Becky & Jennifer―Strained Mother/Daughter Relationship Dr. Carol Ann Conrad, EdD
Becky and her mother came in to see me together (names and identifying details have been changed to protect identities). Becky, at 40 years old, was doing a lot of her own individual work and wanted a better relationship with her mother. Becky and her mother’s relationship had been strained for most of Becky’s adult life. Becky could identify some of the issues she had that came because of her childhood, it was the perfect time for them to work through those old hurtful places. Becky’s mom was more than willing to come in.
With my help, we slowly unpacked the dynamics between Becky and her mother. Becky struggled as a teenager to feel important and valued in her relationship with her mom. Her parents had separated and divorced when Becky was 10 years old. As a single mother, Becky’s mom worked all the time to provide for the family and was always exhausted. Mom relied heavily on Becky to take care of her two younger siblings and to take care of the household chores, including buying groceries and taking her siblings to activities when Becky was old enough to drive. Becky wasn’t able to have her own experiences as a teen because she was bound at home tender her siblings. Becky held deep resentment against her mother when she realized she lost her childhood having been parentified as her mother’s surrogate “spouse.” Becky was afraid to tell her mom about her hurt feelings and pain. Becky realized that her mom was doing the best she could at the time, but it still had a negative impact on Becky. In order for them to heal together, Jennifer had to be able to hear Becky’s pain and not defend, dismiss, or fall into shame. It took several sessions to unpack Becky’s hurt and pain and get underneath the resentment, and for Jennifer to recognize the unwitting damage that occurred as a result of the divorce. Slowly, with my help, Jennifer began to hear and resonate with Becky’s pain as she heard her daughter share the hurt that happened in her childhood.
Previous to counseling, they could never talk about Becky’s pain. Mom would bristle and Becky would attack and get angry. As Becky felt heard by me, the anger came down, and mom could be more present. Becky began to open up. She talked about all the things that she felt resentful about with my help so she could regulate her emotional responses and not attack her mother. I helped her get to her primary emotions of sadness about her lost childhood and grief that Becky needed to be a kid with a mom to take care of her, and how painful that was for her to not receive it.
Mom, with my help, was able to slow down and not be defensive, but to really listen to Becky’s pain. As mom listened to Becky’s hurt and pain, mom began to tune in to her daughter’s pain for the first time and to feel it with her. The tears began to fall for both of them as Mom was able to stay present and not defend or dismiss her daughter’s hurt with excuses..mom realized she felt deep remorse about the way she had used Becky to take care of the house and her other children. Becky felt seen and heard at last by her mother. The pain began to melt away for Becky as she softened, right in the moment of the session. The relief was palpable! Mom was able to comfort Becky for the first time, and Becky let it in. Both Becky and mom said at the end of one of our last sessions that they felt their bond was restored and stronger than it had ever been. Becky forgave her mom, and her mother was able to forgive herself. They walked out of my office arm in arm.