A few summers ago, my wife and I returned from spending a week on Cape Cod attending a conference. Our two adult daughters joined us for much of our stay. It was wonderful seeing both of them — I’m always delighted to spend time with them.
In modern life, with cell phones, it’s easier to stay in touch with adult kids who live far away than in my young adulthood. My parents had to rely on letters because phone calls were expensive. But today, a regular call or text keeps us in touch cheaply. But it’s no substitute for sharing a meal or watching a sunset.
Of course, vacationing together for a brief time, 24 hours a day, is more intense than when families live closer to each other. A family vacation has both sweet and sour moments. Tempers flare, old wounds can re-open, and disappointment may rear its ugly head.
On these trips, I always marvel at the complexity of mother-daughter relationships.
This is not a new observation, as the father of two daughters, now 39 and 41. Mothers seem to expect a lot from their daughters, and daughters have a high bar for their moms. Sometimes, I think their expectations of each other are unrealistic — a recipe for disappointment.
Daughters give us dads a free pass. When they were teens, if I forgot to take a phone message, I was quickly forgiven. I was relieved that their expectations of me were so much lower (more realistic, in my view). But I often felt bad for my wife.
Many mothers desire a close and friendly relationship with their adult daughters. They hope to share their deepest thoughts and have fun together. However, this type of friendship may not always develop, which can leave mothers feeling disappointed or hurt. Additionally, daughters may feel overwhelmed by the expectation to maintain this kind of relationship with their mothers. The truth is, no matter how old you get, you will always be someone’s child, and your mother will always be your mother, even if she is no longer responsible for your care and well-being.
Adults can choose their friends, but not their family, and sometimes adult friendship between a mother and daughter may not be possible.
Mothers and daughters can have unrealistic expectations of each other. For example, adult daughters may seek approval from their mothers, but what happens when their choices are not approved? Even if the mother doesn’t vocalize her disapproval, the daughter may still feel it. This is because the mother’s radar is always on.
What can mothers and daughters do to manage this complex and sometimes challenging relationship?
Be patient with each other. You’re not in this world to live up to each other’s expectations. If you do, fantastic. But if you don’t, that’s okay too.
Accept each other as you are, not as you would like the other person to be. This acceptance has to be genuine. When it is, your mother or daughter will experience it as true love.
Nurture realistic expectations. This is easier said than done. Cut your hopes and dreams by 30%, and you might be closer to reality. Lower the bar, and your reward will be Olympic gold.
Wait till your daughters have kids. When your kids have kids, your stock goes way up. They realize what you did, and they have more appreciation for you.
Paul Schoenfeld is a clinical psychologist at The Everett Clinic. His Family Talk blog can be found at www. everettclinic.com/ healthwellness-library.html.