"Daughtering": 6 Keys to Stronger Mother-Teen Bonds

Active “daughtering” can transform adolescent mother-daughter relationships.

Posted Jan 14, 2014

For mothers and teenaged daughters who feel like they’re constantly butting heads, one mom-and-daughter pair has a new approach: Meet in the middle. 

Sil Reynolds and Eliza Reynolds, who run a series of mother-daughter workshops, have developed hands-on, intimate activities that encourage moms and daughters to be on the same page. The ideas in their book, Mothering & Daughtering: Keeping Your Bond Strong Through the Teen Years present mothers and daughters with ways to repair, enhance, and grow their relationships. In Inside Every Mother Is a Daughter, we looked at mother Sil Reynolds’ insights and tips. Now, we turn to her daughter.

“Daughtering” Defined

Daughter Eliza rightly points out, “We have so many definitions and raging debates about what mothering is, about what mothers do—but what do daughters do?” She even coined a word for what daughters should be doing: “daughtering.” It is a concept she feels can help our understanding of the mother-daughter relationship.

Eliza explains, “I believe that we teenage daughters are trapped in the language of passivity. As pop culture would have it, we roll our eyes; we have cutting sarcasm down pat, and defensively cross our arms as we deliver one-word answers (‘Mom, I’m fine’).” She defines “daughtering” as “being active in your relationship with your mom so that she knows the real you; balancing your independence with a dependable bond as your grow into your true self.” 

Eliza’s Action-Oriented Guidelines for “Daughtering”

1. Don’t give up on your mom. Giving up is when you say, “She’ll never get me, she’ll never trust me, she’ll always embarrass me.”

2. Stay real. Be authentic and genuine. Cut the BS.

3. Build the relationship YOU want and need—the one where she actually listens when you’re talking and you actually want to listen back. A relationship that looks like, you know, two people getting along. That means carving out regular time together, where you do fun things you love like riding bikes, or cooking a meal. When you feel connected because you are enjoying an activity together, talking and listening comes naturally.

4. Accept the fact that your mom is just another person. She’s human, however much she may try to hide it. This means that (1) she will make mistakes, and (2) she can (and should) be on that wonderful, terribly challenging personal journey to be her best possible self and best possible mother. You can ask this of her.

5. Realize what you are internalizing and choose which pieces you want. Look up your maternal line and try to fully understand the lives that your mom, grandmas, and great-grandmas have lived. Ask questions and discover the real “her-stories.” If you know what is being handed down, you can start to choose what you want to carry on with you and what you want to remember to leave behind. For instance, my grandmother is not a very cuddly person like my mother is. That was hard for me until I realized how much I love her enthusiasm for life. She gave that to my mother and me and I can appreciate that.

6. If necessary, find a mom, any mom, who can give you the mothering you need. This steady, dependable bond with an adult woman, is something that we daughters need during the teen years. If your mom is unable to give you this, find someone who can. Build a community in which you can act as a daughter.

Eliza learned from her workshops with teen and preteen girls that mother-daughter relationships improve “When daughters become an active part of the relationship, and not simply the recipient of what she may view as her mom’s inept and infuriating attentions. Her thoughts and feelings are included in the relationship—and she learns to know that she, too, is needed and can speak up. Ultimately, the interaction between mother and daughter on intimate grounds expands outwards into the rest of her life.”

Do you agree with Eliza that daughters who play a positive role in the mother-daughter relationship can reduce the friction so frequently prevalent in adolescent mother-daughter relationships? Have you tried it? Consider sharing or discussing these suggestions with your daughter.

Related: Inside Every Mother Is a Daughter and  How Close is Too Close in Mother-Daughter Relationships? 

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