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jca's avatar

Why do women often have "challenging" mother-daughter relationships?

Asked by jca (27932 points ) May 17th, 2012

Today I was griping to a friend about my mom. I was saying that my mom often says certain things that annoy me and she said her mom says things that annoy her, too. Different things than my mom says, but annoying just the same. I told her that we bitch, but when our moms are gone, I know we’ll miss them and cry like babies. It got me thinking that women often have relationships with their moms where we get on each other’s nerves. I’m sure my mom gets annoyed at me, too, and likewise, I’m sure other moms get annoyed at their adult daughters.

I’m not saying all women, because I’m sure there are mothers and daughters that get along wonderfully. It just seems in general, there’s often friction. Not necessarily terrible, hateful stuff (although there can be a lot of that across the board with all relationships), just petty annoyances on both sides.

Why do you think it is that women often have annoying mother-daughter relationships?

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24 Answers

Blackberry's avatar

We have the world’s top scientist trying to figure out why some women simply can’t get along with others. I’ve seen some women completely rip into another woman simply over what she was wearing. Shit’s strange, man.

geeky_mama's avatar

This is just my own humble experience…but I think we see aspects of our own personality (perhaps negative bits) that bother us in our mothers and have a knee-jerk negative reaction to these characteristics.

My daughter (my middle child) is such a mini-me. Yet…she adores her father and quite frankly doesn’t seem to like me much of the time. It’s a bit heart-breaking really..that the exact faults she points out in me (frequently and loudly and in front of others to shame me) are the same characteristics we all see in her, too. (Perfectionism, she’s critical of herself and others, tends to be a bit of a suck-up and know-it-all… Sadly all character flaws of mine, too.)

I now see that I am in many ways very much like my own mother – and some of my best characteristics (goofy sense of humor, self-deprecation, clumsiness—which makes for great unexpected physical humor!) come from her…but I surely couldn’t appreciate these things in her back in the day.

YARNLADY's avatar

I had no girls, but I raised two sons and helped raise three grandsons (so far), and they were just as challenging as stories I read about mothers and daughters.

Simone_De_Beauvoir's avatar

I don’t think you need to put the word challenging in quotes. I think it is true that mothers and daughters have a particular kind of tension in the Western world. We pit women against one another and make their lives revolve around men. When the only two roles offered to you as a human being are the whore or the mother (cue every confused teenage girl that tried to make sense of the madonna/whore complex), then you’re going to do both fiercely and take out your failures on your daughters and they will do the same on their daughters. I would say that gender norms have a lot to do with all of this and how we also raise our sons and how Mama’s boy or the mother-in-law are powerful archetypes. I’ve read a lot of psychoanalytic and social theory that talk about why the gendered dynamics produce different kinds of relationships.

Blackberry's avatar

@Simone_De_Beauvoir Interesting; very informative. Women are slowly getting more options, though. Feels good, real good.

marinelife's avatar

I think mothers’ aspirations can be centered on daughters. Daughters, meanwhile, are trying to gain distance and separateness from mothers.

Coloma's avatar

@geeky_mama Nailed it. NOBODY wants to be like their mom or dad, until they are mature enough to see that there ARE similarities as well as differences and embrace them. Mirror, mirror….

My daughter and I share a lot of similarities and can have ” moments”. lol
We are BOTH strong, opinionated, creative, verbally quick and humorous, and always have rousing discussions peppered with challenging POV’s and are BOTH extroverted, intuitive thinker types. We can make each other laugh until we wet our pants and we can both really piss each other off too.

It’s the natural order of things it seems. haha

laineybug's avatar

Well as a teenager I already see a lot of similarities between me and my mom, and we don“t have a troubled relationship. That might be because I don’t live with my mom so I don’t spend all that much time together. I look almost exactly like she did at my age but I’m a lot shorter, we’re both pretty awkward people sometimes, and neither of us do very well when there are too many people around. But those are things that we can talk about together.

blueberry_kid's avatar

Well, as a teen, I’ve realized a lot of differences with my mom. Food, fashion, and even political views. She’s more Fiscal and Republican, and I’m very Liberal, and religious. I don’t really spend too much time with her because I know that I shut myself out from her sometimes. I feel like if I tell her something about my life, she’ll overreact, and that’s what bothers me the most about my mom.

I love her to pieces, and we pretty much have the some fashion sense, but she hate that I’m pescitarian and Liberal. I also like sports alot, and my mother is one of thos women who wants to keep her daughter surrounded and with her, just like her, all the time. But, all in all, our main issue is communication. I don’t talk to her because of her reactions and the way she handles situations. She worries me a lot when she doesn’t tell me how she really feels. Her and my step-father are always arguing and that really upsets me.

Our issues consist of communication, and quality time, which is typical for most teenage girls, but it is an issue.

Pandora's avatar

Because mothers have a hard time giving up being moms and daughters have a hard time not reading more into what is said.
Speaking as a mother and a daughter, I find that my daughter often takes offense to suggestions, even when she asks for my opinion. I have to be very careful on how I put things or she gets offended and thinks I still see her as a kid. Which I don’t. I simply don’t always feel inclined to sugar coat everything. Never did. And it has gotten worse over the years. I always tell her that if she’s looking for the truth, than she came to the right place. If she is looking for lies or simply for someone to agree with her, than she should have enough sense to not ask me.
As for my mother. I understand many of her fustrations but she doesn’t see that there are things that she has long forgotten. She also doesn’t see that times have changed. We live in a very different time and even though she is entitled to her opinion it is high time she learn to swallow her pride. But some of my siblings can certainly learn to use a little more finese than to try to bully her. She just gets more stubborn.

wundayatta's avatar

I don’t think it’s much of a mystery. I think that mother-daughter relationships are no better and no worse than father-son relationships. They are also no better nor worse than any other relationship you have with someone you are forced to live with, like a sibling or roommates of other kinds.

There are challenges to every relationship and how those challenges are met depends on the personalities and relationship skills of the people involved. I’m a social scientist, and yet I would be very surprised if any of @Simone_De_Beauvoir‘s relationship theories have much predictive power. I just don’t believe you can use broad social trends to predict what goes on in any individual relationship. I would also be somewhat surprised to find that mother-daughter relationships are significantly different from other categories of single generation familial relationships.

I do think there is likely to be a difference between single generation and multiple generation relationships. I think relationships where you are not so responsible for someone else are likely to be less fraught. But where you are tightly bound together in time and responsibility—there will likely be frictions that lead to more tension than you would find in relationships not so tightly bound.

Another difference I would expect is in relationship skills. That might have something to do with education, but only a little. More likely, relationship skills have to do with how you are taught to handle relationships at home and at school. It has to do with whether there is any focus on learning how to be in relationships and how to solve problems. In families and schools where there is an emphasis on learning these skills, I would expect the relationships to work better. Relationships that don’t work so well probably involve people who are making it up as they go along.

Coloma's avatar

Don’t forget personality style. I think everyone should get their Meyers Briggs score, helps a helluva a lot in knowing what type of orientation you’re dealing with, as well as your own.
No absolutes but lots of relevant info. to better understand self and others.

AshLeigh's avatar

Perfect time for this question.

Because my mother is fucking bat shit crazy.
There I was, ten minutes ago…
I was sitting there, minding my own business, eating the dinner that I made. My mother was babbling on, as she always does, about things I don’t care about. I nodded, smiled, and spoke on cue, being polite until she would leave me alone. (Note: I was not speaking in a rude tone. I was talking like I always do)
She said “I’ll pay the phone bill tomorrow, so your phone will work again,” because it shut off today.
I nodded, and said “Okay.”
Then she went all psycho bitch on me, and said “I’m leaving. I won’t be talked to like that.”
So, she’s acting like I did when I was 11, except she wasn’t even provoked.
And that is the reason I have a challenging relationship with my mother. This happens often.

If other mothers are like this, then that would explain a lot.
But now we apparently need to go get ice cream, to make us feel better. Because that’ll fix everything

Coloma's avatar

@AshLeigh Hahha..I’ll be your mother, I don’t do nuts and I don’t do guilt trips at all, just so long as you make those cookies. :-)

AshLeigh's avatar

Alright, @Coloma! :D
Cookies, every day. ;)

jca's avatar

My mother is great, helpful with my child, steps up to the plate, etc. However, when we talk on the phone I find myself bracing physically, because I am waiting for the “you should, you could, you need to, you might, you might just.” She just can’t help herself. She can’t help feeling a need to lay out details, rehash details about what I need to do, as if I can’t figure things out for myself.

This weekend, the preschool has a picnic and then I have to take my daughter to her future school for kindergarten evaluation. Yesterday I spoke to my mother, and in the conversations, she said “the school is 40 minutes away, so you need to leave the picnic by 12:30 to get to the school by 1:20.” I said yes, I figured that out already. Today, we’re chatting, and she said “the school is 40 minutes away so you’ll need to leave the picnic by 12:30.” I said “yes, we discussed this already yesterday.” She said “OK, goodbye!” Very frustrating, and I hate to end a conversation like that. I’m mad, as I usually am when I speak to her, because she just can’t help telling me things as if I’m a child and need her to lay things out.

Argonon's avatar

I have no idea, but I suppose I’m lucky to get along very well with my mother. But I AM almost like a “little clone” of my mother so I suppose that’s why we get along so well and I’m the type of person who just avoids conflict. If there’s any trouble brewing between us I just run off and hide in my room for a while. The only time she really bothers me is when she’s on her little rampages usually relating to work because it can get very stressful for her and I like to hang out and watch movies with her at the end of the day so we can just relax together. :)
...I also like to kiss up to her because I know if I’m a little angel, I’m more likely to get things my way…

jca's avatar

@Argonon: How old are you?

Argonon's avatar

@jca I’m twenty now

Coloma's avatar

@Argonon My daughter is 24, and our hardest times were between 16 and 20. We get along great now and have the last few years.
It’s “normal” for young peeps to feel annoyed with their parents, but, there also comes a time when you need to see your mom as a person first, try to look at her life and experiences without the parental filter. :-)

Argonon's avatar

The only thing that was really a problem with us in my teen years was that I never really told her anything, constantly giving her the silent treatment. I just didn’t like her getting all up in my business, but most of the time it was because she knew I was sad or upset about something and just wanted to help. And I had an extremely stubborn nature that seemed to annoy her.
I remember I absolutely refused to go to my highschool graduation, but she really wanted me to go so she could watch. I just locked myself in my room and I eventually gave in when she bribed me with ice cream cake. I scowled in all my graduation pictures, but she thought it was hilarious. I just act like a brat sometimes, she blames my dad because that’s probably where I got it from..

the100thmonkey's avatar

I think people piss each other off. Seriously – I don’t think it’s a mother-daughter thing. People just piss each other off.

When we stop rationalising it (i.e “it’s because we’re women and mothers and daughters are like this”), we can deal with the facts, which are that people piss each other off all the time.

Pandora's avatar

@AshLeigh I think I met your mother. LOL
I know someone like that. I think your case may be different. Sounds like your mom may need to be medicated.
I had a friend like that. Whenever she spoke to her daughters she would go nuts in a perfectly normal conversation. She saw their indifference as them not caring. I actually think the problem was that they were trying not to set the time bomb off.
I always thought they were the problem till I saw what she is like when her guard is down. Or maybe she was off her meds.

AshLeigh's avatar

@Pandora, to be completely fair, I posted that when I was still angry.
Yes, she is crazy at times, and she does get mad for absolutely no reason, but she’s not all bad. She’s a good mom, when she’s not being a spazz.

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