Put The Fun In Dysfunction
Here’s Why You & Your Mom Can Fight So Much
It's not just you, and it's not just her.
Around Mother’s Day, you’ll see lots of mushy tributes from women to their moms, lots of which will call their mom their “best friend.” But even if you love and cherish your mom, it’s normal to also have conflict. While we as a culture talk a lot about women with “daddy issues” (usually in a dismissive and downright misogynistic way), “mommy issues” in women can be under-discussed, dismissed, or seen as indicative of personality flaws in mother or daughter.
In fact, it’s really normal to have disagreement and conflict with your mom, particularly once you’ve become a parent yourself. Whether it’s trying to encourage your mom to be a more involved grandparent or trying to do the opposite and set more boundaries with your mom in her grandparent role, there’s ample ground for disagreement and misunderstanding. Add that to the fact that you probably have a well-established pattern of conflict with your mom dating back to your teenage years, and it can feel like the two of you can’t even have a conversation without it devolving into disagreement. While it’s probably never going to be completely smooth sailing, there are some ways to work on fighting less with your mom and get out of the patterns of conflict that might be holding your relationship back.
What are “mommy issues” in women?
The issues that a person can have with their mother are, of course, as varied as the human experience itself. Some people have moms who were abusive, struggle with addiction, or have other problems that make a healthy relationship with them impossible, at least while those issues are ongoing. But just because you’re not dealing with those more extreme problems doesn’t mean that you won’t have conflict with your mom. “I often see that mothers and daughters have conflict arising out of a difference in expectations in how they wanted their mothers to show up and how they actually do show up in their lives,” Alyson Lischer, a Licensed Marriage and Family Therapist, tells Romper. Becoming an adult can involve a painful process of moving from a childlike view of our moms, in which she’s perfect and has all the answers, into a more complex understanding of her as a whole person.
As kids, “we believe that mothers have it all figured out and know all the right things to say and do, when in reality mothers are just people that happened to have a child/children. They have all their own internal conflicts, struggles, and attachment needs,” Lischer explains. “There is a tension between protection and allowing space to grow that is incredibly difficult to navigate.”
What are some common causes of conflict between mothers and daughters?
That tension between protection and growth can be at the root of a lot of common causes of mother-daughter conflict. “The daughter might feel controlled, and the mother might feel disrespected — that’s a common relational pattern that can happen around any unique arguments that they might be having,” says Nikki Rollo, PhD and Licensed Marriage and Family Therapist. Some of the common arguments between mothers and daughters that she’s seen include “clothing choices, body image, dieting pressures, dating relationships, and parenting decisions once the daughter has her own children.”
But there are also even deeper causes at the basis of those kinds of conflicts that we shouldn’t overlook. “I’m always thinking about how our relationships are impacted by all the systems we live in, or live under. Experiences of patriarchal systems, sexism, racism, heterosexism, ageism — all these things can be internalized and lived out for women,” Rollo says. “ I think we have to acknowledge the way that patriarchal world views and beliefs have damaged the sense of worth for women, and the way we see one another, and the way that can play out in those relationships.”
What can you do when you’re fighting with your mom?
One first step is not to get caught up in the idea that you’re the only one who fights with her mom and that everyone else has a loving and perfect relationship. “Conflict is normal and expected in the mother-daughter relationship. It actually is a sign of growth and development when there is a certain amount of conflict in these relationships,” Lischer says. Knowing you’re not alone and that this is an expected part of your relationship with your mom can help take away the unrealistic expectation that everything should be easy all the time.
In addition, it might help you to consider the deeper causes of your conflict. If you feel judged or disrespected by your mom for the choices you make around balancing career and parenthood, for instance, it can help to remember that both your mom and you are impacted by the policy choices our country has made that make it incredibly difficult to have both a job and be a parent. Rollo encourages daughters to look at “how the systems you’re a part of impact those close personal relationships.” Doing that “can move your feelings from the feeling that it’s ‘all about us in this battle’ and it starts to put some of the responsibility in other places.”
In addition to thinking about those bigger issues, Rollo says, it’s important for you to have clarity about your own expectations and boundaries. You can write down your thoughts to get clear, and think ahead of time about what boundaries are important to you. Getting clear in your own head on your expectations can help you realize what’s going to be a problem for you before you let it build up into a major source of conflict.
It’s hard when you and your mom aren’t seeing eye-to-eye, but knowing and expecting some level of conflict, and giving yourself the tools to see the bigger picture, can help you have the mother-daughter relationship that you want.
Alyson Lischer, LMFT, CEDS-S
Nikki Roll, PhD, LMFT, CEDS-S