
  • Use greeting cards, e-mail, notes, etc. to reinforce your spoken approval.
  • Be clear that you are approving the person, if not the behavior or choice.
  • Give your daughter the freedom to be her own person separate from you.

What is a Daughter to Do?

  • Keep in touch with your mother to assure her of her importance to you.
  • Use e-mail/text to stay in touch when time does not permit two-way conversation.
  • Schedule activities with your mother so you can connect by doing, as well as talking.
  • If your mother’s advice insults you, discuss it with her. You may be pleasantly surprised.

Remember that each of you longs for the understanding and approval of the other!

Anne Murray, all rights reserved

Permission to reprint must include the following contact information and attribution: Anne Murray, the Fun Speaker! 1021 Fairway ST, Bowling Green KY 42103, (270) 781-3677,