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Worlds Apart: Mothers and Their Adult Daughters

How to bridge the gap

Mother's Day

— Photo by Alamy

Margaret Dominguez, a 77-year-old living in Carlsbad, Calif., thinks her 42-year-old daughter, Michele Dominguez, is running herself ragged. Michele, a teacher and mother to 9-year-old twins and a 5-year-old, carts her kids to sports and play rehearsals, and doesn’t have time for what her mom considers the basics, like sitting down to a family dinner and having more time alone with her husband. Margaret, who was a stay-at-home mother, never hesitated to leave her children with a babysitter so she and her husband could have a routine date night.

“I think being together without kids is very important,” Margaret says. “These dates help spouses continue enjoying each other’s company,” especially when the children are long gone.

Michele admits that date nights with her husband are rare. “I believe being a good wife is important, but my work and kids’ schedules come first,” she says.

Bridging the gap

Those mothers and daughters fortunate enough to have a healthy relationship say there’s nothing better than that bond. In the book Secrets of a Jewish Mother, coauthor sisters Lisa Wexler, 49, and Jill Zarin, 46, pay homage to their mother, Gloria Kamen. Though Zarin doesn’t hesitate to spar with her costars on the reality television show The Real Housewives of New York City, she has nothing but praise for her mother, seeing her advice as well-intentioned. As working women, Wexler and Zarin spend less time with their children than Kamen did with them, but Mom doesn’t judge.

“I know that if they could have cooked dinner, they would have,” Kamen says.

Advice for mothers

It’s difficult to stand back when you see your daughter grappling with life’s challenges. So what’s a mother to do? Here are expert recommendations on steps to a more harmonious relationship.

1. Embrace your daughter’s choices. “The things that brought you joy and satisfaction may be very different from your daughter’s wants and needs,” says psychologist Diane G. Sanford, coauthor of Life Will Never Be the Same: The Real Mom’s Postpartum Survival Guide. Supporting her in the path she chooses will go far in forging a friendship.

2. Be empathetic. Of course you have an opinion, but how you convey it makes a difference in how it’s received, says Renee A. Cohen, a clinical and forensic psychologist in Southern California. She suggests acknowledging your daughter’s viewpoint, then offering a suggestion in a nonthreatening way, like, “Would you consider this alternative?” Stress collaboration and teamwork, rather than dictating.

3. Let go. Mothers may want to rush in, take over and tell their children what to do, hoping to spare them heartache and difficult situations. But children have to learn for themselves, says Cohen, because “having the experience is what makes them grow.” Mothers should recognize that if they’ve done a good job raising their daughters to be smart and independent, the parents have to trust that their children will make thoughtful choices.

4. Pitch in. Consider ways to ease your daughter’s stress without provoking defensiveness. Tell your daughter that you see how hard she’s working, then think of ways to assist, like baby-sitting. Assure her you know how tough it is to juggle and let her know you want to help in a way that works best for her.

5. Convey your appreciation. Mothering can be a thankless job. A daughter cherishes an occasional pat on the back from the woman who raised her. So tell your daughter that she’s a great mom or that you love her—and not just on Mother’s Day.

Advice for daughters

You cringe every time your mother walks in your house, assuming she’s sizing up the kids running wild and the sink overflowing with dishes. Here’s how to chip away at the wall of tension.

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