Mother daughters manage expectations Janice Williams Counselling Services

The relationship between a mother and daughter is complex. It can be characterised by care and support, yet at other times it can be challenging with expectations and conflicts. Mothers and daughters often carry a set of spoken and unspoken expectations that shape their interactions and influence their relationship. These expectations can be a source of strength, creating a beautiful bond. Expectations can also be a source of misunderstanding and tension.  These might include a daughter who questions why her mother is not interested in seeing her grandchildren, or a mother who wonders if her daughter will mess up her new relationship “just like her previous relationships”. 

In this blog, I will explore the expectations that mothers and daughter have of each other, delving into the dynamics that make this relationship unique.

Emotional Distance Between Mothers and Daughters

Mother-daughter relationships are often idealised as a wonderful friendship between a mum and her daughter, catching up at a café, spending time together for a massage or beauty treatment, sharing secrets, and having girly fun. Clients I see in my private practice compare their friends’ close relationships to their own difficult relationship with their mother or daughter.

They feel a loss in their lives because they don’t experience what they see others experiencing. Past disagreements or unresolved issues create emotional distance between mothers and daughters, leading to feelings of being undervalued, under-appreciated and disregarded in their relationship with each other.

One of the tensions that I often see with clients are the expectations of a woman in the caregiving role, the belief that it is a woman’s duty to be a caretaker to her mother, and the extended family, and that this is to be done in a selfless and self-sacrificing way. The expectation for a daughter to care for her mother, each daughter caring for the previous generation. The belief that it is a woman’s role to nurture, support and care for others, constantly giving of herself to others – until her well runs dry. When expectations are unfulfilled, disappointment steps in, and resentment can take hold, fuelling the conflict. Brene Brown said, “Disappointment is unmet expectations. The more significant the expectations, the more significant the disappointments.”

Navigating The Complex Mother-Daughter Relationship

Navigating the complex dynamics between mothers and daughters often involves managing different expectations which can lead to hurt feelings. A daughter might assume that her mother will care for the grandchildren. A mother has dreams for her own life now that she has brought her children to adulthood and is sensing a newfound freedom. This mismatch in expectations creates tension. Neither feels heard or understood. They feel criticised, judged and dismissed. Their needs are minimised. We may think we’re listening to the other person but sometimes we listen to defend our position. Therapist and author, Esther Perel, said, “Listen, just listen. You don’t have to agree. Just see if you can understand that there’s another person who has a completely different experience of the same reality.”

Bridging The Communication Gap

Effective communication is key to bridging this gap. Both women need to express their needs and preferences openly. Mothers can share their dreams and goals, while daughters can convey their need for family closeness.

Author and therapist, F. Diane Barth commented, “In adulthood it is helpful to think of your mother or your daughter not as someone who is supposed to do anything, but as you would a friend, whose limitations are something you accept as part of her personality. A friend might disappoint you for any of a number of reasons, but you are likely to cut her some slack if you think it is because she is having difficulties in her own life, or because she is extremely busy with things other than you, or because she simply cannot do something the way you’d like her to do it. Thinking of your mother or your daughter in this way makes it easier not to take her behaviour personally – in other words, not to make it about you – and can improve the chances that the relationship will continue to be meaningful for both of you.”

There will be things that you won’t agree with and other things that you will be grateful for. Valuing these traits and having mutual respect will protect your relationship in the long run.

One of the challenges I encounter in my work with mothers and adult daughters is the issue of mind-reading. This involves the expectation that we know someone so well that we can assume what they are thinking and feeling. This leads to miscommunication and misunderstandings causing you both to feel unheard or dismissed. It’s best to ask what their thoughts are, what they are feeling, in order to understand them better. 

Tips To Manage Expectations

The key to a healthy mother-daughter relationship lies in managing expectations through open communication, empathy, and flexibility.

Open Communication

Every mother and daughter experiences disagreements. These can lead to feelings of frustration, guilt, and anger. Each of you should feel free to express your needs, desires, and concerns. It’s crucial to maintain open communication to prevent misunderstandings and hurt feelings in the future. Avoid assuming what the other person is thinking. Instead, speak honestly and clearly, and with kindness. This openness helps prevent misunderstandings and allows for the negotiation of expectations in a way that respects both of you.

Empathy and Understanding

Empathy plays a crucial role in navigating expectations. Both mothers and daughters need to put themselves in each other’s shoes to understand the underlying motivations and fears that drive their expectations. This mutual understanding can foster a more supportive and nurturing relationship. Mothers and daughters can learn a lot from each other. It’s important to recognise and value generational differences, as each generation brings its own insights and knowledge.

Focus on what the other does right. And tell her – speak it and write it, so she can save it for later and savour it.

Flexibility and Compromise

Flexibility is essential in adapting to changing circumstances, needs, and the life cycle of the family. Both mothers and daughters must be willing to adjust their expectations and find a middle ground. Compromise ensures that the relationship can grow and evolve without causing undue stress or resentment.

Offer advice when asked, otherwise just listen

Listening creates effective communication and your relationship will be stronger. When someone shares their thoughts or problems, they want to feel heard and understood, not immediately given solutions. When advice is given without being invited, it comes across as dismissive or patronising, as though one person believes they know better than the other person. An invisible wall goes up creating a barrier that leads to feelings of frustration or inadequacy. Your connection with the other person will shut down.

Problem-solving can wait, just pause and listen.

Actively listening can reveal issues that may not be immediately apparent. A person needs space to process and reflect what is going on for them and may want to bounce ideas off you so by focusing on understanding your mother or daughter, rather than fixing, and using active listening – fully concentrating, understanding, responding and remembering what is said while showing genuine interest, providing feedback, and withholding judgment – you can offer more thoughtful and relevant advice when it is requested. Yes, there is a lot to it. Building strong relationships requires practice and patience.

Seek professional help

If you are facing challenges in your relationship, it may be time to seek a professional who specialises in Mother-Daughter Relationships.

I can help you figure out what’s going on, to build a stronger, healthier relationship. Let me support you in your journey to move forward. I work with Mothers and Daughters either individually or as a pair.

Strengthening Your Bond

Every relationship requires effort, understanding, and compassion from both parties to thrive and grow. The relationship between a mother and daughter is continuously developing and adapting, and is influenced by a multitude of expectations from both sides. While these expectations can sometimes lead to conflict, they also have the potential to strengthen your bond with love, respect, and understanding. By navigating these expectations with empathy and open communication, you can build a relationship that is both fulfilling and enduring for both of you.

If you want to learn more

In addition to the insights shared in this blog, there is a significant review of the theoretical and research literature by mother-daughter physicians, Dr. Diane K. Shrier and Dr. Lydia A. Shrier, along with Dr. Margaret Tompsett. Their work, titled “Adult Mother–Daughter Relationships: A Review of the Theoretical and Research Literature,” delves into the mother-adult daughter relationship during the longest period of a woman’s life, from the end of adolescence to old age. This review was undertaken as part of an ongoing research study, offering an in-depth analysis of the dynamics and complexities of this crucial relationship.


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Mother-daughter counsellor


Janice Williams is the only Certified Mother-Daughter Relationship Specialist in Australia and the South Pacific region.

Sessions are available across Australia and worldwide.

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