Navigating the powerful relationship between mother and daughter

I first told my mother to shut up when I was newly entering the teenage years. I had invited dozens of classmates to our home to rehearse a school performance. As the rehearsal was underway, goofing off got in the way of serious practice and I felt frustrated. Trying to remain cool while regaining the crowd’s attention, my mother saw my need for her support and so she intervened with great warmth and guidance.

While she was acting with the best of intentions, I wasn’t ready for her help. It was uninvited and in my state of feeling overwhelmed, I let her know. The moment I heard such harsh words leave my mouth and enter the air, I knew I had made a choice that brought tender consequences. As I saw the look on my mother’s face, I knew I had hurt her deeply. In my own desire to exercise independence, I had brought pain to a sacred relationship.

My mother was a class act in the moments following. After leaving behind a look of strong disapproval, she excused herself and allowed my friends and me to continue without her participation. After my friends left for the day, she and I talked together about that moment. I was reminded that such language was not acceptable in our home. More importantly, though, I became aware of how my actions were a catalyst for her pain and held the potential to injure our connection. On that day, my mother and I both became aware we were entering a new season together in our relationship.

This snapshot in time was a defining moment for my mother and me. It was the first time I can remember our relationship shifting. Like so many mothers and daughters, while our love for each other remained solid during the teen years, there was complexity in the years following as we navigated myriad bonds known between a mother and her growing daughter — once a child, now a young woman.

As daughters transition from girls to women, the bond between mother and daughter can be filled with treasured moments and deep connections. It can also be filled with tumultuous times of frustration and confusion. For both mother and daughter, there is a recognition the nature of their relationship is changing. The road toward thriving together begins to feel fragile.

As mothers, you have loved your daughters throughout their childhood and have built hopes and dreams for them as well as images of the kind of relationship you’ll have together. When these imagines and dreams are different from your daughter’s present expressions, it can be a challenging time as you wrestle together amidst such difference and navigate together the roller coaster of complex emotions that may begin to fill your home.

As daughters, you often know a deep desire for separation and uniqueness in the world, including the bounds of your relationship with your mother. You long to feel set apart while desiring to feel connected. As you seek your own path in the world, it can feel challenging to balance the times where you want space, as well as your mother’s presence.

Where there is difference in dreams or tension in relationship, there is an opportunity to redefine together what each of you needs from the other. By entering a heart-felt conversation, there is greater space for hearing one another’s heart without defensiveness or restriction. Talk together about your fears and your hopes for your relationship and what might be hindering that vision.

While these years can be uniquely challenging, they also hold the potential to be a blessing to both mother and daughter. If these years are navigated well, they offer the opportunity to be an investment that will reap rewards for years to come.

I’ll be beginning conversational groups for mothers parenting young women. A fun and supportive place to share the joys and challenges of parenting young women in today’s world, group members will be invited to create the kind of group that best fit their hopes and desires for conversation. Your presence would enrich our group, come join us!

Shannon Renae West is a licensed family therapist. She can be reached at (425) 415-6556 or

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