The Breakdown of the Mother-Daughter Relationship

The Breakdown of the Mother-Daughter Relationship

by Leiani Fisk

Why does the breakdown of the mother-daughter relationship happen?

As a little girl, I would spend hours looking at my mother’s beautiful dresses and sorting through her jewelry box, and I thought my mother was the most amazing woman living some sort of magical adult life. I wanted to emulate her, be like her and receive her love. I even remember the joyful moment she bought me boots that matched hers, and still treasure a photograph of us together in our matching boots, jeans and jumpers.

I think most little girls love and idolize their mothers, it’s our first ever relationship with another person, and our tender young hearts are often devoted and full of love.

As we grow and become more aware, that early veneration often changes into other emotions. For some daughters, it becomes a more realistic version of that prior adoration – love, mutual respect and friendship. For others though, their relationship with their mother starts to move in another direction entirely. I know many women whose relationship with their mother has broken down, with little love, respect or positive feelings left.

Some complain that their mother nags them to change their ways, their clothes, their hair or looks, their parenting or lifestyle, the list is endless. Some have mothers that interfere, demand or try to control their lives. Some have mothers who judge and compare them to others or to themselves.

Many women are resentful there isn’t the relationship they want, wishing for a more loving, caring or supportive mother.

Yet many still try to please or pacify their mother, to meet her expectations no matter how it makes them feel or the impact it has on their own family, all to continue to receive approval and love and ensure their mother’s happiness.

Here’s the real truth.

When you do this you are contributing just as much to the breakdown of this relationship as your mother. Your mother may be placing her expectations on you, yet you are doing the same in return by expecting her to be the ideal of what you think your mother should be like.

In any relationship, you can’t change another person. You can only change yourself and your responses to that person. And this certainly applies in the mother-daughter relationship, even when it is your first and often longest relationship.

If you try to think of your mother in a more objective way, as a woman rather than your mother, then perhaps you can gain some perspective.

Try to see your relationship with her not as a mother/daughter one but as a relationship between two women. She is a woman placing her expectations on you and you feel hurt because she is not meeting the expectations you have placed on her.

If it were a friend and your relationship had reached this point, how long would that friendship last? Just because it’s a relationship with your mother, doesn’t mean you should sacrifice your own feelings to make her happy. You are not living life for her. Neither should you feel resentful that she is not living up to your ideal of a mother.

Expectations kill a relationship.

Just as with any relationship, being open and honest with your feelings, needs and wants is important to improving a damaged mother-daughter relationship.

In some cases, your mother may not be truly aware of what she does and how it makes you feel, and just bringing it to awareness can be enough to instigate some positive changes. In other situations, you may need to firmly and lovingly set boundaries about what is good for you in your relationship with her.

Feeling resentful of your mother, complaining or feel sad about a poor relationship with her is only detrimental to you. It doesn’t change anything, and hurts you more than anyone. I’m not advocating ending the relationship with your mother just because it doesn’t meet your ideal, nor to become demanding about what you want or force change to happen.

Instead, first practice acceptance of what the situation has become, accept that your mother is her own person free to act how she chooses. Then understand that even if you make the first move in trying to improve things, it may still not be perfect. As with any relationship, you may need to set healthy boundaries, or occasionally take a “time-out“.

Also, understanding why a mother can become demanding, nagging or judgmental helps to view the situation with less emotional entanglement. See her as a human being, a human being who may also be experiencing a whirlwind of emotions. Perhaps, she is feeling a void in her life that they are expecting their child to fill. This void could due to any number of things – sadness, fear, resentment, low self-esteem, anxiety etc. But it not up to you to heal, fix or change her.

It is vital that in this mother-daughter relationship, that we honor the love and gift that is that bond, but that as relationships grow and change, we are also true to ourselves.

Leiani Fisk

about the author

Leiani Fisk

I'm a queen and a goddess, a wife and a mama (3 boys aged from 8 to 21).
I've been many things in my life, and have come to see that I don't fit one mold. I'm constantly changing. One thing I'm always focused on is health both mental and physical, and to help people celebrate being a unique person in a world that doesn't always appreciate uniqueness.

I aim for myself and others to enjoy their life and journey, and live their life to the full. I'm constantly working to achieve a balance in life, with work, family and self needs. It's an ongoing journey! Yet one I love.

I write and blog for the love of writing and to share experiences with other women that will make them feel that we all go through similar things and to celebrate our similarities as well as our uniqueness.


Great Article Lei. And yes, acceptance is key. But sometimes…. they just get right in there, don’t they! Mothers can be bloody difficult! (probably just like we were as kids). Best advice I ever got… “You keep expecting your mother to be a BMW, but she is simply a push bike”.

Mary Sullivan SAYS:

My daughter and i dont get on. I sawher a few months ago and we were on our way back from my neice. She began screaming in the car i really dont know why. And again we arranged to go out i walked my dog from her house i didnt go in as my daughter makes me so uncomfortable. I barely see my grandchildren now what have i done to deserve this.

Jennifer L Faber SAYS:

My mother is and always has been emotionally abusive and very manipulative. Now being an adult I don’t want to play her games, yet her toxicity continues and I’m at a complete loss of what to do. Divorce two years ago and she expressed her loyalty to my ex husband as she is in a dating relationship with his father, has been since our wedding 16 years ago. She uses our children as a manipulating tool. What can be done?

Beth Phillips SAYS:

I just asked my 21 year old college grad daughter, who is dating a heroin addict to move out, because she will not stop seeing him. She has been gainfully employed for nearly a year and is not using drugs, to my knowledge. She has become rude, entitled and quite mean of late and has me walking on eggshells since a simple “good morning!” or compliment elicits a hateful response.
We carpool in silence. She calls a friend and leaves as soon as we get home…neglects to care for pets she once loved. She threw him out six months ago when he announced his admitted his addiction and I am now the “crazy and unreasonable” one for insisting on rehab before welcoming him into my home again! Am I “cruel and unable to accept people for who they are?”

maggie SAYS:

my daughter will not accept my apology and has taken me out of her life it is like grieving for a child that is still alive not sleeping totally depressed help

Adam Paul SAYS:

It was a very valuable piece of advice. Very well written!!! Your observation is right on the mark. Wonderful article. I found some interesting tips for the relations between Mom and daughter. So thanks for sharing it with us.

Pat Malcom SAYS:

Excellent article. Wish this was available in my young married life. Loved my Mom very much, tried to please both that family and mine.

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