The Benefit of Your Daughter’s Rebellion

Why moms have to let go when their daughters get older

Photograph by Getty Images

There’s nothing quite like the experience of gazing into your daughter’s eyes. In her you see all of the possibilities that the world holds, and you silently promise yourself that you will make sure she sidesteps the pitfalls you slipped into. You hold her against your breast, you feed her, you help her to walk and to gain independence.

Your heart warms when you catch her watching you, mesmerized by you. You can tell that you are her moon and her stars. Then things change. She matures, learns more about the world and slowly begins to play an active part in it.

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Instead of imitating your every move and seeking your approval, she is now more interested in gaining the approval of her peers. With each passing day your conversations become less warm, less open and less frequent. One fateful day, you offer your opinion and she flat-out rejects it, her lip curled as though you are the last person on earth who would know anything about anything that’s going on.

“While mothers are idealized when children are 4 or 5 years old, teenagers often see their mothers as being old-fashioned or ‘out of it,’" writes Josephine Ferraro, a N.Y.C.-based psychotherapist. “This is another stage where children are learning to separate themselves emotionally from their mothers.”

According to Ferraro, this stage of judgment and criticism of her mother’s life choices and tastes may linger well into her 20s. Daughters are shedding the idea that their mothers are infallible, all-knowing beings; which pushes them to attempt to distinguish themselves from their mothers.

“The business of trying on different identities and figuring out who they are is what I call resistance,” shares Sil Reynolds, a therapist in Hudson Valley, N.Y., and the author of Mothering and Daughtering: Keeping Your Bond Strong Through the Teen Years.

"When we become adults we have to grow up and be our own person, not someone who is completely identified with who our parents wanted us to be." –Sil Reynolds, a therapist in Hudson Valley, N.Y.

“This stage, as much as it is emotionally taxing for both the mother and the daughter, is important because when we become adults we have to grow up and be our own person, not someone who is completely identified with who our parents wanted us to be,” says Reynolds.

Reynolds warns that it is very natural to want to keep some things we learned from our mothers, but it is also a natural thing to want to be different. How this stage in a mother-daughter relationship impacts it in the long run is solely dependent upon how the mother reacts to her daughter’s resistance and search for identity.

“If the mother understands that this resistance is normal and doesn’t feel personally rejected by her daughter, then their relationship will survive this stage,” Reynolds says. “When the mother is feeling secure in her role, she is able to accept and talk to her daughter about her resistance, and she can be there for her daughter to set healthy boundaries which her daughter needs. Our daughters crave our limits and never want us to give up on them.”

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In other words, moms, give your girls some space. But maintain that support, even when you feel her pushing you away. It's a tricky balance, but one that could mean a future filled with love, or fraught with resentments.

Have you and your daughter been through this stage?

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