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Image / Editorial

The Mother-Daughter Relationship Is Deeply Complex (Even Science Agrees)


By Jade Hanley
11th Mar 2018
The Mother-Daughter Relationship Is Deeply Complex (Even Science Agrees)

The bond between a mother and daughter is without a doubt one of the most powerful and complex relationships.


Mother’s day is a day to appreciate the love and kindness that the women who carried us have offered over the years. Not to mention the sacrifices they have made. Over the course of the day, husbands and children will be battling it out for the affection of their beloved wife and mother. Social media will be booming with ‘Thank You’ posts and ‘My mother is my best friend’ posts, combined with awkward and heartwarming pictures of when you were a chubby baby, to the onset of the horrific puberty phase, and finally to the present “adulthood” state.

For the day that’s in it, it seemed fitting to reflect on the relationship between mothers and daughters and how complex, yet powerful this bond truly is.

As many of us know, the most important relationships in our lives are the ones that cause us the most heartbreak. My mother and I have always had a strong bond, she has always been there for me and I’ll always be there for her, but it’s definitely more complicated than meets the eye. My mum, unfortunately, has always had a difficult relationship with her mum. She left her home in Wales at the age of 20 and decided to travel the world, luckily ending up in Ireland where she met my dad. It’s hard for me to observe the difficult and neglected relationship between my mum and her mother.

Although I can thankfully say that my mum is one of my best friends, it’s definitely not a perfect relationship and like any relationship, it takes time and a lot of work. I don’t think it’s possible for anyone to know me more than she does; we’ve laughed, cried, fought, and ignored each other more times than I can count. I’ll admit that the majority of the time it has been due to my stubbornness, arrogance, and lack of perspective, which she has no problem letting me know!

The Journal of Neuroscience examined the mother-daughter relationship and found it holds the strongest bond when it comes to parent-child relationships, even greater than that of a father and son, apparently. “Mothers and daughters report deeper emotions, positive and negative, in their intergenerational relationships than fathers and sons.” This comes down to the natural and familiar ways that they process and respond to emotion. Like father, like son? I’m thinking more, “like mother, like daughter”.

While a mother’s role is to set rules, boundaries, and be a mentor and guide for their children, having a daughter can be the most challenging task, I know mine would 100% agree on this. After all, having a daughter is pretty much the same as creating a ‘mini-me’ and no one wants to argue or be upset with a smaller version of yourself. It also doesn’t help that I’ve been very unfortunate health-wise since I was a baby and never fully understood her feelings of guilt around this until very recently.

“Mothers and daughters report deeper emotions, positive and negative, in their intergenerational relationships than fathers and sons.”

Now that I’m in my 20s and trying to map out the rest of my life, it’s caused quite a number of arguments. I’ve made some terrible decisions in my life, especially that time I decided to take a “gap year” in my final year of college, and of course, my mum was the first to voice her concerns and frustrations with me. Now, I cherish the relationship that we share, from going shopping together, buying similar clothes, and going for drinks. Then, however, I wasn’t ready to accept the harsh reality of my actions.

A study taken by Karen L. Fingerman, Ageing Mothers And Their Adult Daughters: A Study In Mixed Emotions highlights how the emotional complexities of the relationship between a mother and daughter tie into the way a family functions, potentially even determining the strength of the surrounding relationships within and outside the family unit. “Mothers and daughters who maintain stronger ties may foster closer ties to other kin. By contrast, when mothers and daughters are upset with one another, their feelings may taint family gatherings and other relationships.”

This relationship is one that will set you up for future relationships whether they be with family, friends, or colleagues. It will also help you shape your identity, self-worth, and future independence so that one day you can pass these lessons onto your children.

So the moral of the story is; make sure to thank your mother today.

Photo by Jon Flobrant on Unsplash