Why mothers & daughters fight and three questions that help

Kara Powell Image Kara Powell | May 14, 2014

Photo by J.K. Califf.

When I was a youth pastor, if a mom or dad of a teenager wanted to volunteer in our ministry, I’d always ask the kids how they felt about their parents serving. Both teenage girls and guys were usually fine with their dads serving, but only teenage boys were okay with their moms serving. Not teenage girls.

In a recent interview, Deborah Tannen, a well-known communication and relationship expert, sheds some light on why. According to Tannen, there’s a unique closeness between young people and their parents today. But this closeness has a few drawbacks. If a daughter opens up to her mom about how she’s feeling, the mom quickly moves from “friend” mode to “parent” mode, peppering her daughters with both questions and advice.

This causes the daughter to clam up, regretting that she ever shared her feelings with her mom.

According to Tannen, the 3 biggest sources of friction between mothers and daughters are hair, clothes, and weight.

What do these 3 have in common? They all relate to physical appearance.

Tannen insightfully comments that often if a mom is insecure about some aspect of her own appearance, she will give extra attentive to her daughter in that area. For instance, a mom who is ashamed of her own weight might be extra anxious about any unhealthy weight or nutrition patterns she sees in her own daughter.

As a mom of two daughters, Tannen’s interview sparked some new questions for me:

1. How can I make sure my own insecurities and issues don’t translate into stress between me and my girls? For example, it’s all too easy for me to place too much of my identity in what I do, and what others think about what I do. That so easily can spill over into putting pressure on my girls to perform and behave well, especially when others I care about are nearby.

2. How can I learn to bite my tongue? That’s one of Tannen’s tangible pieces of advice for moms: daughters can take offense at motherly advice, no matter how well-intentioned. The wisest moms I know are very sensitive to the best time to raise questions or conversations with their daughters, and that often means being radio silent for a while.

3. How can I major on the “majors” with my girls? One close friend of mine says that the primary conversation topic she remembers from her high school years at home was how her parents wanted her to keep her room clean. She’s wisely decided to hold the reigns loosely on her daughters’ rooms, even though she’d rather be able to see the floor of their rooms when she walks by. But she’s realized that what’s most important is her relationship with them, not whether or not their clothes are hung up every day.

Moms, step-moms, grandmas, and other women, what other questions do you ask yourself to strengthen your relationship with your girls?

Kara Powell Image
Kara Powell

Kara Powell, PhD, is the chief of leadership formation and executive director of the Fuller Youth Institute (FYI) at Fuller Theological Seminary. Named by Christianity Today as one of "50 Women to Watch," Kara serves as a youth and family strategist for Orange and speaks regularly at parenting and leadership conferences. Kara has authored or coauthored numerous books, including Faith Beyond Youth Group, 3 Big Questions That Shape Your Future, 3 Big Questions That Change Every Teenager, Growing With, Growing Young, The Sticky Faith Guide for Your Family and the entire Sticky Faith series. Kara and her husband, Dave, are regularly inspired by the learning and laughter that comes from their three teenage and young adult children.

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