8 Easy Ways to Improve Your Mother-Daughter Relationship
Ah, the mother-daughter relationship. It could be sunshine and rainbows à la Lorelei and Rory Gilmore, or, more realistically, a roller coaster ride à la Marion and Lady Bird. One moment you’re screaming about a misplaced sweater, the next you’re calmly deciding between blue or beige curtains for her room (that is, until your daughter disagrees with you...). It’s a beautiful thing, but it can be equally as heartbreaking, especially if you’re dealing with a toxic mother or daughter. Either way, no relationship is perfect—no, not even the Gilmore girls'. Luckily, you can easily improve your own mother-daughter relationship using strategies like the ones below.
1. Set Realistic Expectations for Your RelationshipIn a perfect world, we would all have strong relationships with everyone in our lives, including our mothers and daughters. But the thing is, the world isn’t perfect. Some parent-child duos will be the best of friends, while others will merely tolerate each other. If you’re looking to improve your relationship, be realistic about it. Maybe you’re not meant to be best friends—that’s OK. What can be a bummer is getting your hopes up for something that’s never going to happen and being disappointed when it inevitably doesn’t.
2. Find Common Interests
Whether it’s hiking or shopping or getting manicures, identify activities that you both love and do them together. Spending quality time together should never feel like work, and an easy way to ensure that is by spending that time together doing something you both enjoy. If you somehow don’t have any interests in common, try things that are new for both of you. Who knows, maybe you’ll both take to pottery-making immediately.
3. Pick Your Battles
Sometimes it’s worth agreeing to disagree. Mothers and daughters, though often similar in many ways, have to remember that they were raised in different eras and have lived different experiences. You and your mom might have totally different ideas about careers, relationships and parenting, and that’s fine. It’s important to identify the areas where neither of you is likely to change your mind and agree to respect the other’s opinion without judgement or hostility.
4. Learn to Forgive
Hanging on to feelings of resentment is bad for you—literally. Studies have shown holding grudges increases blood pressure, heart rate and nervous system activity. Alternatively, embracing forgiveness can improve overall health by reducing stress levels. Beyond physical health, letting go can improve one’s mental health, relationships and career trajectory. Healthline reports built-up anger directed at one party can bleed over into other relationships. Resenting your mom for judging your relationship with your spouse could manifest in you yelling at your own kids at the drop of a hat. From changing your perspective to downloading a meditation app, here are eight unique exercises to help you let go of resentment.
5. Work on Your Communication
As in every type of relationship, communication is a major key to success. Neither you nor your daughter (or mother) are mind readers. Being open with each other about how you’re feeling is a surefire way to avoid that oh-so-common thing where a minor issue becomes a major issue because you didn’t nip it in the bud soon enough.
6. Set (and Maintain) Boundaries
Boundaries are the building blocks of any good relationship, so enforcing them with family is the key to maintaining a healthy distance while still being a part of each other’s lives. Therapist Irina Firstein tells us that boundaries are a way to get ahead of familiar drama by creating situations that you feel comfortable and safe in. Boundaries allow you to call the shots, so you can avoid any unwanted outbursts at the dentist or eye rolls at the dinner table. “Lay out for your mom the specific things she say or ways she acts that hurt you,” Firstein explains. This could be anything from a snide comment she made about your partner to the way she put you down while talking about your recent promotion at work. “Tell her that you won’t be around her if she’s going to speak to you like that. You can also let her know that if she chooses not to check her attitude at the door when you see her, those visits will be fewer and farther between, for your own sake.”
It could also be as simple as setting small rules to avoid potential outbursts. If you know your mother will gawk at the price of organic lemons in Whole Foods, agree to only shop together at Trader Joe’s. If you can’t stand watching your daughter spend hours scrolling through Instagram, request a no-phone policy after dinner. Instituting a fair and healthy boundary means you’ll still be able to be a part of each other’s lives, but only in settings that you both mutually accept.
7. Work on Your Listening Skills
You consider yourself a first-rate conversationalist. You can finish sentences and pinpoint thoughts like nobody’s business. (You’re like Queer Eye’s unlicensed therapist, Karamo, but IRL.) Hate to break it to you, but your enthusiastic interjecting is actually getting in the way of the most important conversation skill of all: thoughtful listening. Luckily, there’s a trick for how to be a better listener (or at least seem like one), and it’s surprisingly simple. Before you give a response, pause. That’s it. Really.
According to the late psychologist (and author of Don’t Sweat the Small Stuff…and It’s All Small Stuff) Richard Carlson, it’s called “breathe before you speak.”
Dr. Kenneth Miller, Ph.D., gives a version of the method: “Before you respond in a conversation, take a breath. Not an enormous, loud, obvious breath that screams out ‘I am trying a new technique for better listening!’ No, just a normal, simple, ordinary breath.” Inhale, then exhale.
Dr. Miller says the technique can feel awkward at first, especially for people who aren’t comfortable with silence. *Raises hand* In that case, you can ease into it with just an inhale.
But why does the method work? For starters, it stops you from accidentally interrupting whoever’s speaking. The slight pause is a natural cue that they can comfortably continue what they’re saying. In a way, it allows them to relax; without the pressure of trying to get a word in, they feel more compelled to share their thoughts.
Second, the pause gives you a chance to reconsider your own response. (Remember that old adage, “Think before you speak”? It’s actually kinda true.) Who knows? You might even decide to say nothing at all.
8. Use ‘I’ Statements When Disagreements Arise
Even in the strongest mother-daughter relationships, disagreements happen. When they do, it’s helpful to equip yourself with techniques to diffuse the situation. Case in point: ‘I’ statements. Heather Monroe, licensed clinical social worker and senior clinician at Newport Institute, suggests that rather than telling your mom, ‘You’re thinking about this all wrong,’ turn the focus onto yourself by saying things like ‘I believe ____’ and ‘I think ____’ to diffuse tension. Another thing to keep in mind when arguments happen is that it’s unlikely that any good will come from involving a third party. It can be tempting to vent to your dad when your mom is driving you positively mad, but dragging someone else into your disagreement is likely to make things even more strained.
Recognize If Your Relationship Is Beyond RepairEvery mother-daughter duo has the occasional argument. But if you’ve always felt like you become your worst self when you’re back at home, your family could be treading on toxic territory. “Toxic people are draining; encounters leave you emotionally wiped out," says Abigail Brenner, M.D. "Time with them is about taking care of their business, which will leave you feeling frustrated and unfulfilled, if not angry. Don’t allow yourself to become depleted as a result of giving and giving and getting nothing in return." Sound familiar? While it can be incredibly difficult to cut a toxic parent out of your life, there’s no shame in doing so. Here are nine signs your relationship might be toxic.
1. They get jealous or try to compete with you. Your mom dreamed of being a dancer, but she became a travel agent. Then when you were cast as Clara in The Nutcrackerat age 12, your mom spent hours showing you videos of her old ballet performances and ended up getting a headache on the night of your big debut. While it might seem ridiculous that a grown adult would be jealous of a 12-year-old, it’s a dynamic that people in toxic families know all too well.
2. They overreact. OK, your dad was justifiably mad when you were running around the house at age 9 and broke an heirloom vase. But if he is still regularly flying off the handle for completely reasonable things you do as an adult (like getting stuck in traffic and arriving 15 minutes late to his barbecue), this relationship has “toxic” written all over it.
3. They compare you. You and your older sister are two completely different people. But because she’s a doctor with three kids and you’re a single receptionist at a doctor’s office, your brother loves to try to pit the two of you against each other. Your sister takes the high road, but your brother’s constant teasing still makes you feel insecure and attacked.
4. They act like victims. Sometimes, parents can’t help but guilt trip their kids. (“What do you mean, you aren’t coming home for Thanksgiving?”) But there’s a difference between expressing disappointment and creating a toxic environment by blaming everyone else for their feelings. If your mom refuses to talk to you for a week because you decided to spend Thanksgiving with friends this year, you could be in toxic territory.
5. They don’t respect your boundaries. You love your sister, but she’s always been impulsive. She’s made a habit of showing up at your family’s house, unannounced, expecting to be able to crash on the couch for a couple of days. Because you love her, you give in, but even after asking her to stop popping in without calling, she continues to do it.
6. They’re always right. Your parents have hated every person you’ve ever dated, and it’s starting to feel like no one is going to be good enough. They have similar opinions about your career goals, friends and pretty much everything else. If you’ve articulated that you’re happy with your life and the people in it and they still won’t stay out of your business, then your relationship with your parents could be verging on (if not already) toxic.
7. They give ultimatums. A parent’s love is supposed to be unconditional, right? But your mother is constantly setting conditions that feel suspiciously like threats. In fact, you’ve heard the words, “if you don’t *fill-in-the-blank,* you’re not my daughter anymore,” more than once. Toxic behavior? Yep.
8. Conversations are always about them. You just got off a 45-minute phone call with your sister only to realize that she didn’t ask you a single question about your life or how you’re doing. If she was dealing with a personal crisis or had some exciting news, then that’s one thing. But if this happens pretty much every time you talk, then this relationship could be toxic. (Particularly if she accuses you of not caring about her if you try to shift the conversation to yourself.)
9. They drain your energy. Do you feel totally exhaustedevery time you interact with a particular family member? We’re not talking about feeling like you need to be by yourself for a little while, something that can happen even with people we love being around (introverts in particular can find interactions draining). Interacting with a toxic person can leave you feeling defeated since their dramatic, needy and high-maintenance tendencies can suck the energy right out of you.