Sometimes my mom drives me crazy. There are times I think I will literally lose my mind if I hear her speak another word. Then, there are times I am so grateful for my mom it feels like my heart will burst with an overflow of love and affection.
How can it be I feel such disparate emotions for the same person?
Perhaps it’s because she’s my mom.
It’s her job to push, to coddle, to criticize, to love.
Everyone has a different relationship with their mom. Take for instance, Sarah. Sarah is best friends with her mother. They do everything together…spa days, hair appointments, shopping sprees, you name it. Sarah will talk on the phone with her mom every day, sometimes three or four times a day. They live fifteen minutes apart, and they are literally joined at the hip.
Recently, Sarah got engaged. Her fiancé knows she and her mother are close, but isn’t aware just how close. Is this potential for trouble?
According to experts, this would be a resounding yes.
Dr. Roni Cohen-Sandler is a renowned psychologist who specializes in issues of women and girls, particularly mother-daughter relationships.* She says relationships like the one Sarah has with her mother can be quite damaging in three ways.
- Because of their tight-knit bond, Sarah never had the opportunity to forge her own identity. As a young woman, being best friends with her mom may have denied Sarah the opportunity to develop strong friendships with other girls..girls who would help Sarah test out new skills, try out new aspects of her personality, and give her objective feedback (something she would never get from her own mother). For young women to develop their own personality, they often need to differentiate themselves from their mom. But in this case, being so close would make it difficult for them to acknowledge anything different about themselves (interests, thoughts, feelings, preferences) for fear of endangering that relationship.
- Women like Sarah lack problem-solving skills, practically never having had to use them. Texting, calling, emailing every thought and minor experience to mom means never having to sit with your feelings and emotions long enough to process and use them. These women are being coddled and soothed without ever being given the opportunity to soothe themselves and formulate their own problem-solving. It makes for a very difficult time when mom is not around.
- Romantic relationships in Sarah’s life can suffer. Being so close to your mother can prevent other strong relationships from forming, especially with a boyfriend/fiancé/husband. In Sarah’s case, her relationship with her fiancé could hit a rough patch when Sarah needs to consult her mom on every decision involving their lives. Certain times may call for more involvement (wedding planning, having a baby), but when daughters are not interested in or able to draw boundaries around their new family, it can be tough on the partner.
Perhaps, after reading this, you too, realize you’re in a state of arrested development. Here’s the good news. It’s never too late to start growing up. According to Dr. Cohen-Sandler, change begins with communication. Having an honest and tactful conversation about wanting more space, or spending more time with your new family is the best way to go about it. It’s up to you to be more selective in what you share with your mom, or how often you speak. Likewise, mothers can help too, by not offering advice immediately and encouraging their daughters to solve their own problems.
Despite all of this, no matter how unhealthy it might seem, for some mothers and daughters, this kind of relationship can work. There are certainly worse things than going through life with your mother as your very best friend. For instance, you could be strangers, harboring a lifetime of bitterness and resentment. Instead of sharing every waking moment, you spend your lives avoiding each other. We’ll tackle that in part II of this series.
What kind of relationship do you have with your mother? What works for you?
*Dr. Roni Cohen-Sandler is a clinical psychologist, author, and speaker who specializes in family issues. Her first book focuses on mother-daughter conflict, called “I’m Not Mad, I Just Hate You!”