When Mom Looks to Her Daughter To Be Her Emotional Partner- Why This Is a Problem
Help, my Mother won’t let go-
” Mom calls me many times a day and I don’t pick up.
I put off calling her back as long as I can. I know this hurts her feelings but what she doesn’t realize is this – Although I am swamped with guilt, I feel suffocated and resentful. Where did I sign on to be her emotional partner?
I wish she would let me go to live my own life. “
As a psychotherapist for over 30 years, I have heard this more times than I can count.
Daughters who just want the space to live their own lives without mom’s emotional clinging.
The reason for mom’s over-involvement range from full-blown personality disorder to differing cultural expectations.
If mom is Narcissistic, Borderline or Addicted her attuned daughter may be trapped in the role of the good daughter. She takes on an emotional burden that was never supposed to be hers.
How does this happen?
Sometimes mom is divorced and hasn’t successfully recoupled. Other times mom has checked out of her relationship with her husband and has a long-standing pattern of looking to her daughter for emotional support.
Either way- When mothers look to their daughters to be their primary partner, instead of their partner or peer this interferes with their daughter’s emotional growth. This makes her daughter feel guilty for growing up and leaving home.
Looking to daughters for this level of closeness is called parentification and holds daughters back from fully living their lives.
When mom has serious psychological difficulties, this difficult dynamic is put on steroids! Mom goes nuclear if she detects her daughter is pulling away. Using epic levels of guilt, the disturbed mother will stop at nothing to bring her daughter back into her realm of influence.
The underlying rule is this- daughter is responsible for mom’s emotional well-being.
Either way, these daughters end up feeling a debilitating guilt for their natural strivings for independence.
If a mother is troubled and clingy and her daughter has taken on the role of good daughter, she is trapped inside of an unhealthy position… taking on making mom’s needs instead of making a healthy separation for herself.
This is very unhealthy for her daughter.
What does this mean for a daughter connecting with a life partner?
When a daughter leaves home and makes a healthy separation from mom and dad ideally she transfers her primary emotional connection from her parents to her partner. This is healthy and necessary.
Mom’s task is to let go and her daughter’s task is to grow up and leave.
Each has her own separate emotional task.
Leaving and being left is a necessary developmental task for both the adult daughter and her mother.
If this doesn’t happen the adult daughter will not be free to invest fully in her relationship with her adult partner.
This transfer is vital to the health of the newly developed partnership.
It is mom’s job to let go and accept her daughter’s leaving. She needs to connect and get her emotional needs met by her peers.
It is a daughter’s job to enter into an equal relationship with a peer and leave behind her role as a child.
This is the way of healthy development.
Each task has its own challenges and responsibilities.
Leaving home and making a home of your own is the healthy trajectory, one paved with both loss and gratification.
Letting go is the path towards growth.
However, when mothers make their adult daughters feel responsible for their emotional well being, things are topsy-turvy.
Only dysfunction and misery follows.
Daughters resent having to care for mom emotionally. Underneath it all, they feel something isn’t right.
This emotional burden prevents them from making the healthy separation they need to make for themselves. This is especially true for the daughter trapped in the role of the good daughter and part of the good daughter syndrome.
Here is how this happens –
It is one thing for a mother and daughter to re-establish closeness after a period of healthy separation. If the period of healthy separation never happens then a genuine adult closeness can never take root.
However, if a mother clings to her daughter and doesn’t let go- her daughter can’t help but feel growing resentment that ends in a mother/daughter tension that is never-ending.
Can mothers and daughters ever be close in a healthy way?
Yes, but first, mom must let go in order to set the stage for a no strings attached adult relationship with her daughter.
If you see yourself in this good daughter role there are steps you can take.
If you need a script to tell mom to take a step back and stop giving unwanted advice here is one that is kind and respectful.
If you suspect mom might be Narcissistic, Borderline or Histrionic, or has traits of these disorders here is a way to tell.
To find out if you are trapped in the Good Daughter role -go here.
Fabrizio, K. (2018). When Mom Looks to Her Daughter To Be Her Emotional Partner- Why This Is a Problem. Psych Central. Retrieved on April 25, 2018, from https://blogs.psychcentral.com/good-daughter/2018/04/when-mom-looks-to-her-daughter-to-be-her-emotional-partner-why-this-is-a-problem/