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Mother-daughter conflict is as old as time and often the topic of many a classic as well a modern novel. Freud believed that the mother figure could very well be the root of all grown children’s neurosis, but it is probably much simpler than that. Mothers have the age-old desire to see their daughters achieve what they did not in their generation.
The Origins of Conflict
When a mother experiences fear or concern for a young daughter’s behavior she also remembers when she was young and how receptive she was to her own mother’s advice, talks, shouting matches. Yes, there is a progression and any daughter or mother can attest that sometimes advice and talk get bypassed and shouting becomes the way of saying this simple sentence: I love you and I am so afraid of you making a mistake that could cost you your future.
Part of the reluctance to say these very true and meaningful words is the memory of how obstinate she was at “that age.” Even if a mother has done most everything right herself in a mother-daughter relationship, there may come a time when she projects her teenaged behaviors, thoughts, and feelings upon her daughter.
Most good mothers are so, not because they had a stellar relationship with their own mothers, but because they did not, and they are determined to have a good relationship with their daughters. The intent and pledge to do so is so strong, that when there seems to be the least threat to that relationship, that sacred alliance, the mother lashes out at whomever or whatever poses the threat. Often that may be the daughter herself who at a certain and normal age of her development wishes to assert herself as independent of her mother.
Fiction is Fact
Anyone who was a member of the cult following of the Gilmore Girls (2000-2007) remembers the enviable relationship between Lorelai and Rory. The only times there were ever disruption to their harmony was when there was a male in Rory’s life that posed a threat to not only the mother-daughter relationship, but also to the brilliant future Lorelai saw for her daughter; the one she herself did not have, because of a boy that ultimately led to teen motherhood.
The juxtaposition of their relationship is that Lorelai would not take anything for her daughter. However, her cognitive mind recognizes that had she not become a mother at sixteen her life would have been easier, if not better. This sort of cognitive dissonance is the stuff for which mother-daughter relationships are made of. Mothers love their children, mothers love their daughters, but they wish so much more than motherhood for them.
If It Is Not Hate, It Must Be Love
When a mother and daughter come to an impasse in their relationship it is painful to them both, it may seem that they hate one another. The daughter may feel that no matter what she does, her mother hates her. The truth is that rarely do a mother and daughter actually hate one another, they simply find themselves at odds in the relationship. The daughter needs independence, and the mother is afraid to let go and allow her daughter to make mistakes; mistakes that could possibly be fatal, or at least heartbreaking.
There are no easy answers for any mother or daughter. However, open communication is a must. Even when it is painful. Even when there may be raised emotions and voices involved. No matter the issues, the words: I love you should be expressed often in the conversation. Even if these words are prefaced with: I am angry or I am disappointed, or especially, I am afraid. No psychologically healthy mother ever hates her daughter. She simply does not like the power that child has over her to drive her back to when she could have changed her course, and did not.
Daughters: Be Kind to Your Mothers. They Love You No Matter What You Do. Mothers, Be Kind to Your Daughters. They Love You No Matter What They Do.
 Missy Molloy, “Mother-Daughter Ambivalence According to Sigmund Freud and Chantal Akerman,” PSYART; Gainesville, 2014, N_A.
 Paul M Usita and Barbara C Du Bois, “Conflict Sources and Responses in Mother-Daughter Relationships: Perspectives of Adult Daughters of Aging Immigrant Women,” Journal Of Women & Aging 17, no. 1–2 (2005): 151–65.
 Susan J. T. Branje, “Conflict Management in Mother-Daughter Interactions in Early Adolescence,” Behaviour 145, no. 11 (2008): 1627–51.
 Molloy, “Mother-Daughter Ambivalence According to Sigmund Freud and Chantal Akerman.”
 N A Gonzales, A M Cauce, and C A Mason, “Interobserver Agreement in the Assessment of Parental Behavior and Parent-Adolescent Conflict: African American Mothers, Daughters, and Independent Observers,” Child Development 67, no. 4 (August 1996): 1483–98.
Branje, Susan J. T. “Conflict Management in Mother-Daughter Interactions in Early Adolescence.” Behaviour 145, no. 11 (2008): 1627–51.
Gonzales, N A, A M Cauce, and C A Mason. “Interobserver Agreement in the Assessment of Parental Behavior and Parent-Adolescent Conflict: African American Mothers, Daughters, and Independent Observers.” Child Development 67, no. 4 (August 1996): 1483–98.
Molloy, Missy. “Mother-Daughter Ambivalence According to Sigmund Freud and Chantal Akerman.” PSYART; Gainesville, 2014, N_A.
Usita, Paul M, and Barbara C Du Bois. “Conflict Sources and Responses in Mother-Daughter Relationships: Perspectives of Adult Daughters of Aging Immigrant Women.” Journal Of Women & Aging 17, no. 1–2 (2005): 151–65.
If you are a member of a family, whether it is as father, mother, child, sibling or an extended member, there will be conflict. The sources of the conflict can be internal or external to the family, as well as to do with the situation of one individual family member. Families often face even greater conflict when trying to agree on how to resolve the conflict, it is in these instances that seeking the help of a third party is in the best interest of the family, and very often the quickest route to resolution.
Identify the Source of Conflict
To resolve conflict within a family, the family must first identify the source of conflict. That does not mean pointing a finger at little Johnny who has ADHD and blaming him because of the amount of extra attention he needs. Chances are everyone is doing everything they can to help Johnny manage his ADHD. The question is, how is everyone else managing themselves?
For example. Johnny often leaves his things wherever he drops them. This means that getting everyone ready and out the door each morning for school and work means finding Johnny’s left sneaker before leaving. The shoe may or may not be found, but often not before dispute and some blaming takes place.
What can a family do to avoid such fallout? The source of conflict as the family sees it at present is Johnny’s ADHD. They are not dealing with the source of the conflict, they are dealing with the fallout. If the family knows that Johnny is prone to losing things, and recognizes this is a part of his ADHD, then the family should in addition to working with Johnny to help him self-manage, but should also find ways in which they can each help circumvent the problem.
Scenario: It is bedtime.
- If Johnny’s right sneaker is beside the stairs and is observed by older sister Julie, then at that moment she should pick up the sneaker and ask Johnny to bring down the other. This may take a while. Once the two sneakers have been reunited, place them both by the door everyone leaves from the next morning. Crises averted.
- In the event that Johnny’s left sneaker has been lost in the abyss that consumes little boy’s left sneakers, have a back-up pair ready and waiting by the door or some other place that is predetermined. Of course, the family – and Johnny- needs to make sure the back-up pair go back to their hiding place. As a natural consequence to help Johnny become more responsible and to self-regulate – the back-up pair should be his least favorite pair of shoes/sneakers.
- Mom, Dad, or Julie could take turns in following up behind Johnny each evening to make sure that his belongings are packed and ready to go. This helps to avoid the morning rush crises.
Accepting the Source of Conflict and Moving Forward
Yes. Johnny’s ADHD is a fact in this hypothetical story. However, it is not the source of the conflict. The true source of the conflict is the family’s lack of adaptability. Johnny has ADHD. This is a concrete fact. Johnny could benefit from cognitive-behavioral therapy (CBT). Most children with ADHD respond well to a combination of CBT and the proper mediation. However, and most therapists and parents will agree, medical treatment is trial and error, and there are no overnight fixes.
What this means is the family has to deal with what is. Fighting over what should be at this point is moot, and just complicates matters further. By identifying the real source of the conflict, families can find those easy fixes -and Johnny’s missing left sneaker without all the family drama. Seeking help from a mental health therapist could benefit Johnny’s parents; however, it could also present a red herring. Families often seek mental health counseling for family problems because they do not realize there are other options such as conflict resolution which may be more cost effective and less stigmatizing than atteniding therapy. .
Foley, Marie. “A Comparison of Family Adversity and Family Dysfunction in Families of Children with Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD) and Families of Children without ADHD.” Journal for Specialists in Pediatric Nursing 16, no. 1 (January 2011): 39–49. doi:10.1111/j.1744-6155.2010.00269.x.
Friesen, John D. “Theories and Approaches to Family Counselling.” International Journal for the Advancement of Counselling 18, no. 1 (March 1, 1995): 3–10. doi:10.1007/BF01409599.
Hofmann, Stefan G., Anu Asnaani, Imke J.J. Vonk, Alice T. Sawyer, and Angela Fang. “The Efficacy of Cognitive Behavioral Therapy: A Review of Meta-Analyses.” Cognitive Therapy and Research 36, no. 5 (October 1, 2012): 427–40. doi:10.1007/s10608-012-9476-1.
“Managing Anxiety in Children With ADHD Using Cognitive-Behavioral Therapy – Emma Sciberras, Melissa Mulraney, Vicki Anderson, Ronald M. Rapee, Jan M. Nicholson, Daryl Efron, Katherine Lee, Zoe Markopoulos, Harriet Hiscock,.” Accessed May 5, 2017. http://journals.sagepub.com.contentproxy.phoenix.edu/doi/abs/10.1177/1087054715584054.
 John D. Friesen, “Theories and Approaches to Family Counselling,” International Journal for the Advancement of Counselling 18, no. 1 (March 1, 1995): 3–10, doi:10.1007/BF01409599.
 Marie Foley, “A Comparison of Family Adversity and Family Dysfunction in Families of Children with Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD) and Families of Children without ADHD,” Journal for Specialists in Pediatric Nursing 16, no. 1 (January 2011): 39–49, doi:10.1111/j.1744-6155.2010.00269.x.
 Stefan G. Hofmann et al., “The Efficacy of Cognitive Behavioral Therapy: A Review of Meta-Analyses,” Cognitive Therapy and Research 36, no. 5 (October 1, 2012): 427–40, doi:10.1007/s10608-012-9476-1.
 “Managing Anxiety in Children With ADHD Using Cognitive-Behavioral Therapy – Emma Sciberras, Melissa Mulraney, Vicki Anderson, Ronald M. Rapee, Jan M. Nicholson, Daryl Efron, Katherine Lee, Zoe Markopoulos, Harriet Hiscock,” accessed May 5, 2017, http://journals.sagepub.com.contentproxy.phoenix.edu/doi/abs/10.1177/1087054715584054.