The mother-daughter connection is like none other. It’s an intense, special bond that is instrumental in the lives of both. Sadly, it can also be complex, challenging, and even toxic. A dysfunctional mother-daughter relationship can adversely affect both parties for the rest of their lives.
If you’re struggling to reap a fulfilling bond with your daughter, here are some loving ways to connect and stay strong.
Remember to have a great relationship with yourself
When you’re trying to improve your connection with other people, it’s easy to focus on the negative behaviors and habits of the person you seek to change. Have you noticed that when you’re in conflict with someone you automatically analyze their shortcomings and annoying habits? There’s no way you’d snap your gum as loudly as that know-it-all PTA mom, right?
If you want to connect with people wholeheartedly, you need to accept yourself wholeheartedly first. And that’s especially true if you want to build a better relationship with your daughter.
If you want to connect with people wholeheartedly, you need to accept yourself wholeheartedly first.
Before you attempt to repair or strengthen your mother-daughter relationship, do some soul-searching. Honestly assess how you feel about yourself. What are your goals and values? How’s your self-esteem and self-care? Do you take time to nurture your own mind, body, and soul?
As busy mothers, we can easily forget our own needs. That can lead to feelings of resentment and negativity. PsychCentral’s article How to Build a Healthy Relationship with Yourself Every Day offers some helpful tips to cultivate a loving sense of self. Personal life coach Stephanie Kang recommends tuning in to our inner chatter as a way to stay true to ourselves.
Starting to notice this is a great first step because it is often so unconscious. … Once we become more aware of how we relate to ourselves, we can reflect on what effect it’s having, and how we want to change.
Encourage and develop your daughter’s emotional education
The first step toward strengthening your child’s ability to manage strong relationship emotions is to teach her to identify and understand them. Emotional intelligence refers to the ability to identify and manage one’s own emotions, as well as those of others. It’s extremely important when fostering your relationship with your daughter.
In a previous episode, I interviewed author Mallika Chopra, daughter of spiritual guru Deepak Chopra, about the immense stress today’s young people endure in their daily lives. Her popular book, Just Feel: How to Be Stronger, Happier, Healthier, and More is a full-color, illustrated guide for kids ages 8-12 that gives them the tools to build resilience and overcome their daily pressures.
Kids need to know that their feelings are potent and affect both their mood and choices.
Mallika is passionate about teaching our kids that their emotions, whether happy or sad, are normal and that they shouldn’t suppress them. A key takeaway from my interview was that kids need to know that their feelings are potent and affect both their mood and choices. Her book provides mindful exercises that show kids how to identify their feelings, express them, and make good choices. Putting these strategies into action will help them develop independence, grit, and inner strength.
One way that I stay connected to my daughters is to use a tool I learned years ago called a “spontaneous check-in.” I find random occasions to stop what I’m doing and check in with them to see how their day is going, or to follow-up with a question I asked that may not be resolved yet. The key is to be totally engaged. Leave multi-tasking behind when you check in.
My college daughter is always busy with studies and internship. I text or leave her voicemail messages to let her know I’m thinking about her and that I’m available to talk whenever she’s available, no matter what. She’s a night owl like me, so I’m never surprised to get a call around midnight when she’s up studying. My 14-year old daughter is navigating the murky waters of teen drama, so I regularly stop her when she walks in the door and ask her specifically how she’s feeling after a stressful exam or other event at school. Likewise, when I notice she’s in a great mood, I ask what’s got her feeling so good so we can celebrate together. These spontaneous check-ins keep us connected, and they make it much easier to address problem areas when they arise.
Learn to speak your daughter’s love language so you can better understand what makes her tick.
I may have lots of practical experience raising my brood of eight kids, but I’m always interested in improving my parenting game, particularly when it comes to communicating with my kids more effectively.
Year’s ago, I read a thought-provoking book about how to better understand my kids—The Five Love Languages of Teenagers by NY Times best-selling author Dr. Gary Chapman. The premise is simple—we’re all different with different personalities, therefore we express love in different ways.
When we understand what resonates with our kids, we can focus on that preference to communicate and bond in a deep, trusting way.
Dr. Chapman called these ways of expressing and receiving love the “5 Love Languages.” They are Words of Affirmation, Acts of Service, Receiving Gifts, Quality Time, and Physical Touch. Each individual has at least one language they prefer above the others. When we understand what resonates with them, we can focus on that preference to communicate and bond in a deep, trusting way.
My kids are each motivated by different approaches. For example, two of my kids thrive with hugs and touch, while another two prefer verbal affirmations and nothing touchy-feely. Once I had a better understanding of their “love language” I was able to understand and connect with them on a more meaningful level.
I highly encourage you to visit Dr. Chapman’s website, 5lovelanguages.com and take one of his love quizzes. You’ll be amazed at how insightful this information is and what a helpful tool it is in bonding with your daughter and all your children.
Make the time to hang out and have regular mother-daughter dates
Nothing shows your child how much you love and value her than the gift of spending time together. Hanging out with your daughter on a regular basis signals that you enjoy her company and want to be with her.
Finding time to take a walk each week offers priceless time to chit-chat about anything and everything that is important to each of you. Your daughter gets to engage about friendships, hobbies, fashion, music, teen culture, boys, and so much more. You get to take your “mom” hat off and get to know all about her dreams, worries, and everyday concerns. In the process, she learns about you and your aspirations. You may even discover you’ve actually got a lot in common!
Hanging out with your daughter on a regular basis signals that you enjoy her company and want to be with her.
If a walk isn’t your thing, sit with your daughter and make a list of some other activities you can enjoy together. You might even uncover some interests you didn’t know she had in the process. And if your daughter is still a baby or a toddler, get in the practice of these one-on-one outings now so they become a part of your regular routine as she grows into a young adult.
Whatever you decide, keep it going on a consistent basis and make the time just about the two of you—with no distractions such as cell phones, tv shows, or other siblings in tow. Developing a personal, intimate relationship where you both respect one another and your boundaries takes time, but when you make these mother-daughter dates a part of your regular schedule it will be well worth it.
Practice the 20-second rule and other proven tips recommended by Dr. Roni Sandler.
As I mentioned earlier in this episode, I am always on the lookout for great parenting books. Roni Sandler, Ph.D., author of I’m Not Mad, I Just Hate You!: A New Understanding of Mother-Daughter Conflict, delivered.
This book offers practical communication strategies including sample dos and dont’s dialogues. I found the following four tactics extremely helpful:
Practice the 20-second rule
When you need to address a confrontational issue with your daughter—don’t go into lecture mode. Instead, share your thoughts and point of view in 20 seconds or less. By doing so, you stay on task with your point and you don’t risk having your daughter tune you out. Once you’ve calmly made your point in 20 seconds, tell her you’ll revisit the subject when you’ve both had time to think about it.
Take your emotional temperature
Before you have an intense discussion with your daughter, gauge your emotions to be sure your feelings are under control. You’ll want to think clearly and keep your composure and be sure to keep your cool. This will keep your stress levels down. You’ll also be a great role model for your daughter.
Choose your battles carefully
Don’t focus on every trivial issue or annoyance that comes down the pike. If you do, you won’t have any emotional energy left for the bigger issues that inevitably come along.
Impart your message in a receptive manner
Don’t be sarcastic, critical, or hostile when delivering an important message. Choose your words and tone of voice carefully. For example, if your daughter is whining or being sarcastic when you ask her to take care of her evening chores, you could say to her “I’d really like us to get along better, so could you please use a nicer tone of voice?” She’ll be more likely to hear you and receive the message than she would if you screeched “You don’t get to talk to me that way! I’ll bet Taylor doesn’t talk to her mom like that.”
Affirm her and catch her doing good
Get into the habit of celebrating your daughter’s successes. When our kids are praised for something they’ve done well, and we take the time to let them know we’ve noticed, this builds self-esteem and encourages a growth mindset. You don’t have to hoot and holler every time our daughter puts her clean laundry away or remembers to feed the dog. Just genuinely and regularly take notice of her efforts. Make eye contact and say “I’ve noticed you’re putting in extra time with your homework assignments—way to go!” You’re fostering that growth mindset. The consistent, positive reinforcement will inspire her to continue doing better.
Try guided meditation together
One of my daughter’s has struggled with anxiety issues since she was in middle school. She’s now able to manage her condition with several holistic tools she’s learned through the years. One of those is a guided meditation technique.
Meditation is a terrific tool to help quiet your mind and nerves when life gets chaotic. It’s an effective way to get yourself grounded and back on track. It’s also a great way to connect with another human being.
If you’re looking for a relaxing way to spend time together, try this wonderful and very calming guided meditation specifically geared towards mothers and daughters. My daughter and I enjoy listening to this and other meditations because it relaxes us and makes us feel closer to one another organically.
All content here is for informational purposes only. This content does not replace the professional judgment of your own mental health provider. Please consult a licensed mental health professional for all individual questions and issues.