Why do relationships between mothers and daughters that are warm, loving, and peaceable turn into battlegrounds of conflict and frustration? What happens that causes such a drastic change, often in so short a time?
The usual culprit is transition. Life transitions are generally a period of personal instability and therefore instability in relationships. This can be felt powerfully in parent-child relationships because usually one party is undergoing a major change while the other isn’t, and is therefore not expecting things to change.
For example, a common period when conflict between mothers and daughters increase is when a daughter enters the teenage years. Being a teenager is inherently a time of transition – from being a child to being an adult. Often, however, mom is not ready to let go of her daughter the child and make room for her daughter the adult. Her outdated expectations for her daughter don’t go over well with the growing adolescent.
For her part, the daughter may also not be navigating the transition very well. (This is actually the norm – if anyone feels they didn’t experience turbulence in their adolescence, let me know so I can learn how you did it.) If she continues to treat her mom like a child does – whining, demanding, etc. – instead of as an adult would be expected to, she can hardly turn around and complain that she is not being treated like an adult (although she certainly will). This kind of familial conflict is not abnormal – but that doesn’t mean it can’t be fixed or improved upon.
Another example of a time that’s ripe for conflict is the departure from the home. When children take this new step of independence, it requires a role shift for everyone, and without being aware of that, the relationship is likely to suffer. For example, let’s imagine Carrie, who is coming back from her first year dorming at college. Carrie’s mother, Jen, is used to a certain pattern from the preceding years – she expects to know where Carrie is and whom she is with, she expects Carrie will be home for dinner – she has a lot of expectations that have not been openly discussed. Carrie, however, is used to eating out with her friends whenever and wherever she wants, without the old system of having to notify mom at every turn. These mismatched expectations lead to a very tumultuous summer.
Transitions are by definition a time of instability. Family therapy is certainly a good way to help calm the conflicts that arise during these times (and also really helpful before these transitions hit and shake things up!). If you think this might be helpful for you to consider, contact us for a free 20-minute consultation to explore this idea further!
Learn more about our family therapy services here.