After a long day’s work, I revised my daughter’s surah (chapter of Qur-aan) and just when I was about to give up, she paused. I mistook her long pause for her forgetting the verse of the surah, but to my amazement, she looked at me with starlit eyes and said “Mama, you are such a good teacher”. I melted but managed to asked her why she made the comment. To which she replied “Because you wait for long for me to get it right and you say it many times with me.” I felt a bit guilty but savoured the moment where my daughter thinks that her mother knows everything. Indeed there will come a time when my ‘super-intelligence’ will be doubted as she builds on her own ‘super-intelligence’ and life events.
Mother-daughter relationships are complex and diverse. Researcher Karen Fingerman, Ph.D., found that despite conflicts and complicated emotions, the mother-daughter bond is so strong that 80 percent to 90 percent of women at midlife report good relationships with their mothers—though they wish it were better. However it takes time for many to have good relationships. Linda Mintle, Ph.D, marriage and family therapist is the author of “I Love My Mother”. Below are some ways to improve the mother-daughter relationship.
1. Make the first move.
Don’t wait for the other person to make the first move, said Linda Mintle. Doing so inevitably leaves relationships stuck. “Think about how you feel in the relationship and what you can do to change.” [Waiting for a person to change first also shows that we have pride. The cardinal sin of Iblees].
2. Change yourself.
Many think that the only way to improve a relationship is for the other person to change their ways. But you aren’t chained to their actions; you can change your own reactions and responses, Mintle said. Interestingly, this can still alter your relationship.
3. Have realistic expectations.
Both moms and daughters often have idealistic expectations about their relationship. For instance, kids commonly think their mom will be nurturing and present — always. This idea can develop from an early age. When her kids were young, Mintle found herself setting up this unrealistic belief during their nightly reading time. She’d read a book about a mama bunny who rescued her son every time he ventured out and tried a risky activity, such as sailing or mountain-climbing.
Lack of communication is a common challenge with moms and daughters. “In some ways they can be so close or feel so close that they believe that each of them should know how the other one feels,” Dr. Cohen-Sandler said. Roni Cohen-Sandler, Ph.D., is a clinical psychologist, author, consultant, and lecturer who specialises in the issues of women and girls, parenting adolescents, mother-daughter relationships, and learning disorders. She is the author of three books, numerous scholarly articles in professional journals, and chapters in books on parenting. “What happens as a result is they don’t communicate.” Or they communicate harshly, in ways they’d never “dare speak to everyone else,” which causes hurt feelings that “don’t go away so easily,” she said.
Because moms and daughters aren’t mind readers, be clear and calmly state how you’re feeling. Also, speak your “mind in a very heartfelt but gentle manner.” Is your mom treating you like a child? Simply say, “Mom, you’re not treating me like an adult.” [However watch your tone. It is a great disrespect and sin to speak with your parents or elders as you would a child let alone use harsh words. Keep this hadeeth infront of you no matter what- Abu Hurayra (RadiyAllahu ‘anhu) reported that a person said: “‘Allah’s Messenger, who amongst the people is most deserving of my good treatment?’ He said: ‘Your mother, again your mother, again your mother, then your father, then your nearest relatives according to the order (of nearness).’” [Bukhari, Book 32, Number 6181]].
5. Be an active listener.
Active listening is “reflecting back what the other person is saying,” instead of assuming you already know, Cohen-Sandler said. When you reflect back what your mom or daughter is saying, you’re telling her that she’s being heard and that you understand.
Also, listen “to the feelings underlying the message,” which is often the real message, she said. If “mom says, ‘you’re acting like a doormat,’ the daughter hears that as being horribly critical and that she’s not good enough, but what the mom is really saying is, ‘I feel so protective of you because you’re not protecting yourself.’”
6. Repair damage quickly.
“One of the key principles in sustaining healthy and satisfying marriages is to repair damage quickly,” Mintle said. Healthy couples don’t avoid conflict. They realise conflict is inevitable and they deal with it head on. This applies to mother and daughter relationships, too, she said.
Not resolving conflict can have surprising consequences. “If you don’t deal with your mom (and dad) by resolving conflict, you’re going to carry those same patterns into your future relationships,” whether that’s with your friends, partner or boss, Mintle said.
“Working it out with your mom,” however, is “the best gift you can give to your daughter,” she said.
But pick your battles. If it’s not that important, “Instead of being in a tug of war, just drop the rope,” Mintle said. Case in point: Years ago, Mintle’s mom told her to put a hat on her baby so she didn’t get sick. Instead of arguing about something so small, Mintle put the hat on and moved on.
7. Put yourself in her shoes.
Mintle refers to empathy as “widening the lens.” She uses the analogy of a digital camera, which just offers us a snapshot. But a panoramic lens provides a much wider view, letting us see the object in a larger context.
If you’re a daughter, think of your mom as a woman with her “own wounds and hurts,” who was born and raised in a different generation with different values and difficult family relationships and issues, Mintle said.
As such, address your mom or daughter’s feelings with empathy and offer a compromise, Cohen-Sandler suggested. If mom really wants to hang out, instead of saying “Stop asking me, you know I’m busy,” say, “I know how much you want to meet with me, and I wish I could but I can’t do it this week; can we do it next week?”
8. Learn to forgive.
Forgiveness is “an individual act,” Mintle said. It differs from reconciliation, which takes both people and isn’t always possible. Forgiving someone isn’t saying that what happened is OK. It’s not condoning, pardoning or minimizing the impact, she said.
Mintle views forgiveness as key for well-being. “I’m constantly telling daughters you have to forgive your mom in order to be healthy.” “The power of forgiveness is really for the person who forgives.”
On a related note, “the better you can forgive, the better you can repair damage quickly,” Mintle said. [If you find this hard, throw out your musallah and perform a two rak’ah Salaat-ut-Tawbah. Cry to the One who is Most Forgiving and He will soften your heart].
9. Balance individuality and closeness.
It can be challenging for daughters to build their own identities. Sometimes daughters think that in order to become their own person, they must cut off from their moms, Mintle said. Or, quite the opposite, they’re so fused that they’re unable to make decisions without her input, she said. Both are clearly problematic.
But daughters can find their voices and identities within the relationship. We learn how to deal with conflict and negative emotions through our families, Mintle said. “You don’t grow and develop and become your own person void of relationships.”
So how can you strike a balance between staying connected and still being true to yourself? “You can take any position on any powerful issue and hold your own and not become defensive and angry. It’s this balance of connection and separateness,” Mintle said.
Mintle and her mom had a positive relationship but sometimes struggled with this balance. [My mother would always remind me to wear a jacket or sweater when it was a bit cool despite my not feeling cold at all and being 30 years old. Initially I would heave a heavy sigh and fetch a sweater and boil with heat and resentment at the same time. One day I felt it was too much. I remained composed and in a gentle tone when heard the sweater question again and replied to her, “Ma do I ever wear a sweater?”. She looked puzzled, paused a bit, then answered, “Actually I never see you with one on”. “What does that tell Ma?”, I asked. “You really never feel cold in a hurry”, she replied. To which I smiled. And she never told me to wear a sweater again and no one was hurt].
10. Agree to disagree.
Moms and daughters disagree on many topics, such as marriage, parenting and career, and they usually try to convince the other to change those opinions, Cohen-Sandler said. Moms feel threatened and rejected that their daughters are making different decisions. Daughters think their moms disapprove of them and get defensive.
Realise that there are some topics that you’ll never agree on. And that’s OK, she said. In fact, “it’s really healthy for moms and daughters to have major disagreements.” Also, don’t take “something personally that isn’t personal.”
“The bottom line is that moms and daughters can be really close but they’re not the same people. [They’re] allowed to have different interests, goals and ways of handling things.” A daughter doesn’t have to change her choices to please her mom; and mom doesn’t have to change her opinions, either.
11. Stick to the present.
Moms and daughters tend to have “an old argument that runs like a broken record in the background,” Cohen-Sandler said. It becomes their default disagreement. Instead, avoid “bring[ing] up old gripes from the past,” and try to focus on the present.
12. “Use ‘I’ statements, rather than being accusatory,”
You might say “I feel this way [or] this is how that makes me feel.” Similarly, avoid “sarcasm and facetiousness.” It’s easily misinterpreted, causes hurt feelings and takes you further away from resolution.[Mothers complain that their daughters are sarcastic yet they have used it on their daughters throughout childhood. How would a mother expect any different when she has sown those seeds?].
13. Talk about how you want to communicate.
Younger women typically don’t want to talk on the phone, said Cohen-Sandler, who often hears daughters complain that their “moms will call at the worst part of the day for them.”
Instead of harshly dismissing your mom (or ignoring her calls), communicate what works best, such as: “If you want to talk on the phone, the best time is in the morning. But if you want to reach me during the day with something more urgent, just text me.” [Now I must add that some of our mothers are technologically challenged, so texting might not be such a good idea. So when they make the call, take time to take it. Maybe just arrange when you both are available. You never know it might be the last time you hear her voice].
14. Set boundaries.
Mintle commonly sees clients who regret not trying to repair their relationships with their moms after they’re gone. Even when the relationship is negative or unhealthy, there’s still a powerful bond, she said. One way to ease into reconnecting with your mom (or daughter) is by setting clear-cut boundaries. (Boundaries are key for any healthy relationship.)
If you’re talking over the phone, Mintle gave this example of asserting yourself: “I want to talk to you and keep our relationship going but if you start to call me names or criticize me, I have to hang up the phone because that’s not healthy for me.”
Asserting yourself with your mother or daughter can spill over into other relationships. If you can create and maintain boundaries with her, then you can do this with anyone else, such as your boss or partner.
[The mother also has to realise that her married daughter lives with her husband and as such the daughter cannot do things or errands as she once could before marriage. Islam applauds service to parents but remember the husband as well and know your boundary].
15. Don’t bring in third parties.
It’s common for mothers and daughters to bring someone else into their conflict. A daughter might involve dad because mom is driving her crazy. Mom might involve another child because she feels like she can’t talk to her daughter. Either way, talk directly to the person.
Finally, ask yourself if you’re OK with your relationship and your actions.
We have to keep taking stock of ourselves first before pushing the blame on the next party. Life is short. Lets not wait for the day when we wish we had time to say that one “I love you” or I value who YOU are”, because guilt will ravage our lives and damage our relationships to those who are still alive.