When I was in grade school, I wore my hair with bangs. Every so often my mother will remind me of how much she loved my hair that way, and ask, “Do you ever think about getting bangs again? You look so great with bangs.” Even though it's been, well, 40 years since I've worn my hair in that style, I find myself wondering if she is right and if I should talk to my hairstylist.
My reaction to my mother's simple comment is not uncommon.
Kelley Kitley, women's mental health expert and author of the best-selling autobiography My Self, says that seeking approval from our parents is a natural instinct. Kitley explains, “Our parents are the first important people in our lives. From the time we are born we are looking to them for validation.”
The need for assurance can be especially strong between daughters and mothers because they may over-identify with one another. This can lead to conflicts as daughters enter their teen years and strive to forge their own identity, separate from their mother's. Kitley says, “Mothers may have preconceived notions of who their daughters are and who they should be. They may think they know what's best for their child. When the daughter disagrees, the situation can become emotionally charged."
Young adults may say, “I don't care what my mother thinks,” but the desire for approval really doesn't go away as we get older. Kitley says, “It's a constant push–pull between mothers and their daughters of, ‘Hold me close, keep me safe. — Let me go, you don't understand me.’ We want to evolve into our own person, separate from our mothers, and yet we still crave their approval of our choices."
So is it possible to outgrow the need for our mother's approval? The answer is yes, but it may require some self-reflection and clear communication between all parties. First off, we need to be aware that like it or not, even as adults, we are still looking for validation from our mothers and that it is perfectly normal to have those feelings.
Second, we need to understand that we can have a strong connection with our mothers, even if we don't always see eye to eye with them. “Even if 90 percent of what your mother says is positive, we tend to focus on the 10 percent that is critical,” Kitley says. “We need to rewire our brains not to focus on the negative and really hear all the good things our mothers are saying to us.” My conversation with my own mother illustrates this point. Looking back, she said many other nice, complimentary things to me in that exchange, but my takeaway was that she didn't like my hairstyle. While I can't change my mother's view, I can change how I internalize her opinion while also acknowledging that she said it to help me, not hurt me.
Kitley suggests adult daughters initiate an honest conversation with their mothers before it's too late. “Tell your mother, ‘I know you love me and want what's best for me. But you have to trust that you have raised me to know how to take care of myself and to be confident enough to make my own decisions,'” Kitley says."
The core of a healthy relationship is knowing that our mothers love us even if they don't agree with all of our choices,” she says. Women also need to find strength in their choices from within. Kitley says, “Ultimately, living your best life means listening to your own inner voice and no one else's, including your mother's."