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Why Do Mothers and Their Teen Daughters Fight?

What's often thought of as the most fraught relationship—the one between mother and daughter—has roots in the mother's own identity and how it conflicts with the girl's growing (and necessary) independence and separation. The Wall Street Journal's Elizabeth Bernstein takes a look at one mother and daughter's relationship in "Why Mothers and Teenage Daughters Fight."

Basically (and, frankly, we moms are quite used to this), it's the mom's fault. A mother, psychologists say, sees her daughter as an extension of herself.

"Mom is putting her own expectations on her daughter," Roni Cohen-Sandler, a clinical psychologist in Weston, Conn., told Bernstein. "And the daughter feels she has to gratify her mother's needs or else she is a disappointment."

Cohen-Sandler, who counsels mother-daughter pairs in her practice, explores this idea more deeply in her recently published book, "I'm Not Mad, I Just Hate You: A New Understanding of Mother-Daughter Conflict."

The conflict between mothers and daughters, while age-old, is actually part of the "kids getting older younger" phenomenon. Bernstein reports that girls as young as 10 or 11 and their moms are fighting, as girls are going through puberty at a younger age and often in families where the mom is experiencing her own dramatic hormonal shifts in perimenopause or menopause.

When the conflict starts, Cohen-Sandler reminds moms that they are still the adult in the relationship. "Your daughter can push all sorts of buttons, but you are responsible for understanding the feelings that are being aroused in you and for not reacting in ways that are not in your daughter's best interest," she told the WSJ.

What can moms do? They can acknowledge behaviors that they expect in their daughters, like telling them they appreciate the child coming home when she said she would or making plans as far in advance as possible.

And also, limit the criticism.

"It takes about five compliments to counterbalance every criticism," Lisa Fedder, a clinical social worker with offices in Englewood Cliffs and Maplewood, N.J., told Bernstein.

Girls and their moms can work together to negotiate this territory, speaking openly and laying out their expectations.

Image via Twenty/20

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