With one pollen-dusted hand, she holds out yet another plucked flower for me, offered with all the sincerity of her six-year old heart. I am her mama, and she loves me. Until thirty seconds later, when I tell her no, and she suddenly hates me. The lip comes out, the brows draw down, and she transforms before my eyes. In a mere whisper, the glint in the eye turns from unicorns and fairy dust to the greatest abyss of disappointment and fury-tinted malaise ever known to humanity.

The risk of putting stock in the dreams of a mother before the reality of motherhood is something with which I am well acquainted. It didn’t take my boys a week to demolish the quaint and naive dreams I had of quietly rocking and nursing them to sleep, while birds chirped outside and dinner warmed in the oven. But this… this daughter thing… is a whole new level of deconstruction.

Who is this creature?

Sure, my sons get mad at me- fleetingly. No one digs being told “no”- but laying down and weeping on the stairs because of it? running to their rooms and slamming the door? AT SIX? Not a chance. Sure, I expected that as we rolled into the teen years somewhere far in the future. But she’s SIX!

The other day, she was sitting glumly in the corner. I asked what was wrong, and if I could help- she shrugged her shoulders, and looked away. I sat down next to her, put my arm around her, and drew her close. “Want to make something with mama?” She burst into tears. “Why are you crying?!” She wails that she doesn’t know. I understand this- and I hug her, and then leave her be- tell her to come find me when she’s ready. WRONG answer, mama! The wails become wretched “I’M SO SAD!!!”

But why, my dear, and what can I do?

Perhaps I am facing the crux of the complex and nearly universal mother-daughter relationship gorge. It seems the daughter I have is the one I am least capable of understanding, of relating to, or of meeting her unique needs. When I try and reach out to her in a way that feels intuitive to me, it’s almost always wrong, based on what she wanted from me. I’m left exasperated, and frustrated, and I know she must feel the same. Or so I assume.

This little female creature baffles me. I love her beyond all reason, and the idea of not being able to be more compassionate and tender to her needs frightens me. I want to understand her. I’ve taken pride in the strong bonds I have with my sons, and it worries me that I might be missing the key to the puzzle that is my daughter.

Anyone out there with some pointers or some good experiences or tips on mothering an emotional daughter, I’m wide open. Help me.

17 thoughts on “Daughter

  1. That description actually reminds me very much of my sons, though they’re only 4 and 2. A lot of it for them, at least, I attribute to their age and the fact that they’re still trying to figure out what their emotions are and how to deal with them. It took me a long time to figure out myself, so I figure it’s likely to take quite a while for my children as well. I have no experience with a six-year old yet, or with girls’ emotions other than my own, so I don’t have any advice, but I am very interested in what other advice you get, because maybe it will help me deal with my highly emotional boys (and my girls once they’re no longer babies).

  2. First time commenter here. I love your blog. I loved reading this, because I’ve had the same questions at the forefront of my mind lately. My seven-year-old daughter sounds a lot like yours. She’s much more emotional than I’ve ever been, and just about every night after she’s gone to sleep I sit and think about all the ways I failed her during the day.

    The only meager success I’ve found is to check myself when I’m about to respond intuitively and really just be quiet and listen to her. (Especially since my immediate reaction is often to show impatience and try to reason with her logically.) But even then, she won’t or can’t tell me what she wants, so I’m afraid I’m not a lot of help. But at least I don’t enrage her further by offering up instant advice. I’ll be watching for more comments here! Thank you for making me feel like I’m not alone!

  3. When my boys were in post-divorce therapy, their therapist often talked about the importance of validating their feelings without trying to fix them, (i.e. “that must be so frustrating for you.” & “feeling sad when when we don’t know why must make you mad.”) She said distracting them immediately makes them feel like you are pushing the problem away without examining it, it is a thin line though, to not enable them to always be in the grumps. She said the key was to commiserate, help them idenitify the feeling (not necessarily the source, unless it is helpful and goes along with pinning down the emotion), and then let them come up with something to move beyond it (i.e. “I think I would like to go read a book, etc.”). I don’t know if that helps, but it was really eye opening to put that into practice with my boys, even if I have to remind myself to do it, because my first instinct is to fix what it wrong for them.

    All kids (and especially kid who have gone through big changes like divorce and moving) are still learning where to place their feelings. I was really surprised to learn through therapy that the biggest way to instill confidence and self worth in your kids is not praise or love (although they are still important), but giving them the tools and the (guided) space to figure out their own problems and needs.

    Also, by the way, Janie looked at me the other day, rolled her eyes and said “whaaatever, mom!!!” before running to her room and slamming her door. She’s three! I’m with you, I didn’t think I would see that for at least 10 more years. Good luck. If you figure it out, let me know… 🙂

  4. Well mine is nearly 18 now, but she is and always has been a fury, completely unlike me and my son. She is NOT at all the daughter I expected to have.

    But I have come to realise that all children “are who they are” – their personalities are innate. All that I can do is be the best I can be for her.

    Now my daughter is older she is about 50% proud of me and 50% exasperated by me. In my turn I have learned to admire her single mindedness, her determination and her and sense of justice.

    I think the mothering trick is to take the trait and try and turn it to the good – stubborn? see if you can make her see that determined is better, outraged by unfairness? How can that energy be harnessed to make things better for all?

    It is NOT EASY and she can be very hard to like sometimes, but I must be her mother for a reason I think, so I keep on trying…

  5. I have what is called a “highly-sensitive” girl (now 17). Perhaps Abby is similar? From my experience, through raising her, books and therapy, sensitive girls feel things in extremes. When they are sad, they are REALLY sad. It takes these types quite a while to adjust to change and are highly, HIGHLY (bolded and underlined) in tune to mommy’s emotions. If they can’t make mom happy, then they are in pain. Obviously, Miss Abby has gone through some gigantic changes (in addition to new church, new school, etc.) On top of this, she has seen your stress from the last couple of years, and if she lies in the “sensitive girl” category, most likely took on some of it upon herself. Sensitive girls do this – they are extremely intuitive. Nothing knots up my daughter faster than for her to see me become unwound about something (and I’m not even overly emotional). From Abby’s flower-giving example: yes, probably just a sweet six-year-old girl being sweet. Or, if it were my daughter, her way of making mommy happy (most important to sensitive girls) and most desperately wanting it to work,

    Important: sensitive girls are very intelligent, so she’s emotionally processing all the big changes and family dynamics at a much higher level than the boys. You can be the best mom ever (and it sounds like you’re really close!), but she will still feel emotions in the extreme. Sorry, no cure, but I am told many of these girls go on to become great writers (like mom)!

  6. Ugh! I’m feeling this, too. I actually have a half-written post about it waiting to be finished hopefully this week. I see things that I know are from me and I can understand. Then there’s this other part of her that I don’t understand at all and find it frustrating and I’m not sure how much to push and how much to let go. It’s a tough place to be and a mama who wants to raise a smart, independent, capable girl. I like Cynthia’s advice above. Validate the feelings. Help them recognize what they’re feeling. I’m going to try remembering that when I talk to my kids.

  7. Admittedly, I know nothing about being a mother. My little guy is, after all, just a three-pound bean in my belly at this point. I’ll figure it out as I go along. What else is there to do?

    But I know plenty about being a daughter. I was an absolute nightmare of one if you’ll recall. She might think she hates you sometimes. She might think she hates you for years. You’ll ruin her life hundreds of times. You won’t mend every broken heart. But no matter how misunderstood and alone she feels when you’re trying with everything in you to be there and understand, she’ll know that she’s loved. Treasure the peaceful moments, and try not to lose your head when she loses hers. Someday she’ll thank you, and someday she’ll be proud to call you her mother, her rock, and her very best friend.

  8. Kaelee, you just brought tears to my eyes. I’ve been thinking of you and your mom as I go think about this with Abby. You were never a nightmare, and I doubt I will have the patience your mom did, but I can hope.

    Thank you everyone for the advice. Please keep it coming- it’s actually quite helpful and I’m thankful for your shared wisdom.

  9. My eight-year-old daughter and I are soooo different. I am fiction; she is non-fiction. I am fantasy; she is science & math. I am low-key; she is high-drama. I’m an introvert; she’s an extravert. I am do-it-until-it’s-right perfectionism; she is if-it-isn’t-right-the-first-time-I’m done perfectionism. Aaargh! When I’m not at a loss, I’m utterly frustrated.

    I am learning that I have to meet her as HER own self first of all, and only secondarily as MY daughter. Beloved she is, but she is herself and not an extension of me. That bit of wisdom helps immensely, when I can remember to apply it.

  10. I have 2 daughters myself – 7 and 9. They are so incredibly different, it is just amazing to me. My older one is not especially a talker and when she is, I have to really press to understand the full context. She is not as socially nuanced as many her age, which frustrates me at times (though I sense she is a late bloomer, really. So was I). She is starting to tell me that I have “ruined her life” when I say no and has even said that I “broke her heart: before. Wow, this makes me so sad :-(. My younger one is incredibly detailed, extremely socially nuanced n(probably more than her sister), super girly (more like me), She is also extremely emotional (more so than I am, though I can be emotional too). Sometimes I know just what to do with both of them, other times I am also totally at a loss. So you are not alone, for sure.

  11. Oh yeah – so excited to have a girl…….. You’ve just pegged all the reasons I’m not as ecstatic as everyone expects me to be. Although my boys are capable of some pretty impressive dramatic behavior. Plenty of door slamming and ranting around here. And they are all younger than Abby.

  12. Oh, I get the door slamming thing and my daughter is only three! Something I remember though from my childhood is a frustration with my parents just for being good parents. I didn’t realize this until much, much later, but in all the books I read, all the interesting characters were orphans or had horrible home lives. That helped them become strong people. Coming from a good home actually ended up being something that I focused my anger on. Weird, I know.

    When something major did happen though, I felt safe using my parents for the target of my unexplained anger. Maybe that’s what Abby is doing? She’s had such big upheavals and maybe she doesn’t quite know how to process all of the frustration she’s feeling and *because* you are a good mom, *becuase* she knows you’ll love her no matter what, she feels safe in venting it all against you.

    This may not be the situation with Abby, but it took me years to realize why my relationship with my parents was what it was.

  13. So my sister explained it to me this way. Her sons would come in crying with a scraped knee and she’d bandage and kiss it better, give him a hug, and he was out the door to play some more. Her daughters would come in with a scraped knee, she would bandage and kiss it better, give her a hug, and then her daughter would follow her around the house crying for hours afterwards, stomping, slamming doors, etc.

    Another sister, after listening to me complain about one of my daughters, said that she is reading a book with the title of something along the lines of “I hate you Mom….will you take me to the mall?” Promised to send it to me when she’s done.

    No words of wisdom, just telling you that I feel your pain and am going through it too!

  14. Wait until she’s ten.

    Just kidding. I think. We’ll see.

    I’m a dad, so it’s not the same thing, but all I can say is that my children know I love them. Your children know the same thing about you. Hold onto that.

    Everything else is just details – sometimes difficult, heart-wrenching, tear-inducing details, but just details, nonetheless.

  15. In my experience (particularly 6 kids including 4 girls now ages 20, 17, 14, 10), girls between the ages of 6 or 7 – 11 have huge emotional swings. They cry at the drop of a hat, think everyone is against them, love everyone and everything, in the next breath hate everyone and everything, become drama queens. Everything seems to be done/said/reacted to in the extreme. Hello, pre-pubescent roller coaster! Add in older brothers who like to tease… and some days it is a living nightmare. With my girls, these ages were/are worse than the teen years. (Knock on wood!)

    What can you do? Follow the above advice (validate their feelings, accept them for who and where they are, etc). Realize that your move requires many phases of adjustment, and each one can take days or weeks or even months. The past few years have taken a toll on all of you, and she may be reaching the age where she is trying to process her awakening recognition of everything your family has been through. Know your daughter and her preferences (one of my daughters wants to talk and hug and share her pain and joys; another daughter goes off by herself and wants to work through the issues on her own).

    Mostly, just breathe! Do your best to enjoy the ride! The moments of frustration in trying to understand your daughter will be balanced by moments of pure joy shared with her. Believe in yourself and believe in her. You are a fantastic mother and she is a fantastic daughter. You are both blessed.

  16. All the comments above strike me as hugely loving, thoughtful and apt. Sensitive girls who can read their mom’s emotions minutely and take on the weight of making their moms happy ~ yes, that happens all the time! Other observations — her working still at figuring out her emotions and finding where to place them, for example — are bang on. I think we can safely expect all of us humans to need some regression and bumpy times after every upheaval, and so Miss Abby could be reshuffling the deck for herself right now, as she grieves her old life and anticipates her new one (school coming up soon!).

    I want to throw another idea into this argument, Tracy, and please know it comes from a place of generosity. I am in no way passing a negative comment on you or your mothering (hey, I read you again and again b/c your experiences guide, nurture and support me!). But take a look at this book: _Will I Ever Be Good Enough?: Healing the Daughters of Narcissistic Mothers_.

    Even when a mother does not have narcissistic traits (or moments!), this book describes much of the process by which a daughters and mothers relate, how daughters internalize and figure out ways to manage their own feelings, and that often heartbreaking pairing of mothers and daughter who feel ill-matched to each other.

    Also, per the comments above, I think the most important and loving thing you can and are doing is simply be with her. Sit with her in her dark moments, not trying to fix it, but just showing her how she’s worth sitting with *even when she’s not being pretty & pleasant & pink.*

    Thank you again for everything you share. You and your children are amazing.

  17. Not much I can add here- lots of great ideas have been floated around- but can tell you that my experience has been that my daughter was tougher at younger ages than she is now at almost 11. She is overall an intense force of nature but clearly wants boundaries in place so she knows what is appropriate and what is not going to be tolerated behavior-wise. We have been very firm and clear with her and this seems to have calmed her and comforted her in a roundabout way. That being said, I do spend lots of time validating, listening, and talking with her. She and I are completely different- COMPLETELY- but we try to see those differences in each other and celebrate them. She is turning out to be a much happier preteen than I was at her age. My advice would be to make sure that in all that gooey love is a clear sense of appropriate behaviors. I have a son who is almost three and my experience is that mother/son relationships are much less complicated than mother/daughter ones. It’s got something to do with the expectations we parents place on our same-sex children. Best of luck!!

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