The single biggest complaint daughters have about their moms is, “She’s always criticizing me.” If you are a mom, you may be thinking, “I can’t open my mouth because my daughter takes everything as criticism.”
In my Mother’s Day post last week, I talked about the unique nature and inherent difficulties of the mother-daughter relationship. Most moms want to do what we can so that our daughters have every advantage in life, but sometimes, our daughters don’t want the same things that we want for them. This may lead to us be critical of our daughters in an attempt (perhaps unconscious) to manipulate their behavior. Does criticism get the results we want? To the contrary, being critical of your daughter can harm your relationship. Some daughters avoid spending time with their mothers to avoid criticism.
I hear you, moms. It can be hard to keep our mouths shut when we think our daughters are doing things that may be dangerous, don’t look good, or are downright lame. We may be able to prevent our daughters from making some mistakes, but we can’t prevent them from making any. Just like we made mistakes, our daughters will, too. That is hard for many of us to accept, with that protective mother thing we have, but it is life.
No matter how nicely we try to warn them or disguise the message, however, our perceptive daughters nonetheless pick up the metamessage, or the meaning behind our words. Other times, they may read a little too much into what we say. Your daughter may interpret your enthusiastic, “So you’ve got a date with someone different,” to mean, “I hope that means you’ve dumped that creep you’ve been seeing.” Is that what you were really thinking?
The fact is that, despite the best intentions, a mother’s repetition of what we believe are legitimate concerns can put distance between our daughter and us. So practice being mindful of what you say to your daughter. This is a tall order. It is hard for us to have an objective, non-emotional view of our behavior in relation to our daughters. We have lots of old patterns that most of us aren’t even aware of. Those patterns developed when they were kids, and it was our job to tell them what to do. But if you haven’t stopped trying to order your daughter around and criticizing her when she doesn’t do what you want, you are overdue for some self-reflection and change in how you relate to one another. I’m also talking about criticism of her hair, makeup, clothing, and especially her weight. She has a mirror and presumably consults it daily. She has chosen to look that way and you should only give your opinion if she solicits it or to pay a compliment.
On a personal note, my mother once actually told me, “you really look like shit,” because I wasn’t wearing any makeup. She then said it was because she wanted me to start coloring my hair auburn again because she liked my hair better that color. I can tell you that I did not respond the way she hoped!
Because it is difficult for us to see ourselves as others see us, perhaps that is another reason why our daughters may think we are being critical when we don’t think so. If you think your daughter unfairly accuses you of being critical, ask her why. A great response is, “I’m sorry you think that. I don’t think I am criticizing you, but want to know why you think that.” Then put being a good listener ahead of being defensive!
The only thing worse than criticizing your daughter is doing it in front of others, especially on social media. That is just plain bad manners to do to anyone, so why do it to someone you love? If someone did that to you, you would be really angry, wouldn’t you? Well, she would be, too. Dirty laundry does not belong on Facebook.
Accept your daughter for who she is.
Although your daughter doesn’t want your criticism, she still wants your approval. She may not act that way, but take my word for it. But here’s the thing–do you really want her to place getting your approval above being herself? If you want a close relationship, the answer to this question is NO.
I find it very sad when I am with people who can’t be themselves around their mother for fear that she will disapprove of their authentic self. These are people who believe they have a close relationship with their mother, yet don’t share a lot of things with her for fear of disapproval. I don’t call that close. “I don’t want my mother to know that I haven’t been to church in years.” “I don’t want her to see my tattoo.” What do we gain from hiding who we really are? Distance, which is the opposite of closeness. Their mother will love them anyway! If not, there are serious problems with their relationship beyond what I am discussing here.
If you want your daughter to be open and authentic with you, allow her to feel comfortable being herself around you. This means you will likely have to be tolerant of change and differences. It means looking at your thinking about her, and not being disappointed because everything isn’t the way you imagined it would be. Celebrate and love her for who she is and honor her power to make her own life choices. Don’t discourage her from exercising that power. You can’t change who she is anyway. All you can change is how you think about her and her choices.
The bottom line is that if your daughter has to pretend to be someone else around you, either to obtain your approval or avoid conflict, she won’t be close to you and won’t want to spend as much time with you. She will pull away.
Are you having difficulties in your relationship with your adult daughter? A coach can help you look more objectively at your thoughts and your relationship, and help you see it from a different perspective. Contact me for a free mini-session to experience the power of coaching.