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8 Steps to Healing a Strained Mother-Daughter Relationship

Motherhood has been the most painful, joy-giving, confusing, frustrating, and hilarious role I’ve held. From the moment I conceived, I began fantasizing about all the special times my daughter and I would share and the memories we’d create. I expected a relationship filled with laughter and hugs and few minor conflicts.

However, real life rarely plays out according to our expectations. I quickly realized, parenting in the real world is hard. I often felt ill-equipped, and honestly, frustrated with myself. There were times I hurt my daughter. I said and did things I wished I hadn’t, and she did the same. By her senior year in high school, our interactions had become tense, and while we still engaged in bonding activities, I felt as if our arguments by far outnumbered our pleasant conversations. This grieved us both. We knew we needed to actively heal the hurts between us and repair and strengthen our relational bond.

Knowing we needed help, we turned to Christ in prayer, then followed His lead as He brought incredible beauty out of our mess. I pray He’ll do the same for you.

If you have a strained mother-daughter relationship, here are 8 steps you can take toward healing.

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1. Feel with Jesus

1. Feel with Jesus

Over two decades ago, when my husband and I were going through a really difficult season in our marriage, I read a transformational book titled The Way of Agape by Nancy Missler. In it, she invited readers to regularly vent their negative emotions to God through prayer. I put this suggestion into practice immediately, in all areas of my life. I began to tell God in detail how I felt, naming each emotion. I told Him why I felt the way I did, and often, how unfair it all seemed. I took as long as I needed to express it all. Then, I asked the Lord to purge all of those joy-stealers from me and replace them with His love.

I prayed something like this: “Lord, take away my anger, my frustration, and my anxiety. Flood my soul with everything that is good and right and lovely and pure.”

As I did, a few beautiful things occurred. First, this process gave me release. Naming my emotions helped to defuse them. Second, I experienced the peace and comfort of His presence. And third, this placed me in the best position to hear Him and His perspective. When I connected with my Savior, He brought truth to light and helped me see situations and my husband more clearly. Perhaps most importantly, He reminded me of times I’d hurt others, and yet Christ showered me with grace. His examples of grace encouraged me to respond with grace as well.

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2. Prayerfully Self-Analyze

2. Prayerfully Self-Analyze

In Matthew 7:1-2, Jesus emphasized perhaps the most important step in conflict resolution—performing a heart-check. He began by telling us we would be judged and measured by the same standards we apply to others. In this, He invites us to pause and consider times when we have sinned in similar ways and how we wanted people to respond to our failings. Most, if not all of us, hope to receive mercy and grace but might struggle to give out what we’ve received.

Jesus continued, “Why do you look at the speck of sawdust in your brother’s eye and pay no attention to the plank in your own eye? How can you say to your brother,” — We could insert mother or daughter here — ‘Let me take the speck out of your eye,’ when all the time there is a plank in your own eye? You hypocrite, first take the plank out of your own eye, and then you will see clearly to remove the speck from your brother’s eye” (Matthew 7:3-5, NIV).

Notice, Jesus didn’t encourage us to ignore the issue. Instead, He told us to deal with ourselves first. “Then you will see clearly,” He said. Prior to this, our sin and pain will distort our vision, leading to misunderstandings, miscommunications, and potentially, wider relational rifts. But when we prayerfully search our hearts and invite the Holy Spirit to challenge our perspectives, our understanding of the situation increases, as does our wisdom to move forward.

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3. Confess and Invite God’s Cleansing

3. Confess and Invite God’s Cleansing

Something miraculous and supernatural occurs when we confess our sins, which basically means agreeing with God that our sin is indeed sin. When we speak truth regarding the condition of our hearts, the Holy Spirit floods those areas of darkness with light. This helps free us from the hold they have over us and increases the Holy Spirit’s power in our lives and our sensitivity to Him.

The converse happens as well. Those things we keep hidden tend to gain power, progressively distance us from our Savior and dull our ears to His voice. The psalmist wrote, “When I kept silent, my bones wasted away through my groaning all day long” (Psalm 32:3, NIV). Can you sense the bondage those words seem to imply? The weight the psalmist appeared to be carrying?

But then he confessed his sin and experienced the freedom of forgiveness and absolution. Notice the joy revealed in verses 1-3, “Blessed is the one whose transgressions are forgiven, whose sins are covered. Blessed is the one whose sin the Lord does not count against them and in whose spirit is no deceit.”

Whose spirit holds no deceit, or as the New Living Translate reads, “Yes, what joy for those … whose lives are lived in completely honesty” (Psalm 32:2b).

Whose lives are lived in complete honesty. No reason to hide, accept shame, or feel insecure.

4. Relinquish Results—Before Your Conversation Begins

In a perfect world, we’d talk things out with our mother or daughter, apologize when necessary, determine a plan to change, and the relationship would instantly be restored. Obviously, our interactions don’t always play out as we hope. We might, in fact, do all we know to do, engaging with our mom or daughter with love and grace, only to find the initial tension increasing. We have no control over how someone else will react. We do, however, have full control over ourselves (Romans 12:18). Recognizing this helps us focus on obeying Christ above all.

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5. Initiate Well-Planned Communication

5. Initiate Well-Planned Communication

During my daughter’s teenage years, many of our arguments came from trying to address issues at ineffective times: when we were late for something, overtired, or trying to simultaneously manage other tasks. The best discussions are usually unrushed and occur in safe and comfortable spaces. Sometimes I’ll invite my daughter to sit near me on the couch, or perhaps we’ll go out for coffee. I want to create an environment where she’s most apt to feel relaxed and safe rather than on edge and defensive.

Because I struggle with patience, I need to mentally prepare for a lengthy conversation. This helps me shift my task-oriented brain off of my agenda and onto relationship-building. Sitting across from one another can help set a calm and loving tone as well.

6. Listen Well

According to Dr. David W. Augsburger, author of Caring Enough to Hear and Be Heard, “Being heard is so close to being loved that for the average person, they are almost indistinguishable.” This means I can loudly proclaim my love for my daughter, and she for me, through our attentive presence. This gives me peace in knowing that I don’t have to know all the answers or have all the solutions to our issues in order to build a bridge of love and trust. I simply need to remain emotionally available.

In her presentation during Wholly Loved’s Beautiful Mess mother-daughter conference, licensed counselor Stefanie Rowe encourages us to avoid interrupting and resist the urge to advise. Granted, there will indeed be times when our moms or daughters need our wisdom, but most likely it’s not as often as we’re tempted to think. When evaluating when to speak and when to remain silent, Stefanie suggests we adhere to a 90%:10% ratio where we actively listen for 90% of the conversation.

While waiting, we may fear we’ll never have the opportunity to share our perspective, but the opposite usually occurs. When our loved one feels heard and valued, their more apt to listen to our concerns.

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7. Speak Without Attacking

7. Speak Without Attacking

Hopefully, by the time we’ve processed the situation with Jesus and truly listened to our mother or daughter, we’ve gained insight into the situation and our loved one’s heart. We should begin to see ourselves in their struggle, and this should soften our words with grace. That said, many of us haven’t learned to communicate well. This often takes learning, growth and practice to understand the impact of our word choices. Phrases like, “You never,” or “You always,” tend to shut others down and trigger fear-based responses. Honestly expressing our feelings, however, helps us reach one another’s hearts.

Counselors suggest using this formula: “I feel ________ when you _________ because.” Then encourage your mom or daughter to rephrase what you said in their own words to ensure they understood you.

Our moms and daughters love us and don’t want to cause us pain. They truly do want a close and healthy relationship with us—as much as we do with them. When we remember this, we’re less apt to respond with defensiveness.

8. Pray Together

God longs for us to experience increased relational health and closeness with one another even more than we do. Colossians 1:19-20 says, “For God was pleased to have all His fullness dwell in Him, and through Him to reconcile to Himself all things, whether on earth or things in heaven, by making peace through His blood, shed on the cross.”

Biblical peace isn’t necessarily the absence of conflict but rather a state of wholeness, or when things are as they should be. In other words, through grace, Jesus is actively restoring all things, His followers’ interactions included. Discussing this process, Tim Keller states, “As things are brought back under Christ’s rule and authority, they are restored to health, beauty, and freedom.”

Health. Beauty. Freedom. That’s God’s heart for us. Therefore, we can pray for our relationships with confidence, knowing God hears us and is actively fighting for our relational, emotional, and spiritual health. What’s more, something miraculous and beautiful occurs when we bow our heads and approach God’s throne together. God’s Spirit gains influence within us, speaking truth to our souls and softening our hearts toward one another.

The mother-daughter relationship can be challenging, confusing, frustrating, and sometimes even painful. But it’s worth holding on to and fighting for. Self-protection might tempt us to withdraw or accept the tension growing between us. But Christ invites us to join His ministry of reconciliation, following His lead, and relying on His power.

Photo Credit: © Getty Images/fizkes

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