Your daughter isn’t a kid anymore. She hasn’t lived at home for years, maybe even decades. You don’t want to be shut out of her life, but maybe you feel that way. Is it because you still treat her the way you did when she was a minor?
When our children are younger, we are responsible for their wellbeing. We tell them what to do: eat some breakfast, don’t forget to shower, do your homework, come home by a certain time. We control their lives in many ways. To a reasonable extent, it is our job to do this.
When our kids leave the nest, those things are no longer our job. Although we are still their mothers, our job description changes quite a bit. We’ve had our chance to teach them what we know. We’ve modeled how to live. Now it is time for them to make their own choices. In other words, it is time to retire the “Sheriff” badge, and park the helicopter for good.
For many moms, adjusting to this change of job description can be challenging. What is the right mixture of connection, attention, caring, independence? Do we still have any control? If so, how much should we exercise it?
The control we had over our daughters when they were little runs deeper than we realize. My own experience as a daughter was that I still felt bound by my mother’s power for many years after I went out on my own. Even though I disagreed with my mother’s values about certain things and found her difficult and manipulative, I still wanted her acceptance and approval. It was hard to break away from her attempts to control me and make my own choices that were right for me.
Some mothers believe they can decide what their daughters should do, and make them do it. My mother never stopped believing that she was my consultant on clothing, makeup, hair and weight, and that she had a God-given right to tell me what to do and wear. Although after I was living on my own, she could no longer sneak into my closet and throw away clothes she thought didn’t look good on me, she continued to insult my clothing choices when she didn’t like them (including in front of my friends and husband), told me I wasn’t a natural beauty and looked “like shit” when I didn’t wear makeup, and so forth, in an effort to control my appearance right up until her death when I was 56. Despite her poor behavior, I still wanted her to approve of the way I looked.
As mothers of grown daughters, of course none of you would say or do such things! Still, I encourage you to avoid taking advantage of your daughter’s desire for your approval by using it to control her choices as an adult. I have written previously about the dangers of raising approval-seeking children. We don’t want to bind our daughters to us with that form of power. If we do, their motivation is one of guilt, rather than love.
So here is my attempt to set forth my idea of the job description of “Mother of Adult Daughter.” It is something to which I aspire. Not that I’m there yet. Like any job, there is a learning curve.
• Offer unconditional love and support
• Be myself
• Have excellent communication skills, which includes sharing my feelings and allowing her to be comfortable sharing hers
• Have excellent listening skills
• In times of need, make being there for her a priority
• Give advice in a way that is helpful and compassionate, not authoritative, dictatorial, judgmental or critical; be judicious about offering unsolicited advice
• Accept and respect my daughter for who she is
• Appreciate my daughter’s qualities, and treat her with trust and as a competent adult
• Accept our differences
• Treat her as an equal
Remember that our daughter’s identity and sense of self are built slowly over their childhood years, and this process continues throughout adulthood. Our connection with our kids when they are younger informs the adult relationship. If our daughters felt loved, cared for, and listened to as children and teens, we will have a close relationship with them as adults, assuming we are capable of letting go of the reins.