Here are my tips to get your mother to listen to you. The mother-daughter relationship is a complex dynamic, with many daughters feeling they are not heard or understood. At times, daughters can feel invisible wanting desperately for their mothers to see them.
Hanna came to see me as she was struggling in her relationship with her mother, Lydia. Hanna had many things she wanted to say to her mother. When she was a child, Lydia would accuse Hanna of whinging and told her to get over things. Hanna wanted Lydia to comfort her and felt hurt that she wasn’t listened to.
Hanna worked hard at school but she felt invisible. Lydia would brush her aside as a kid. Hanna said that she still does this now. Lydia wants Hanna to listen to her problems, but Lydia won’t listen to what’s going on in Hanna’s life. Lydia accuses Hanna of not caring enough for her. When Hanna tries talking with her mother, she gets defensive, she doesn’t want to listen to Hanna, she won’t discuss it. Lydia either gets angry or looks hurt or she walks away. Some days Hanna feels guilty for hurting her. Other days, Hanna is frustrated about this. Hanna is sick of trying to get her mother to listen to her.
To Be Heard and Understood
A conversation I often have with adult daughters is that their mothers are too demanding, have high standards, evaluate many areas of their lives. Some daughters feel their life has been micro-managed for years and now they are pushing back against restrictions and family expectations. Her thoughts, feelings and worries are not heard or understood. She doesn’t feel that her mum ‘gets her’ at a deep level.
In her book, “The Emotionally Absent Mother”, Jasmin Lee Cori writes:
“A mother’s role in providing reflection is one of her most important. It is how children feel known and come to know themselves. Mirroring happens both verbally and nonverbally, and there are several levels to it. The first is one where children feel contacted, met. When a child feels seen, she can recognize herself as a developing person. If the child feels invisible or not seen, often that child will feel not fully real. So the most fundamental message of mirroring is “I see you – and you are real.”
The crux of many of the issues with mothers and daughters is that a daughter wants desperately to be known by her mother and in the process, come to know herself. A daughter sees herself through her mother, a reflection of who she is and will develop into.
When we feel listened to by another, and we feel understood at a deep level by that person, we feel loved.
Daughters Want To Connect With Mother
A common theme is the difficulty in having a discussion with their mum. Daughters really want to connect with their mother, curious about who mum is as a person now, and who she was before being designated Mum. She also seeks answers for mum not being emotionally available, not being supportive. The needs of mum dominated the needs of her daughter.
Daughters such as Hanna comment that their mothers are unwilling to talk or hear them, they are derided, mum gets defensive, won’t discuss or will walk away.
Some mothers shut down due to their own trauma. They feel vulnerable in having an open discussion with their daughters. Mums can feel unprotected and will put up a wall to safe-guard themselves from hurt, from past trauma.
It’s tiring for the daughter to attempt a discussion, to not be heard, to be rebuffed. As Dr. Jonice Webb, psychologist, author and expert on childhood emotional neglect, said “It’s going to an empty well for water and realising the well is still empty.”
The bottom line is that a girl wants the love of her mother. So she will persist in seeking mum out.
When the conversation does not happen, the daughter feels frustrated, she feels invisible. Daughters can struggle for years blaming themselves, criticising themselves that they are the problem, that they are needy in some way.
After years of anger, sadness, anxiety and feeling lost, Hanna sought Mother-Daughter Coaching for herself, a place where her feelings, her experience, was heard and acknowledged, and not dismissed, not minimised. She shut her mum, Lydia, out of sessions, the way Hanna felt shut out from Lydia. Hanna felt this was her space to discuss her relationship freely.
After working with me, Hanna realised that Lydia grew up with a mother who also dismissed her, didn’t listen to her needs. Though Lydia had a similar experience of feeling invisible and not being heard by her mother, Hanna realised that she and Lydia are from different generations and Lydia was raised in a different family.
Together Hanna and I mapped out the mother-line, looking at patterns within the family. This method helped Hanna understand Lydia more, and Hanna had growing compassion for Lydia’s experience.
Exploring the mother-line in family history helps mothers and daughters understand how past generations of mothers influence current, and future, generations of mothers.
Healing From The Past
For some mothers, they feel they were in the ‘coal-face’ of parenting, just trying to do the best they could with little resources available to them at the time. They may have been isolated, or not received family help making it difficult to be her best self.
As Dr. Jonice Webb wrote in her book “Running on Empty: Overcome Your Childhood Emotional Neglect”,
“But now, as an adult, you can choose to heal your emotional neglect. And when you do, you are setting yourself on a clear path to being happier and healthier and being a more connected, effective parent to your children. Making the decision to heal your emotional neglect is like saying to many generations going back in your family line: “The buck stops here. I will not deliver this burden to my children.” ”
- Hanna became curious about who Lydia was and the circumstances that impacted Lydia’s life. As we looked back at Lydia’s young life and the life of her mother, Patricia, patterns emerged within the female line of the family. The women in the family raised kids, yet buried their feelings, neglected themselves, to cater to the men in the family. Women were not asked for their thoughts and feelings, and women did not ask for what they needed or wanted. Lydia learned this from her mother. Hanna learned this from her mother too, but was now pushing back.
- I stressed the importance of remaining calm when communicating with Lydia, and gave her breathing and focussing techniques to assist her.
- Hanna took the risk to organise a time to talk with Lydia. Hanna wrote a short script and memorised the main points so she could stay on track in the conversation.
- We discussed assertiveness if Lydia was rude during these discussions. Hanna to say that she doesn’t like it when Lydia speaks to her like that, and to stop.
- Hanna and I discussed implementing boundaries around her mother wanting Hanna to supply her needs.
- It took many months for Lydia to stop pushing back with Hanna. Hanna needed courage and being assertive with Lydia, repeating the boundaries and script that Hanna and I had rehearsed in sessions.
- Over time, Hanna became more courageous with each step she took. Hanna had a greater understanding about her family dynamics. Her frustration with Lydia changed to empathy. Hanna discovered a freer self, able to let go of hurts and expectations. Her sleep has improved. Her sadness about her mother decreased over time.
- Hanna and Lydia’s relationship did transform. It took some time for Lydia to recognise Hanna as a separate person to Lydia, with her own thoughts, opinions and feelings.
- Hanna tried to be in tune with Lydia’s difficulties in expressing herself. This helped Lydia to slowly reveal family history to Hanna. When I saw Hanna some months later, she said Lydia seemed lighter, as though a weight had literally been lifted from her. Lydia would still be critical of Hanna at times but not as frequently or severe as in the past.
- Hanna realised the importance of seeking friends to nurture Hanna while she was sorting through her feelings about Lydia, as it was going to be a difficult time for Hanna. Hanna found a woman 10 years older than Hanna who is a mother-figure in Hanna’s life.
- Hanna has two trusted friends that she shares her difficult feelings.
- Hanna realised she needed to give herself the attention she so deserved. Hanna began writing positive affirmations “I love myself”, “I believe in myself” and stuck these to the fridge.
If you want to change your mother-daughter relationship, if you want to be heard and understood and have your story acknowledged, I will listen and show you how you can change your story. Contact me and let’s discuss how I can help you.
Names in this article have been changed to protect privacy and this story is a composite example of many stories that I have been told.
Image: Jonatas Domingos, Unsplash
Janice Williams is the only Certified Mother-Daughter Relationship Specialist in Australia and the South Pacific region.
Janice offers in-person and online appointments. Online sessions are available across Australia and worldwide.