It happens all too easily.
Dad says something clueless or in mom’s view, thoughtless, and a knowing glance towards her daughter is followed by an EYEROLL. Before you know it, mom and daughter have a repertoire of jokes, mutual understandings and you guessed it -a closer relationship than her parents have with each other.
This dynamic originally makes Mom feel affirmed, and her daughter enjoys a free ticket into the adult world of relating.
A ticket, I would argue that does more harm than good.
Because the daughter isn’t developmentally equipped to handle the adult realm of an emotional partnership (and shouldn’t be), the partnership she has with mom is by definition, one-sided. It is not the partnership of equals.
If this dynamic continues, what happens?
Over time an implicit familial agreement solidifies; daughter is the only one who “gets mom” and therefore she feels the pressure to see that mom’s emotional needs are met.
More times than not her parent’s marriage grows stale and the daughter is trapped in a dynamic that holds her back from following her own developmental trajectory.
All may look picture perfect on the outside, no divorce, a father in the home and mother/daughter closeness-
What could be wrong with that?
In this case, just about everything.
The beautiful family Holiday card hides a dysfunctional secret. Mom and dad’s marriage is dead on the vine, and the attuned daughter in the role of the good daughter is sacrificing her normal striving for independence. In this stifling environment, nothing healthy grows.
Conversely, in a healthy family environment, the parents are attending to each other’s needs well enough so that the children are free to develop, differentiate and eventually set off on their own.
In this darker dysfunctional scenario, the daughter is trapped in an impossible dilemma. Because she is attuned to mom and knows her moods like the back of her hand, she feels it is her job to take emotional care of mom.
She may be unaware of feeling guilty and unconsciously sabotage her own attempts at growing up.
At the unconscious level, the daughter may feel that in growing up she is betraying mom.
Anxiety, depression, or eating disorders may have at their psychological core a daughter who doesn’t feel she has permission to grow up and away from mom.
Like a Chinese finger trap, the grip only tightens when she tries to get free. Attempts to differentiate bring on the guilt that constricts and suffocates.
How does this play out?
When the daughter does dare make moves to pull away from mom, mom grows more and more controlling as she senses her daughter growing up and away from her.
What are normally tense times around boys, makeup, and clothing choices become full-out Amagedon battles to the death.
In response to mom’s hyper control, daughters frequently respond in one of two ways;
1) They buckle under, losing their quest for independence and often times with it their thirst for life. They turn in on themselves in destructive ways. Depression, cutting, eating and anxiety disorders all are ways girls turn the rage they feel in on themselves.
2) Alternatively, they meet fire with fire, control with counter control and wage an all-out defiance of their mother’s control- Alcohol and drug abuse, promiscuity or random rule breaking. In a perfect dysfunctional storm, they express their rage in a way that will cause them to feel shame and guilt, resulting in a return to mother “who knows best”.
Often times, parentified daughters go underground and hide their acting out behaviors. They continue to feel ashamed of themselves and don’t have a full understanding of their actions.
Because of the built-up rage at having been unfairly handed a role that wasn’t theirs, to begin with, coupled with crippling guilt at betraying mom, some daughters act out in ways that express that rage while making them feel bad about themselves.
A perfect storm of enmeshment, rage, guilt, and betrayal results in a cycle that ends with the daughters return to her partnership with mom.
Neither response, either internalizing the battle or throwing themselves into an external battle help them gain an independence they can feel good about.
What happens when the parentified daughter has her own daughter?
Both the complacent daughter and the former rebel is likely to return to the fold without having fully established herself as a separate adult.
Life may feel bleached of its vibrancy, and the adult “good daughter” may not know why.
If mom stays at the center of her emotional life, her adult daughter will have a hard time establishing and maintaining a full sexual and emotionally intimate relationship with her adult partner.
Sadly, without awareness, she will also have difficulty letting her daughter fly guilt-free into her own life.
Yet, with awareness and hard work, the cycle can be broken.
It is never too late to live fully into your own life.
To find out if you suffer from the Good Daughter Syndrome- go here.