When you have an “easy,” empathetic child who sails through life taking responsibility for herself and knows when and when not to ask for help, then a mother’s job is as easy and natural as breathing. Your daughter will go through normal “growing pains,” of course, but she manages to be responsible for her own life most of the time. Things become far more challenging when a daughter doesn’t easily negotiate the emotional and physical milestones that lead to maturity.
If a daughter becomes developmentally stuck at some stage of her life, whether it be at age five, sixteen, or twenty-five, what is a mother’s responsibility? Where does it begin? Where does it end? And how and when do you wean yourself from your role in trying to help your daughter succeed? When are you off the hook if she fails? What is a mother supposed to do for a seven-year-old who has no friends? What about a sexually precocious eleven-year-old who wants to start dating? What do you do with a fifteen-year-old who smokes or drinks alcohol regularly? What if she’s twenty-five and doesn’t have a job? What if she’s thirty and wants to move back in to save money on rent?
And what about your own mother? If she is unhappy or alone, what is a daughter’s responsibility? If she is widowed, chronically ill, or can no longer live by herself, what does she expect of you? What do you expect of yourself? Do you enjoy each other’s company or is your relationship based on guilt and obligation: “I did it for you. Now you should do it for me.” Is your willingness to “give back” related to how much your mother did for you, or is it simply part of being a daughter?
There is no one right answer to the questions above, but you cannot answer them for yourself until you clarify your own beliefs and behaviors. My book Mother-Daughter Wisdom can help you do that.