Women, mothers and daughters, International Women's Day 2024, Janice Williams Counselling Services, Mother and Daughter Counsellor

The Invisible Women

  Now that I’ve celebrated another trip around the sun, I have been assigned a new name – Dear, Lovely, Lovie, Sweetie, Honey and many iterations from these. Though these names are cute to some and well-meaning to others, I find these monikers derogatory.

The underlying meaning conveys a sense of vulnerability, weakness, and inadequacy. My name has been obliterated and I’m now deemed invisible by some. People behind office desks or on the phone in an official capacity, deem it appropriate that a woman older than fifty years can be identified as just Deary. I have not realised that people see my face or hear my voice as an ‘oldie’. Lived experience etched on my face, my body. Yet being over fifty, assumptions come thick and fast that I must be frail, I must be forgetful, possibly stupid! How others arrive at these assumptions is based, I believe, on ageist assumptions learned from early childhood onwards.

In an interview discussing her book, “Ageism Unmasked: Exploring Age Bias and How to End it”, Dr. Tracey Gendron said, “By its very nature, aging is intersectional. Our experiences are based on our identities, environments, and genetic makeup. As we age, the way we interact with the world and how the world sees us are all related to our many forms of identity. While ageism is universal since we are all aging, it’s critical to consider all of the different identities that intersect and impact our experience of growing old. I think what we can do is very simple. Focus on seeing each individual’s unique needs, wants, and desires — work on not making assumptions based on any form of identity.”

Names Have Meaning

Prior to celebrating my daughter’s, then son’s birth, my name had meaning. Janice, ‘gift from God’. Growing up, friends called me Jan. When my mum yelled Janice, I knew I was in trouble. A former boss nicknamed me Jop, in honour of one of his favourite singers, Janis Joplin. At school, I was called Pole Legs (I’m still unclear what it was about my legs that led to this label). This tag was not out of affection, it was a meanness in the school grounds where the lower hierarchy of students were assigned belittling nicknames. There were plenty of other names I was called in the playground of my youth.

When I married, a hyphenated name of Williams and my husband’s last name together in one sentence was, to say mildly, ludicrous. So I put aside Williams.

Once my children started preschool, my birth name changed. I became known as Chloe’s mum or Liam’s mummy. ‘Janice’ was scattered in the trenches of raising, nurturing, schooling children, the dirt, the muck, burying remnants of historical pronouns, down, down, further down, till I wondered – who was I really?

I was a Lost Woman. I was invisible. My personhood was eliminated.

I loved parenting my gorgeous children, witnessing their growing minds and bodies, me becoming a child again, trying to have fun and forget the seriousness that comes with adulthood. I reminisced of what it must have been for me to grow, to develop into adulthood.

Loss of name status often occurs around the time a woman has her first child, though it can happen earlier with marriage, as mentioned before. This loss continues till children reach adulthood.

I slowly regained my name when my children left the school grounds of their youth and became of age.


In her inspiring book, “Wifedom: Mrs Orwell’s Invisible Life”, Anna Funder writes about Eileen O’Shaughnessy, wife of George Orwell, who was the ‘missing link’ behind the success of Orwell’s books, such as 1984 and Animal Farm. It is a study on patriarchy, a deliberation on famous men and the little-known women who supported them. While Anna Funder writes of a woman in another time and place while also examining historical figures in an era removed from hers, she reflects on her own relationships and motherhood. She wrote, “If my three children – two teens and a tween – were going to emerge from childhood and see me for what I am, I would have to become visible to myself. I would look under the motherload of wifedom I had taken on, and see who was left.”

Navigating the Unseen and Unheard in the Mother-Daughter Relationship

Some families perpetuate traditional gender roles and expectations, where sons are placed on a pedestal as the ‘Golden Child’, primed for success, while daughters are appointed to the ‘Emotional Carer’ role where she is expected to take on caregiving roles. A young girl is taught to bury her feelings and neglect herself in favour of caretaking for father, brothers, husband, sons, and other males within her circle. Sons are praised and encouraged to pursue their ambitions, while daughters are loaded with caregiving responsibilities, just like her mother did, and her mother before her.

The voices of girls go unheard, their thoughts and opinions are dismissed, they are unseen. They are obscured in the patriarchy of family.

In traditional families, often the girl’s mother has grown up in a home where she was dismissed, not heard, is lost in the backdrop of the family. In these families, there are spoken and unspoken expectations for a daughter to be her mother’s emotional caretaker. To look after her mother’s feelings. These expectations reach back through generations of the female line of the family.

From within this conventional family structure, a daughter learns to please others, to the detriment of her sense of self and her mental health.

Consequently, the voices of girls and women, remain silenced and their presence overlooked.

Which brings women to my practice. Women want to improve their relationship with their mother or daughter, they grieve for the relationship they wished they could have.

“Mothers of daughters are daughters of mothers and have remained so, in circles joined to circles, since time began.”

Signe Hammer

In the coalface of family life, mothers and daughters engage in heated debates, yearning to have their voices acknowledged in a household where the silencing of females reigns. They crave a connection where they feel listened to and seen.

The Challenge of the Mother-Daughter Relationship

Effective communication can be challenging, especially when there are profound resentments in the mother-daughter dyad. Mothers and daughters may find themselves talking over each other, unable to understand or empathise with one another’s point of view leading to feelings of frustration, and a sense of disconnect. Their voices become high-pitched in order to be heard yet, the louder it grows, it becomes ‘white noise’, an overwhelming turbulence that one or both need to escape from.


As individuals, you have your own dreams, hopes, and goals. Accepting these differences and supporting each other’s growth is essential for fostering mutual respect and trust. Instead of imposing expectations or trying to mold each other into a certain ideal, celebrate the unique qualities that make each of you who you are.

Where the relationship is challenging, it is helpful to see a counsellor who specialises in Mother-Daughter Counselling, who will not only mediate and listen to each other’s perspective but will shine a light on disruptive patterns in their relationship. It means actively listening to each other’s perspectives, hearing each other’s narrative of growing up in your generational family, and being willing to engage in honest and respectful dialogue. It is cultivating empathy, having a willingness to put aside preconceived notions of how you each navigate the world.

This in turn creates understanding and a deeper connection with each other. It is a place where a mother and daughter realises that each is human, not demonising the other.

By creating a safe space for honest and vulnerable communication, mothers and daughters can begin to unravel the layers of misunderstanding and build a deeper connection.

The Penalty of Being Female

The invisibility of women in the workplace adds another layer to being inconspicuous. There has been much discussion for decades about the gender pay gap and it has been raised recently once again, of women earning less than men, of being overlooked for promotions, possessing skills where there is a fear of outshining men.

Their ideas and opinions may go unheard, disregarded, or attributed to others. This invisibility not only erodes women’s self-esteem and confidence but also perpetuates harmful gender stereotypes, limiting their potential for personal and professional growth.

An article written in the “The Sun-Herald” newspaper by Victoria Devine, a financial adviser, author and podcaster, notes that for women who may contemplate having children, this can penalise women unjustifiably. “The motherhood penalty brings severe economic consequences encompassing lost earnings, the gender pay gap, and diminished superannuation savings that reverberate well into retirement. The entrenched economic inequality, where women disproportionately shoulder the burden of unpaid care work, formal care roles, and casual employment, is disconcerting. As a result, the motherhood penalty is a stark reality confronting many Australian women …..” and I would think it is a reality confronting women in many western countries.


Reflect on who your mother was prior to assuming the role of a parent. Who was she as an individual before becoming known solely as someone’s mother?

Celebrate each other’s unique qualities where you each feel valued and empowered to be your authentic selves.

When I work with clients, we explore the cycle of stereotyping that impacts women individually and influences their interactions with others, particularly with their mother or daughter, or both. Together we examine society norms, cultural expectations and gender roles that contribute to this cycle and look at ways to challenge and break free from these constraints, so mothers and daughters do not compete over who gets to be heard and seen, as they will both be visible. They will support each other’s growth and their relationship will be stronger.

I stress the importance to mothers and daughters that these sessions are a space for No Blame No Shame. Labelling and demonising a mother or daughter has no place in these sessions and only hinders the work of repairing this relationship.

Image:  Freepik, no known source of photographer

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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