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6 Causes of Mother-Daughter Conflict and How to Avoid Them

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As the mother of three daughters, I experienced plenty of mother-daughter conflict over the years. Sometimes it felt impossible to communicate without tempers flaring. I couldn’t let go of the unrealistic expectations I had for them. And they, in turn, didn’t want to hear anything I had to say.

The most effective (yet most difficult) shift happened when I realized my girls are not an extension of me. It was a game-changer. What if you could get to the bottom of what really causes your fights? You can. Moms and daughters both contribute. Here are 6 common causes of mother-daughter conflict and how to work through it.

1. Mom’s afraid her daughter will make the same mistakes she did.

Suzanne married a volatile alcoholic whose unpredictable behavior wreaked havoc in her life until she’d had enough and left him. Fearing their daughter Emma will marry someone like her father, Suzanne controls every aspect of her life. Emma hasn’t given Suzanne any reason to mistrust her. She doesn’t need Suzanne to fearfully watch over her. She needs Suzanne to see her for who she is and not as the insecure teenager Suzanne was in high school.

Let go of your regrets so you can allow your daughter to live her own life. Don’t be afraid to share honestly about mistakes you made, but remember that she is a different person from you. She will ask you for advice if you listen to her and empower her to make decisions. 

2. Mom’s trying to live her life through her daughter.

Maggie wanted to be an architect but her father pressured her to get a degree in accounting. So Maggie has worked as a CPA for 17 years and has never felt fulfilled. She pressures her daughter Hayden to pursue an architecture degree. Hayden is afraid she will disappoint her mother if she tells her she has no interest in designing buildings. She keeps her dreams to herself and grows bitter with her mom.

Moms love to share the passions of their youth with their daughters. And it’s disappointing when daughters don’t share that same love. In those cases, use the moment as an opportunity to ask your daughter to share what her own passions are. Let go of the lost opportunities and choose to look forward to watching your daughter become her own person.

3. Mom projects her personal expectations onto her daughter.

Luanne has a hard-driving personality and loves accomplishing goals. She’s currently training for a triathlon. Her daughter Meagan is soft-spoken and likes to read. She resents her mom for being on her case about her lack of physical activity. She wishes her mom would just appreciate her for who she is and can’t wait to get out of the house.

What’s best for you may not be what’s best for your daughter. She’s more apt to respond to your help or advice if she senses that you don’t want her to be a carbon copy of you. Girls have so many expectations placed on them by society; your daughter needs to know she is loved by you just as she is.

4. Daughter doesn’t think she can get Mom’s approval or live up to her expectations.

Allison is a typical teenage girl who leaves clothes all over the floor and avoids chores. Her mom, Barbara, constantly harps on her to “be responsible,” reminding her of what hasn’t been done. But Allison thinks her room is clean enough as it is. Barbara can’t stop nagging her, so Allison rebels more. Most of their communication is spent in conflict.

We’ve all dealt with kids who avoid their responsibilities and it’s a major source of mother-daughter conflict. What they need instead of nagging is consistent consequences without anger. When they do something right, make sure you affirm them because they need to know that they are not a  constant disappointment.

5. Daughter’s afraid she’ll turn out like Mom.

Sophia hates that her mom, Debbie, has never been able to stand up for herself in a conflict. She feels like she lets people walk all over her. Sophia sometimes verbally pushes her mom just to see if she can get her to push back. In her quest not to be like her mother, she acts aggressive and disrespectful.

Often, in their immaturity, kids try to communicate what they feel with inappropriate actions. They need correction, but they also need to be asked about what they’re feeling. It’s difficult for anyone to share their feelings in the heat of the moment, so you may need to ask at another time. A good question to ask is, “Is there something I’m doing that makes you angry?”

6. Daughter tries to be the source that meets Mom’s emotional needs.

Hannah’s dad works a lot and her mom, Becky, is lonely. Becky and Hannah have always been close. As Hannah has gotten older, Becky has started to share her adult-sized fears, frustrations, and pain. Hannah is mature for her age and she gives her mom advice. She withholds her own emotional needs and has developed anxiety. The role reversal is too much pressure for her to carry.

Regardless of a child’s emotional maturity, kids can’t handle a parent’s emotional needs. They need to be able to lean on the parent instead. Parents need to find a peer, pastor, or counselor to talk to about fears, frustrations, and pain. You don’t have to pretend that everything is OK when it isn’t, but children shouldn’t be your confidant.

What do you think is at the root of the mother-daughter conflict in your home?

ASK YOUR CHILD...

What is one thing you would change about our relationship to make it better?

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