While researching my book Blossoming After Loss, I discovered several healthy approaches to difficult mother-daughter relationships. They’re refreshing and healing – and they may help you navigate your interactions with your mom. These tips for finding peace in a difficult mother-daughter relationship are inspired by Naomi’s strong connection to her mother-in-law, Ruth.
“Their [Naomi and Ruth’s] unconventional relationship allows us to see that sometimes we may need to leave our own mothers behind – either physically or emotionally – and find new ones who will mother us better,” writes Dr Vanessa Ochs in Sarah Laughed: Modern Lessons from the Wisdom and Stories of Biblical Women. “This possibility is especially important for women who have lost their mothers or who are estranged from them.”
What if the most loving, healthy way to find peace in your relationship with your mom – or even with a critical mother-in-law – is to let her go? You don’t have to cut all ties or move halfway around the world…but maybe you just need to loosen the emotional reins of your relationship.
Finding Peace in a Difficult Mother-Daughter Relationship
I’m writing a book called Blossoming After Loss: How to Let Go of Someone You Love. It’s about finding hope and healing through inspirational stories of courageous women in the Bible. You wouldn’t believe what those (mostly) faithful women experienced! Everything from infertility to murderous sons, loss of husbands to violence of all kinds, famine to kingly feasts.
And, yes, difficult relationships with their mothers.
Believe in the power of change
If you’re a daughter struggling with a difficult mother, it’s challenging to find new and different ways of relating to her. You may feel trapped in the same old arguments, criticisms, patterns of behavior, ways of speaking to each other. The same emotions – anger, frustration, disappointment, insecurity – rear their ugly heads, don’t they? You repeat the same conversations because you feel the same way every time you talk to her….you hope things will be different this time, but they aren’t.
But what if things aren’t as hopeless as you think?
“We are not stuck, as we might believe, with the contours of our current relationship with our mother or our daughter,” writes Ochs. “We can renegotiate the ‘rules of engagement’ multiple times over the course of a lifetime. As daughters, we can find new parts of our mothers to cherish and fresh ways of seeing them as models. We can discover aspects of them that we will come to appreciate in different ways, especially as they need us more for their care. And we, too, can encourage our mothers to see us as being more competent than they ever imagined.”
Focus on the changes you actually have control over
In 3 Ways to Cope With Difficult Parents – for Adult Children, I stress the fact that the only person you have any hope of changing is YOU. It’s a fact that is both disheartening and empowering! Disheartening because it means you have to do the work…and empowering because you have more control in a difficult mother-daughter relationship than you think.
Your mother isn’t the mom you want or need her to be. She isn’t telling you things you need to hear, teaching you things you need to learn, or supporting you in ways you want to be supported. Your mom is disappointing you. She’s causing problems in your life – and while you want to find peace in your relationship with your mother, you have no idea where to start. Worse, deep down you believe it’s no use. Part of you thinks your relationship will never be healed because she won’t or can’t change.
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Take a deep breath. Accept that your mother can’t be who you need her to be. She won’t change her personality, communication style, or ways of speaking to you or other family members. Surrender to your mother-daughter relationship the way it is right now…and let it be the most difficult relationship of your life.
Let it be what it is.
Learn how to emotionally detach from your mother
“For most of us, we needn’t literally disconnect from our mothers, though I understand for some people that is a life-giving choice,” writes Dr. Ochs. “What we do need is to be able to leave behind old ways of relating to our mothers, to be creative and courageous enough to discontinue our destructive or inappropriate ways of interacting and sculpt new ones.”
This is your work to do, as a loving and peace-seeking daughter. Find ways to honor your mother and respect what she’s given you – because she did (and is doing) what she could. Learn how to love her from a distance if you need to. Maybe the distance you need is emotional, maybe it’s physical. Only you can determine the best way to establish peace in a difficult mother-daughter relationship.
Let go of your expectations
My mother is schizophrenic; she struggled with mental illness my whole life. She was in and out of the hospital, she got shock treatments, she was put on a huge variety of prescription medications for schizophrenia. My mom was physically and emotionally abusive, neglectful, and too mentally sick to take care of me. I was in foster homes, I slept in the street, and I was grateful when she came home with a cardboard box of groceries from the food bank.
And I was so mad at her that I couldn’t find enough hateful, venomous words to describe her when I wrote in my diary! I still have those journals, and my heart sinks when I read what I wrote. It makes me sad for me and for her when I see how much hatred I harbored in my heart.
The most important way I found peace in my relationship with my mother was by emotionally detaching. I avoided contact with her for most of my 20s and 30s. But now, in my late 40s, I call her every week. I can talk to her with love and peace, compassion and forgiveness – because I let go of my expectations of her.
I stopped expecting my mother to be who I wanted her to be, and I allowed her to be who she is.
Allow your mother-daughter relationship to unfold naturally
“The loyalty of Naomi and Ruth is not based on one terrific relationship that got sustained over the years,” writes Dr Ochs in Sarah Laughed: Modern Lessons from the Wisdom and Stories of Biblical Women. “They were two women, bound to each other over a long period. So many things changed in both their lives, and they continued to evolve with each shock and reshuffling. They were there for each other; they renegotiated the terms of their relationship.”
Naomi and Ruth also encouraged and empowered each other, and supported each other through the most difficult season of their lives. Not only did they Blossom, they prepared the way for Jesus Christ! With God’s help, Naomi and Ruth found peace in a difficult mother-daughter relationship…and, together, they changed the world.
You and your mom may not be heralding the way for a new king (or maybe you are!)…but you are setting a pattern that your loved ones can see and follow.
If you feel alone and lost in this world, read 7 Things to Remember When You Feel Like No One Cares.
Help for Difficult Mother-Daughter Relationships
In Mothers Who Can’t Love: A Healing Guide for Daughters, psychotherapist Susan Forward offers a powerful look at the devastating impact unloving mothers have on their daughters—and provides clear, effective techniques for overcoming that painful legacy.
In more than 35 years as a therapist, Forward has worked with large numbers of women struggling to escape the emotional damage inflicted by the women who raised them. Subjected to years of criticism, competition, role-reversal, smothering control, emotional neglect and abuse, these daughters of difficult mothers are plagued by anxiety and depression, relationship problems, lack of confidence and difficulties with trust. They doubt their worth, and even their ability to love.
This book will help you navigate a difficult mother-daughter relationship with peace and love, and support your own healing process.
I welcome your thoughts on finding peace in a difficult relationship with your mom. I can’t offer advice, but you may find writing one of the best ways to express your emotions and untangle your thoughts.
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If you need relationship help, get Mort Fertel's 7 Steps to Fixing Your Marriage - and FREE advice, no strings attached.