8 Ways to Strengthen the Mother Daughter Relationship
About a week ago we boxed up our television and had a family counsel where we explained why we decided to eliminate TV. My two youngest (one year old and three year old ) didn’t really understand, but my six year old cried and was upset for a little while. We explained that we saw eliminating the TV as a way to be more connected to each other and to spend our time more productively. It has been liberating and, at certain times, a bit challenging, but even within a week we can see the positive fruits of our choice.
You may not need to box up your TV, but there might be some decisions that could strengthen how you relate to your daughters. Although my daughters are still very young, I can see how my choices to connect with them at this age are a foundation for a healthy and loving relationship throughout their life.
Here are some ways you can relate to you daughter(s) and create a solid foundation for years of love, laughter and support.
Open, honest and vulnerable communication.
Communicating starts at infancy and does not stop. When our daughters cry as infants, we respond with snuggles and tender whispers of affection. For our toddlers, we can communicate the day’s schedule, how we are feeling and teach them how to regulate their strong emotions, even when they can’t verbally respond back. Our children’s chance for success can be increased when we make our expectations clear and attainable.
Later, when the conversations become deeper, we can share more, help our daughters make sense of what they hear outside of the home and guide them as they learn to make their own choices. As teens, they have a lot of hormones and feelings to work with; it is vital they have someone to trust with their worries, fears, and frustrations. Teens and young adults alike also need to talk through problems and have a voice of reason and perspective during a time full of big decisions.
Our children learn how to communicate from our example. When I am very busy and have a lot on my mind, I let my children know that I need their cooperation. I can do this in two ways, 1. Yell or 2. Calmly explain. When I use yelling instead of clear, calm words, my children learn that to be heard they have to yell. On my good days, which thankfully outnumber my bad days, I communicate calmly.
Since I spend most of my time caring for and playing with my children, they know that it is their turn to communicate love by listening and playing well so I can get a few things done. There is no weakness in admitting that you need your children’s help and expressing emotions. I have been working on being transparent with my feelings so that I don’t bottle them up and then lash out when I feel like my children don’t care. Children, like husbands, cannot read your mind. Parents who practice being honest and clear with their daughters about their feelings, struggles and triumphs are showing their daughters how to deal with the ups and downs of life, and more importantly, that expressing their feelings is healthy and okay. Be careful to not rely on your children for emotional support though; this can put undue burdens on children that need your example.
Young children, many times, are inherently good at letting us know how they feel; it is our job to foster that expression instead of ignoring or squelching it. If they feel comfortable sharing their feelings with you through each stage of their childhood, they will be more likely to turn to you when they are older. For example, when Jane recently shared with me how a friend hurt her feelings. She said, “That was rude.” I validated her feelings and gave her advice on how she could approach a similar rude comment in the future. It is a good sign to me that she shared this with me as a six year old because maybe when she is twelve, it means she will be more apt to share her feelings and be vulnerable, if she can trust me now.
Know your role.
Mothers have a special and sacred responsibility to nurture and teach their children. It is so important that moms do not forgo their duty to parent just to be popular with their daughter. Mothers that treat their daughters only as friends, miss opportunities to equip them for adulthood and motherhood. For example, a mother who is so eager to be liked by her daughter might allow her to do something that is actually her job to discourage, for her daughter’s good. The scenarios are endless, but the results are similar: the daughter does not learn to make good choices for herself later.
Now, this does not mean that you cannot be friends with your daughter, especially as they mature and can understand your role more. I anticipate my daughters being my good friends, but I also know that I will be unpopular many times throughout their life and that is a good thing. My daughters will be able to connect with me more when they know that I consistently have their overall well-being as my first priority. Your daughter will likely have plenty of friends; she needs you to be her parent.
Discover, encourage, participate in, and praise their strengths.
I cannot speak on this subject enough. My daughter Jane chooses to draw, paint and create any chance she gets. It calms her, and she has a lot of satisfaction in making art. This interest is, first, a choice of hers, but my husband and I have also given her tools to cultivate her interest, enjoy doing it with her occasionally, and praise her anytime that we can. The time I spend drawing, painting or coloring with Jane is a special time that we connect. We both enjoy the activity, and she can see that I am interested in what she is doing. She considers herself an artist, and I hope that she never doubts it.
Pay attention to what your daughters do without compulsion. It is the things you will catch them doing when you are not paying attention to them and then look over to pay closer attention to why they are being so quiet.
If you are impressed with something that they can do, let them know and give them specific praise. For example, “Jane, I love the colors that you used and the way you mixed them in the center.” A more vague praise would be something like, “I like your picture.” Although this is kind, it does not give them any feedback and kids can sense your disinterest or your insincerity right away. They seriously have a sixth sense.
When parents are looking for, supporting, participating in and praising their children’s strengths, there is so much potential to relate with each other in a very personal way.
I have been truly surprised at how much I can learn when I will just be near and listen. My daughters’ most talkative time is at bedtime and the dinner table. I have also heard a lot of parents say that the car is a great place to listen because the kids feel more comfortable with their parents not directly looking at them, yet being in close quarters and a captive audience. Where have you noticed your daughters tend to talk more? Make that time and space special and use it frequently.
I am also surprised at how easy it is to spend all day with my little ones and not really hear what they are saying. I have to be very intentional about my listening most days because I tend to get lost in my thoughts a lot or lost in my own projects. Evaluate how much time you spend looking at a screen instead of the precious faces of your child. Don’t let screens rob you of real time with your family!
Part of listening is also asking questions. Once your daughter has opened up to you, ask meaningful and applicable questions that can keep the conversation going. For example, let’s say your daughter has just opened up about a problem at school. You could ask, “Why do you think that is?” “What can I do for you?” or “What do you think is the best way to solve this?” Try to ask questions that will help your daughter clarify the situation for herself v.s. frustrate her unnecessarily or dictate her choice.
Be an active and compassionate teacher.
Think about when you need advice. Who is a consistent go-to? Your parents are likely some of the first people you think to ask. Parents don’t know everything, but they are eager to be helpful and certainly have a way of knowing how to help those they love the most.
I never want to regret missing the chance to teach my children life lessons like kindness, honesty, diligence and patience, because they need these lessons to succeed. Try to remember what it was like to be the age of your daughter(s). One of the beauties of being older than your children is that you have already experienced similar situations that they are facing. A special compassion will come when you consider the thoughts and feelings you had when you were your daughter’s age and craft your lesson for their stage in life.
Moms will be able to help more when the teaching is laced with unconditional love. No matter the age of your daughter, she will be able to tell if you are teaching with love or not. Be consistent in using teaching moments so that your daughters are used to getting impromptu and sincere lessons from you. This will eliminate your daughters thinking that you are “all of a sudden” caring.
Pay attention to the details: friends, school drama, homework, school events, extracurricular activities.
In light of remembering our daughter’s age, consider the things that were important to you. When you were little it was all about having your parent’s time, attention and presence, but as you got older, you cared deeply about school, friends, sports and other interests. As they develop new interests, be their biggest fan; know names of people they care about, and, again, carve out time to listen to anything they want to tell you.
Here is a question: what convinces you that someone really cares about you? Do they remember your birthday? Do they ask how your grandma is doing after a broken hip? Do they ask about your job or your children? Do they know the name of your sister? Yes, they do, and it is their care for the details of your life that validate the depth of your relationship. Consider how well you know the details of your daughter’s life and it may indicate that you are very close or that you need to spend more time getting to know them.
Create one-on-one dates with your daughters. For my really young daughters I consider a one-on-one, any time that is specifically spent with one daughter, with no distractions. This can be building a block tower together, playing hide-and-seek or simply reading a book.
Distractions can be a phone, another family member or even a looming deadline. Whatever is keeping you from being all-in with your daughter, get rid of it.
Give all of your attention to one daughter at a time. These special one-one-one moments will stay with your daughters for a long time and offer strength to them when they may be questioning themselves.
A few examples of a simple and potentially inexpensive date is taking your child to shop with the purpose of just listening, taking a walk, or baking cookies. A more elaborate date might be taking them to a movie of a book you both liked or practicing their favorite sport with them. Whatever it is, plan with purpose.
Do you need to listen more? Is there a subject you need to breach with them alone? Do you just need to let them know that you care? Time and devoted presence will always be your most precious gift to your children.
I hope that in admitting that I have already had disagreements with my children does not surprise or shock anyone reading this. Since I am not perfect and neither are my children, we are going to have times where we make mistakes and offend each other; so as God says so well, let’s forgive “seventy times seven.” (Matthew 18:22) It is always our job to forgive.
My children truly are the better example of forgiveness than I am. Sometimes we are the teachers and other times our children are. I am keenly aware of my mistakes and, yet, whenever I ask for forgiveness my girls seem to have already forgiven and love me openly again, without any grudge. I believe that it is within a family that we are best able to learn how to be better and it is within our families that real, lasting relationships are possible when founded on forgiveness and love.
I hope these ideas will enhance your relationship with your daughters and establish positive habits that will be passed down for generations. Make small, consistent efforts to relate to your daughters and the rewards will be great!