Mother Daughter Overview

by Christiane Northrup, M.D.


The mother-daughter relationship is at the headwaters of every woman’s health. Our bodies and our beliefs about them were formed in the soil of our mother’s emotions, beliefs, and behaviors. Even before birth, our mother provides us with our first experience of nurturing. She is our first and most powerful female role model. It is from her that we learn what it is to be a woman and care for our bodies. Our cells divided and grew to the beat of her heart. Our skin, hair, heart, lungs, and bones were nourished by her blood, blood that was awash with the neurochemicals formed in response to her thoughts, beliefs, and emotions. If she was fearful, anxious, and deeply unhappy about her pregnancy, our bodies knew it. If she felt safe, happy, and fulfilled, we felt that, too.

Our bodies and those of our daughters were created by a seamless web of nature and nurture, of biology informed by consciousness that we can trace back to the beginning of time. Thus, every daughter contains her mother and all the women who came before her. The unrealized dreams of our maternal ancestors are part of our heritage. To become optimally healthy and happy, each of us must get clear about the ways in which our mother’s history both influenced and continues to inform our state of health, our beliefs, and how we live our lives. Every woman who heals herself helps heal all the women who came before her and all those who will come after her.

A mother’s often unconscious influence on her daughter’s health is so profound that years ago I had to accept that my medical skills were only a drop in the bucket compared to the unexamined and ongoing influence of her mother. If a woman’s relationship with her mother was supportive and healthy, and if her mother had given her positive messages about her female body and how to care for it, my job as a physician was easy. Her body, mind, and spirit were already programmed for optimal health and healing. If, on the other hand, her mother’s influence was problematic, or if there was a history of neglect, abuse, alcoholism, or mental illness, then I knew that my best efforts would likely fall short. Real long-term health solutions would become possible only when my patient realized the impact of her background and then took steps to change this influence. Though healthcare modalities such as dietary improvement, exercise, drugs, surgery, breast exams, and Pap smears all have their place, not one of them can get to the part of a woman’s consciousness that’s creating her state of health in the first place.

Before birth, consciousness literally directs the creation of our bodies. It’s also constantly being shaped by our life’s experiences, most especially those of childhood. No other childhood experience is as compelling as a young girl’s relationship with her mother. Each of us takes in at the cellular level how our mother feels about being female, what she believes about her body, how she takes care of her health, and what she believes is possible in life. Her beliefs and behaviors set the tone for how well we learn to care for ourselves as adults. We then pass this information either consciously or unconsciously on to the next generation.

Though I acknowledge that the culture at large plays a significant role in our views of ourselves as women, ultimately the beliefs and behavior of our individual mothers exert a far stronger influence. In most cases, she’s the first to teach us the dictates of the larger culture. And if her beliefs are at odds with the dominant culture, our mother’s influence almost always wins.

Resources for Raising a Daughter

The most important aspect of raising a girl is mirroring for her how to love her body and its processes. This is at the heart of self-esteem and self-acceptance. The more you can do that yourself, the better off your daughter will be (and every other girl in your life). In other words, it’s as important to heal yourself as it is to “parent.” I wrote Mother-Daughter Wisdom to illuminate this important message.

Having daughters is about the most joyful thing going. If you’re looking for resources for raising a daughter and enhancing your ability to parent, I have the following suggestions:

  • Mother-Daughter Wisdom, the book, and the Mother-Daughter Wisdom DVD of my very popular PBS show.
  • You Can Heal Your Life by Louise Hay, the book and the movie.
  • A Time to Celebrate: A Celebration of a Girl’s First Menstrual Period by Joan Morais.
  • Celebrating Girls: Nurturing and Empowering Our Daughters by Virginia Beane Rutter.
  • Cycle Savvy: The Smart Teen’s Guide to the Mysteries of Her Body by Toni Weschler, MPH.
  • Connection Parenting: Parenting Through Connection Instead of Coercion, Through Love Instead of Fear by Pam Leo.
  • The Mother-Daughter Project: How Mothers and Daughters Can Band Together, Beat the Odds, and Thrive Through Adolescence by SuEllen Hamkins and Renee Schultz.

Learn More — Additional Resources

Last Updated: October 12, 2006

Christiane Northrup, M.D.

Christiane Northrup, M.D., is a visionary pioneer and a leading authority in the field of women’s health and wellness. Recognizing the unity of body, mind, and spirit, she empowers women to trust their inner wisdom, their connection with Source, and their ability to truly flourish.

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