Mother/Daughter Relationships Often Leave a Yearning for Something Greater

There is no greater agony than bearing an untold story inside you.
— Maya Angelou

Many women have the good fortune of having mother/daughter interactions that look like checking in with one another, shopping, and the conveyed messages of daughters being told they can do anything they set their minds to. Unfortunately, conventional interactions like that with my own mother weren’t quite my experience and sadly, nor is it the experience of many other women. Many women grow up without a nurturing mom, however, these moms didn’t die when we were young or leave the family home; they just didn’t have it in them to be loving, engaged and selfless. 

There is a belief that women, who have been hurt and damaged by their mothers, usually make the unconscious (and sometimes conscious) decision to either: 1) love and cherish their own daughters so they might experience emotional success; or 2) can’t or won’t love and nurture their daughters due to their own lack of motherly love experiences - thereby leaving them emotionally wanting.  It would appear the latter was unconsciously bestowed upon my mother. My own mother’s inability to be a devoted and consistent parent might have been due to her mother being distant, unengaged, neglectful and even cruel, a realization I’ve come to after years of reflection.

At times in response to our stories about the lack of connection with our mothers, we hear “…she’s your mom, how bad can it be?” or “why can’t you just accept your mother the way she is?”  If only it were that simple. We can probably all agree that simply put the mother/daughter relationship is complicated.  This relationship is also imperative to our self-worth, believing we are worthy of belonging and connection, friendships, romantic relationships, careers and becoming mothers ourselves.  Christiane Northrup, author of Mother/Daughter Wisdom writes “I firmly believe the mother-daughter relationship bond is designed by nature to become the most empowering, compassionate, intimate relationship we’ll ever have.”  Dr. Northrup’s statement makes sense. I’ve know many women who have healthy relationships with their mothers. The effects such as healthy boundaries, shame resilience, and self-worth abound. However, when that “mother-daughter relationship bond…” is broken or lacks nurturing, finding a sense of belonging and feeling worthy of love can be a life-long endeavor.

One of the struggles of having a less than connected relationship with our mothers is navigating friendships with other women.  It can be difficult to trust, to be vulnerable and to really know if we’re attempting to fill a void that can never be quite filled by others. What I do find encouraging is learning to view relationships with women in a different light. Once we become aware of that void we can learn that we no longer need to, as Geneen Roth, author of Appetites writes “… lay my brokenness at the feet of  friends (sic), I do not ask them to fill the holes in me, nor do I go to friends as a child goes to her mother – no one can give me what I missed with my mother.”  

So many of us who missed out on that important relationship with our mothers may have many blessings in our lives – spouses, other family members, children (and even those wonderful pets) who have helped us to feel authentic love.  Those relationships and attachments surely help us find meaning in our lives. However, I believe we will forever long for that mother/daughter relationship that’s been so elusive.

After many years of my own reflection regarding the mother/daughter relationship, I understand in a much softer sense that my mom was limited, did not have the resources to heal her own emotional demons, and yet loved me to the best of her ability.

“The irony is that we attempt to disown our difficult stories to appear more whole or more acceptable, but our wholeness – even our whole-heartedness – actually depends on the integration of all our experiences, including the falls.”  - Brene Brown  

As we continue on our journeys, I believe it’s important not to “…disown” the story of our difficult and challenging relationships with our mothers.  Accepting that story and not feeling the shame about it has given us the ability to no longer look outside ourselves for wholeness. The real work of becoming whole is to find the parts of ourselves we cut off – joy, value, strength, compassion, and self-worth.  

At times, I find myself attached to the idea that in order to feel whole I can only know myself with reference to someone else, something I’ve yearned for in my mother. But what I want isn’t so different than others. I reflect, and remember what we all truly want – the experience of being ourselves, our whole-hearted selves.