My daughter Cassie is eleven now. I wouldn’t trade anything for her hugs or late night chats. When I’m not near her for a few days I feel like a part of my body is missing. There is no question – I would easily give up my own life rather than lose her. I don’t understand, and probably never will, the enormity of the power that loving her has over me.
Right now she’s just a kid, but I know that she will be my daughter for the rest of my life. Many more years will be spent in our relationship with her as an adult than the time we will spend in her childhood. So we will move beyond socks on the floor and tears over broken toys, beyond boyfriends and into husbands, and then to kids and mortgages together. I will be her mother for her whole life. And because of that fact, I hold a great respect in my heart for our relationship and the responsibility for my part in it.
I could go through the motions of a regular life, taking my daughter along for the ride. Or, I could soak up every precious moment with her, knowing that this relationship is one of the sweetest blessings of being alive. Living in the moment may sound like a dream, because let’s face it, being present is difficult. However with practice, being aware of the present moment can become your reality more often.
So to increase our awareness, we can ask ourselves questions. And when we ask the high-quality questions, the quality of our life will improve. These 9 questions can help you pay more attention to creating a beautiful relationship with your daughter when you feel like you’ve forgotten how to be present.
1) Ask: Who is she becoming that I can’t see right now?
At the age of four I thought my daughter was a psycho. I actually remember posting in an Internet chat room something to the effect of, “How do I know if my daughter is going to grow up to be a psychopath?” She was terribly opinionated and obstinate. And I didn’t know what to do with her. Most days I wanted to lock her in a room and cry with grief that I had birthed this crazy little person. Loving and hating her at the same time was almost too much to bear.
But now she’s 11. She’s strong and beautiful, a powerful leader, decisive and direct. She doesn’t take crap and stands up for the underdog. I’m so proud of her and often think… “Had I known…” But I’m grateful now for this reflection because it reminds me as she grows and goes through life that she is a developing human being. She’s learning, she’s growing and she’s always becoming more of who she is going to be in this world. The more I can remember that and ask this question, the more I can allow the hard times knowing that she is developing her authenticity.
2) Ask: What does she really want?
Women don’t say what they mean or mean what they say. We are beautifully complex and the best relationships, for us, are with people who can read between the lines. We need to step back and consider not just what we want from this relationship, but what does she want? When your daughter appears to be moving in a direction away from you, can you read between the lines well enough to let her go? Ask yourself what your daughter really wants? What is she really trying to say?
When you can step back for a minute to ask this question, you may realize that your daughter’s distance is actually good for your relationship.The most self-actualized people are those who can break free from their “tribe” to forge their own way. And although it may bring grief to our hearts as their mothers to think of letting our daughters go, the more we can see them, hear them and bless them in their strengths and desires, the more connected we will be with them in the long term. So put your own needs and attachments aside and ask your heart, and your daughter, what does she really want? Then help her go for it.
3) Ask: What is she trying to teach me?
Every relationship is a two-way street and there is just as much to learn as there is to teach. It can be easy to forget this when you are focused on your mothering role. Our daughters are “daughtering” us, just as much as we are “mothering” them. But will you let her teach you?
I experienced this on Halloween. We had about 8 pumpkins. My daughter and I went outside first and she chose which one she wanted. Then she asked me, “which do you want?” My reply was, “I’ll wait for the boys and then choose mine.” “No”, Cassie said, “You choose. You have every right to choose whichever one you want.”
And of course she was right! I had gotten so used to eating the leftovers off of everyone else’s plate that I forgot to consider that I am allowed to pick my pumpkin even if the kids didn’t all pick yet. I thanked her for the reminder and for being such a great daughter.
4) Ask: Is she triggering my own issues?
As Don Miguel Ruiz describes in his book The Tree of Knowledge, we are all artists telling stories about our lives, and we get to choose what stories we want to tell. Sometimes we pick stories that disempower us. Stories that say, we don’t have enough time, enough money, enough acknowledgments and life is hard. We have “issues” and talk about our lives using them as an invisible and painful frame of reference. Our daughters learn how to tell the story of their own lives from watching us tell ours. When we get upset about the stories they are telling and react emotionally to them, it’s called a trigger.
Our daughters learn our issues from us but think they are just a way of being in the world… so they have the same issues and behave in a similar way. When you find yourself upset, frustrated, concerned, angry, grieving, or resentful about how your daughter is acting, she is simply reflecting your patterns back at you like a painful mirror. That will trigger a reaction.
Not only do we learn our issues from our parents, but also our reactions. So you will find yourself reacting in ways that you don’t like in response to your daughter’s behavior that you also don’t like! It’s a nasty cycle.
Without awareness of this cycle we continue to pass our issues and reaction patterns right on down to our daughters. Is that the kind of legacy you’re interested in leaving? The first key to unraveling these patterns is awareness. Become aware when you are triggered by what she’s doing or saying. Then you have the capacity to make a different choice. Without awareness, you can’t make the decision to change.
5) Ask: Where can I find gratitude?
Sometimes it’s difficult to find gratitude throughout difficult relationships. And with daughters it’s inevitable that it will be difficult at some point. But if it was easy, you wouldn’t be growing. Joy grows out of struggle if you let it. So find gratitude for your daughter when it’s easy, but also when it’s hard. When you have moments where she is triggering you, have gratitude for the opportunity to grow. When you can learn about yourself, learn about your daughter, and be a better human being, then the struggle has a purpose and you can move through it with grace.
6) Ask: Am I trying to protect her?
Of course mothers protect their children. It’s part of the process of keeping them alive. But there comes a time, and it’s earlier than you think, when stepping back from protecting them and letting them experience hurt, pain and struggle is extremely beneficial. I remember being fairly well protected in my own life until the age of about 15.
At 15 my life got really hard as abuse, neglect and heartache entered all at once for what felt like the first time. It was incredibly disillusioning and I didn’t know how to handle it. I remember a moment when my mother told me something to the effect of “this is how life is.”
Struggle and pain are a part of life and when we develop the capacity for resilience at a young age, we are stronger throughout our lives. Catch yourself when you are trying to protect your daughter. It can be much more beneficial to navigate the story with her rather than shielding her from it completely. Don’t hide the hard stuff.
7) Ask: How can I help her trust herself?
As a coach, the biggest issue I see in women is a lack of self-trust. And we learn this, of course, from our mothers. It’s not because they didn’t try to tell us how to trust ourselves, but because they didn’t trust themselves. You will likely notice when your daughter doesn’t trust herself, but you may not notice how you are perpetuating that lack of trust with your own behavior.
In order to help develop her self-trust, allow your daughter to make decisions that go against you (or appear to go against you). She needs to find her own way. And so do you. Let yourself trust yourself, even if it flies in the face of what looks right, smart or even caring, so that you can develop and model healthy self-trust for your daughter. And trust her. Your trust that she can do it will translate to her trusting herself.
8) Ask: Am I taking this personally?
It can be difficult not to take things personally in any relationship, but especially with the tremendous love felt between a mother and daughter. Hurt can go down to the core. Remember, you are eternal spirits here on earth experiencing life. You’re not really mother and daughter for eternity, these are just temporary roles that you are playing at this time.
Some people even believe, like I do, that we agreed to play these roles before we came into this life so that our souls and spirits can grow and evolve. Even if you don’t believe that, taking things personally stinks and keeps us in pain. So instead, look at your life from the bigger picture… in terms of your WHOLE life. In the grand scheme of your whole life, do you need to take what’s happening right now personally? This perspective will help you move on from hurt and never lose connection.
9) Ask: What do I really want in my life and am I going for it?
If you ever find yourself stuck, or you see your daughter is stuck, this is the question to ask of yourself. As mothers, the best way to be a role model for your daughter is to actually look into your heart and go for your dreams. Even if it’s scary or appears that it’s going to lead to a disconnected relationship (because likely that is just an unsubstantiated fear).
Remember, she is your daughter and you have invisible strings binding you. If you are not living your fullest life then she is learning not to live hers–no matter what you say to her. She learns from what you DO and do not do. Be courageous, live your dreams, take action, fly in the face of fear and really live! That is the only way your daughter will live her dreams.
We want so much for our precious daughters. Maybe even more than we want for ourselves. Our wanting more for her, we think, will lead to a better relationship for us in the long term. However the only way to get what you want is to give it to yourself. And when you look out for yourself, you teach your daughter to do the same.
These questions will help you to look into your own heart and become the mother that you really want to be so your daughter can become her best too. I hope you will use these 9 questions in your own life to help you and your daughter’s relationship flourish for a lifetime.