Personal Growth, Self Help

When the Mother-Daughter Bond Is Missing

79 Comments 04 February 2010

MotherandDaughter_400When Dr. Karyl McBride decided to write Will I Ever Be Good Enough? , a book on mothers who don’t mother their daughters, and the pain this causes girls and adult daughters, she felt as if she were breaking a taboo. 

Our relationship with Mother is birthed simultaneously with our entry into the world. We take our first breath of life, and display the initial dependent, human longing for protection and love in her presence. We are as one in the womb and on the birthing table. This woman, our mother. . . all that she is and is not. . . has given us life. Our connection with her in this instant and from this point forward carries with it tremendous psychological weight for our lifelong well-being. Oddly, I have never wanted to believe this.

First, being a feminist-era mom myself, I didn’t want mothers and women to bear so much responsibility or ultimate blame if things go wrong. Certainly many factors other than mothering shape a child’s life. Second, I didn’t want to face how feeling like an unmothered child had such a devastating effect on me and my life. To acknowledge this meant I had to face it.

While doing research over the years, I have read many books that discuss the mother-daughter bond. Each time I read a different volume, unexpected tears would stream down my cheeks. For I could not recall attachment, closeness, memories of the scent of Mother’s perfume, the feel of her skin, the sound of her voice singing in the kitchen, the solace of her rocking, holding and comforting, the intellectual stimulation and joy of being read to.

I knew this was not natural, but could not find a book that explained this lack. It made me feel somewhat crazy. Was I delusional, or just a chick with a poor memory? I could not find a book that explained that this phenomenon of feeling unmothered could be a real deal and that there could be mothers who are not maternal. Nor could I find a book that discussed the conflicted feelings that their daughters have about these mothers, the frustrated love, and even sometimes the hatred. Because good girls aren’t supposed to hate their mothers, they don’t talk about these bad feelings. Motherhood is a sacred institution in most cultures and therefore is generally not discussed in a negative light. When I decided to write a book on mothers who don’t mother their daughters, and the pain this causes girls and adult daughters, I felt as if I were breaking a taboo. Reading books about the mother-daughter bond always gave me the sensation of a deep loss and the fear that I was alone in this suffering. Experts wrote of the complexity of the mother-daughter connection, how it is rife with conflict and ambivalence, but I felt something different — a void, a lack of empathy and interest, and a lack of feeling loved. For many years, I did not understand and tried to rationalize it.

Other members of the family and well-intentioned therapists explained it away with various excuses. Like a good girl, I tried to make excuses and take all the blame. It was not until I began to understand that the emotional void was a characteristic result of maternal narcissism that the pieces began to fit together. The more I learned about maternal narcissism, the more my experience, my sadness, and my lack of memory made sense. This understanding was the key to my beginning to recover my own sense of identity, apart from my mother. I became more centered, taking up what I now call substantial space, no longer invisible (even to myself) and not having to make myself up as I go along. Without understanding, we flail around, we make mistakes, feel deep unworthiness, and sabotage ourselves and our lives.

Writing Will I Ever Be Good Enough?: Healing the Daughters of Narcissistic Mothers has been a culmination of years of research and a soul journey that took me back to when I was a little girl who knew something was wrong, feeling that the absence of nurturing was not normal, but not knowing why. I wrote Will I Ever Be Good Enough? in the hopes that I can help other women understand that those feelings were and are not their fault.

Will I Ever Be Good Enough?

Will I Ever Be Good Enough?

Karyl McBride


Dr. Karyl McBride, a licensed marriage and family therapist with more than twenty-eight years of experience in public and private practice, specializes in treatment of trauma and family-of-origin issues and has served as an expert witness in numerous civil and criminal cases involving children and sexual abuse. She lives in Denver, Colorado.

  • Maria

    These are all very comforting and eye opening stories. Mine is a little different. I moved in with a lady I call Mom when I was 19 because we were of the same religious background. Today at almost 26 I’m ready to move out because I can’t handle the way I’m treated any longer. She already has a daughter (and only child) who’s 2 years younger than me and I definitely don’t take back what both of them have taught me about life. But ever since we contemplated moving out of state in 2008 things started to get sour. We never really had a true mother daughter relationship for what ever reason. It could be because I really wasn’t her daughter but when the move finally came she told me “I don’t really like you”. Oddly strangers, my friends, my co-workers, and my birth family have not had any problems with “not liking me” and have also said I’m very friendly and easy to talk to. Now I’ve got a job since our move to this new state and I foot a lot of financial responsibility (Over half of rent, the combined cable, phone, and internet bill, the electric bill, food on most occasions, gas even though I don’t own a car and I rarely ask for a ride, plus all of my own personal bills). At my new job I’ve ran into some wonderful women that have really helped me figure out what I need is to have my own place because this relationship we have is obviously not working. I decided I’ll move out. I haven’t done so yet but just let her know today by letter because I can’t seem to talk to her about a personal problem without feeling horrible about myself afterwards, and she completely disliked the idea of me moving to start over, threw it all back in my face and turned it into an issue I was trying to avoid so we wouldn’t be going in circles. Thank GOD for Google, as I read the letter she wrote back I thought about a mother-daughter bond and this was the first helpful article that came up. Even though I’m upset and cried this evening asking God why things the way they were, I comfortably know that this is how it’s always going to be between us and that it’s best that I try something new in my life out of her presence. There’s definitely a WHOLE lot more to the story, but I will definitely purchase the book to see how I can benefit from it.

  • Erin

    This is a great resource for people who were either literally or figuratively abandoned. I find so many insights and comforts every time I listen. The key resources the unmothered needs are: intuition, self-guidance, and being conscious and aware:

  • kojala

    Thanks for sharing, Erin! We know this issue affects so many of our readers.

  • denise

    I am comforted in knowing there are others that have the same issues as I with their mother. It wasn’t until I was 40, did i start to figure out the reasons for my mother’s distain for me.

  • Kijo

    This article has definitely been helpful for me…i have a narcissistic mother..almost a glad i now know…i always thought i was the only one in this world that has a mother who does not approve of anything i do, always seen as envious of my achievements and speaks with so much bitterness and hatred towards me. I am wiser.

  • Elaine

    I hate my mother. At 34, it seems as though my hatred for her is now a sure thing. I don’t have a relationship with. I hate the person she is and her sickness. I am certainly happy her marriage to my father did not work and he divorced her. I never really used to care about these things. We just never got along. But then again, she did not raise me. I was raised by my paternal grandmom. A very loving woman. A real mother.

    I have been told that my mother was not raised with love, which is why she is unable to give it to her children. My family is pretty much broken. A very weak family. My siblings and I have zero allegiance to one another; the foundation of our family is so weak, a simple gossip can destroy our fragile and fake bond to one another.

    When I gave birth to my son, my mother threw my son and I out her home. It’s funny, the very same thing happened to her, when she gave birth to my younger brother, decades before. My mother is a toxic woman. I am saddened that she is my mother. Very saddened.

    We don’t speak at all. She does call on my birthdays to wish me a Happy Birthday and I call her on hers. Other than that we don’t speak for the remaining 363 days of the year.

  • Ann

    I do not hate my Mother. As a child she seemed very wounded. I know she was a change-of-life baby and her childhood was not filled with the sentimental familial activities having been born to parents in their late 40s. We have never been close; in fact, she always made me feel I was not pretty enough compared to her beauty at the same ages. My Mother’s marriage technically ended the week of my sixteenth birthday! I have been married twenty-three years, but cannot say I have always been happy. Many times my husband will sound like my Mother — causing me to think I fell into the psychological trap of marrying my Mother, rather than a man like my (absent) Father. At any rate, the lessons I missed most were how to be a girl, talking about dating – what I should expect — not accept, etc. It seemed to me the message was take whatever man will have me, which of course was the greatest devaluation of my femininity. Girls who begin exploring life from this lack of girlishness must teach themselves the value of their own bodies through years of mistaking sex for love. At 54 it is easy to talk to my sons about healthy sexuality because they needed to have a sense of self that is separate and private but not based on shame. Maybe I don’t exactly love my Mother either, but let it rain and I’ll be the first to put the umbrella over her head anyway. That much I learned from my Mother’s Mother! Ironic…?

  • Anonymous

    I am currently dealing with a narcissistic mother. When she was pregnant with me, my dad cheated on her with someone else and they broke up. Ever since then, she blames me for what my dad did. If I get an award or something, she doesn’t say a damn thing. But when I make a mistake, it’s like Christmas to her. She’ll constantly remind me of the mistake to torture me. And I was five when that started. She withheld love, support… Ever since I turned four, she stopped giving me hugs. It was like I was invincible.

    Now, it’s really difficult to deal with my mum, cause I don’t know how to receive maternal love. She keeps telling me I’m fat and that I should’ve never existed. Also, she threaten to kill me.

    So now, I’m currently suffering from anorexia and depression because of her

  • kojala

    Thanks for sharing your story. Most importantly, you are not alone. We encourage you to find a therapist or group therapy with individuals who share your experience. I can tell you from reading comments from others that many people have sought help and found the love they deserve! Best of luck to you.

  • Brenda

    HMMMM. Blame mom. She was not good enough, and that’s why so many women are angry and hostile. I wonder how the mothers would respond to these daughter’s descriptions. BTW, I don’t much like my mother, so I tried to do everything differently with my kids, and guess what? They hate me.

  • Mary

    I have been looking on and off for years, just didn’t phrase it right. My mom has always been negative my whole life. There have been tiny things. The first time i really remember is when i found out i was pregnant with my daughter. I called my mom to tell her the good news and she said “well, i am not going to babysit” no congratulations or anything. She doesn’t do any self-reflection. And when she asks a question, she is looking for a specific answer and if she doesn’t get it she will badger you until you are so angry you end up yelling at her. Then she looks at you like you’re crazy because she just doesn’t get it.

  • Dani

    wow Mary…I have been doing research and have basically realized my mom is a narcissist. But she’s not nearly as overtly bad as a lot of women’s mothers that I’ve read about so sometimes I’m not sure. But what you just wrote made me feel like I’d written it. My mom is almost impossible for me to talk to, and I almost always feel bad about myself after our conversations, no matter what the topic. She doesn’t filter a single word out of her mouth and she never stops to think about how what she’s saying could affect me. This has resulted in hundreds of bubble bursting, soul-crushing, completely inappropriate, disrespectful and paranoid things she’s said to me during my life. She also does the thing where she can’t LISTEN to you- it has to be about you answering her questions, trying to lead you to some point she wants to make, or some wacky conclusion she has jumped to that has nothing to do with how you feel or what has happened in your life.

  • juju

    My mother was abused in all ways as a child. There was also great poverty and her father was a drunk.
    She managed to crawl out of this murk, marrying my father, who adored her. I was their 3rd daughter, and have a younger sister. My mum did really well by self education and was good with money. This meant that, despite my dad’s poor wages, my mum managed to eventually leave us a 5 bedroomed house in her will. We would not be where we are today if it had not been for her ability to do a lot on very little money, and I am truly grateful. What I can never understand is why I grew up feeling she resented me, at best, and actively disliked me at worst. I know she had ghosts from her past, and all that negativity and pain has to go somewhere. I just don’t understand why I got it all. She had a fantastic relationship with my younger sister, and had pretty good relationships with my other sisters. But my memories are all painful and sad when i think of her. And yet, she always said i was most like her.Perhaps she didn’t really like herself, and therefor didn’t like me?

  • emmy

    My daughter is in her 30s and has hated me since she was 16. I was never good enough for her. I was raised with a mother who I know cared for me, but was not just the touchy/feely kind. I did not get much attention and that was ok to me. Back in the 60s where I grew up that was acceptable and I never felt cheated. My daughter feels that I should have been more huggy and hands on. She hardly ever speaks to me now and she has talked behind my back for years to many people, saying horrible untrue things about me. Yet she has never said these things to me. There are 2 sides to every coin. Can’t we all just Love each other and understand our differences.

  • Mappi

    Thank you for your article. It made me feel comforted to know that I am not alone in hating my mother. You’re right about pointing out that good girls don’t hate their mothers and because I do, I always felt that there is something wrong with me, like I was being a difficult child and deserved the horrible treatment from my mother. That’s why I never talk about hating my mother to my friends because I don’t want them to judge me or see me in a negative light. When I was younger, I used to be easily affected by what my mother said to me. She’d call me “ugly”, “a failure” and threatened to “chop me dead”. I lost all belief in myself and was nearly driven to end my own life. But I managed to come through on my own. Now, I have a stronger sense of self-belief and I try as much as possible to ignore her and carry on with my life. She still threatens to kill me. In fact, she has tried to pull me towards an open window and throw me down the building. She has also pointed a pair of scissors at me and seriously intended to “stab me to death”. If anything, I fear for my life now. There is no guarantee what she’d do. But for now, I’ll keep holding on, keep living and keep believing that there is a brighter future somewhere out there for me.

  • Anna Maria Magdalena

    I’m sorry but I totally disagree with all this mommy bashing and hatred! Your hatred has nothing to do with your mother! Please come on with all the Mommy Dearest drama! This society has done nothing but cripple the Feminine to it’s detriment! Continue with this lunacy and watch the whole world die before your eyes. Start actually supporting your mothers! So what she did not give you everything you needed. Look what society gives to mothers and the thanks they get. This article is nothing but continuing in the cycle of abuse that mothers and women constantly get bombarded with. Sorry but I just don’t agree. Health and wellness and wholeness to you all. May you finally find peace with your own Divine Masculine and Feminine energies!!

  • http://hotmail Shereece

    well to me i think my mom is different to other mom’s because not all the time i could be open to her and it hurts me to know that she kidda treats my smaller sister better than me and its like i dont have no one to talk to about it except my friend Mark.He understands it better. i just hope one day in my teenage life i could be close and always open to my mom. sometimes it’s so hard to please her but most important with my mom she always put what ever she has to do behind her and be their for me but :/ not all the time we get the mother-daughter thing that you know we sit together and like really talk…. to me i think im closer to my dad because he allows me to be open to him and he understands me more and you know we talk and it makes me feel so happy that you know i have this one person that i can be open to and talk to about my feeling,school,,emotions,,teenage life etc i just hope one day my mom can be like that

  • Pmelody

    My mother is not narcissitic or crazy. In fact she is loved by many. She is very caring to many people around her. But one thing I know and feel is…she doesn’t like me. I wrote her my first letter regarding this issue when I was 20. She told me I was exaggerating and this was something I did often. She always tells me why I wouldn’t be fit to do the things I want to do…then tries to push me towards the things she want’s me to do. When I was awarded doing my youth, I don’t ever remember getting any words from her. She’d tell people she didn’t want me to get too “big headed.” She exploded at me one day when I told her I didn’t feel sorry for the mother of my brother’s children because she chose her life. My mother called me a monster in front of people we knew. I told my father my boyfriend was going to send me money for my vehicle, she chimed in and said don’t ask men for money. I’ve never asked men for money and she know’s this. I felt as though she was judging me based on that one statement. If I had a sister, I don’t think she’d treat her any different. But my brother…she has always adored him. Him and I are very different. I’m afraid the mistreatment I received from my mother growing up has been what’s made me somewhat awkward socially. I’ll never understand it.

  • cynthia snook

    Can you,if so do tell,how do you make the connection between your mind and subconscious mind in order to understand necessesities to heal?

  • cynthia snook

    To all mother haters:do not continue the cycle and start with the understanding that if it wasnt for this woman,you wouldnt be here ! Begin with having respect for this truth and then the rest is easily understood from there.

  • Cheryle

    I have to accept the fact that my mother was not raised to know how to be a positive nor a nurturing person. I also have to accept the fact that if I want anything done in that area, in our relationship, that it is up to me.

    Just cooking healthy meals is nurturing. Just saying “I love you” is nurturing. I have to put forth the effort because she just does not. She was raised in a very neglectful way and that is how she raised us.

    Now, I am my own mother and I am a person who models nurturing skills that she can experience. As my mom is getting older it is even more important to me to let her know that she is worth the bowl of fruit that is on the table. I just remember her telling me that when she was a child they often had to go hungry for days. I often buy her a books that are on sale because she needs to know that she is worth the time and effort of that as well. She never had anyone in her life do those type of things for her.

    I had to understand her point of view and work through my grief of not having the mother that I wanted. I had to work through the anger of that fact and then forgive myself for being angry in the first place.

    This having a non-attached mother has left a deep scar though — I did not want to repeat the cycle so I did not have my own children. I chose to work with children instead. I can give love and I know how wonderful that is; but I also know that I am not quite right in that department in order to bring another person into this world.

    I feel empathy for my mom because she was never wired in a way that made it natural or easy for her to be emotional toward us. I still have to work on myself to be open, to be emotionally expressive and to want to connect with others. I have to fight the urge to shut myself off and to be non responsive. I can easily not give a damn, it is easy to leave relationships, I can attach and then let go without a thought…and that is scary sometimes.

    I am still a work in progress, as we all are. I work daily to improve my skills so that I can be a benefit to others, but it is hard at times. She did not mean to, but she messed up my wiring as well.

    Best to all.

  • Mary bleach

    It is good to find this site as i have a mother who has told me to never go see her again and my dad had just died two weeks ago. I would love to say its because of grief but this is how she has been through all of my life, she has destroyed my relationship with my oldest daughter who wont talk to me unless she has to she has gone out of her way to report to my daughter anything that might make me look bad. When ever my daughter was on the phone she would be talking and would say oh Mary is here not your mother is here or your mum never dose she say i am her mother . She even said to my face when my dad was on his death bed, that your daughter dose not want you. Tanya my daughter stayed with my mum when my dad was dieing his last week, i am single and live in a share house i have a good job as a store manager of a jewelery store and work full time and have just left abusive relationship the father of my youngest son who is 18. But i have decided to even thou it pains me to keep my mother out of my life as she has shut the door another thing she has said my dad has 2010 car which now that he has passed she said i could buy but now my mum has turned around and said that i cant have it and never come see her again so she has shut the door on me and destroyed my relationship with my eldest daughter. My mum will visit my daughter in November and has not tried to contact me so for the time being i am not doing anything and leaving them both out of my life. But it hurts me and causes me pain every day, but i do have a faith in god and one day i pray for some kind of break through, i don’t hate my mother i pity her as one day she will need me but i don’t know if i can forgive her for what she has done but now she has my daughter and my grand daughters so she dose not need me i do have three other children two sons and another daughter who i see and a grandson but it is not a good thing this rift in the family .but for now she cant say anything more to my daughter about me as she is not seeing me and maybe time dose heal i don’t know but i will see if any one has any other advise please let me know thanks.

  • rochelle

    It is refreshing to know that I am not alone or weird for how I feel

  • Ashley

    I found this article through a google search looking for help in dealing with my own mother issues. I am anxiously awaiting your book in the mail. Everything you said in the article rang so true to me it brought tears to my eyes. I have walked away from my mother almost two years ago. It took my oldest son, who was 4 at the time, asking me after his last visit with her why grandma doesn’t like him. I vowed at that point not to let the toxic energy and the self doubting take over his life as it has mine. She has not been in contact with me, but instead lashes out in anyone who does. It has gotten so bad that she doesn’t allow my younger sister or brothers to talk to me. It’s been hard trying to understand what it is about me and no one else that she hates so much. It has filled my head since I can remember. There has never been a time of hugs and kisses. The last time I saw her I mustered up the courage to go to her house to talk to her. She opened the door and told me that she didn’t have time for me and slammed it in my face. I do not have a problem with anyone else disliking me. I just can’t grasp this. I am constantly asking myself why. I do not miss her, and I do not wish anything bad upon her. I have feel that you can’t miss something you never had. I am thankful for a strong grandmother and aunt to help me through this. I’ve just in the past two years let them know how bad growing up with her truly was. I wish I would have spoken out sooner. Things could have been different, but I’m thankful that I learned how not to treat my children. The part in the article where you write about not remembering your mother scent really stuck out to me. I remember hers all to well. That scent meant hairspray, lipstick, a fake smile for guest and extremely harsh punishments for me even if I would have been absolutely perfect. Thank you for writing this. Like I said I am anxiously awaiting the book. I’m looking forward to the healing process.

  • Lisa

    How comforting to know I am not alone. Its been 18 months since I finally walked away from my mother and it hurts to think that my life is easier without her. I’m 31 and spent my entire life battling her. Her love was very much conditional and often only shown in public. The proud mother, only when she knew someone was watching.
    I came from a broken home, life was hard on her too but she could never admit her faults and how they affected me. The words “I fed and clothed you, didnt I?” often came out of her mouth. She never understood that in it’s self, was never enough.
    I’m in therapy now and beginning to understand that my lack of confidence was over compensated by becoming a musician, where I simply play a character and still do. I struggle to find the real me. I out grew mum mother, growing up way too quickly and now find myself too independent. No one stands in my way and I often find myself without close friends. The friends I do have are male and mostly musicians too. I drowned myself in music so much that I am unable to function in the real world. Friendships with females is impossible. Despite a great yearning for them.
    I also despite my own failings have a tendency to ‘fix’ things. I have become the mother figure of my group and often try to fix problems that aren’t always mine to fix.
    I have begun to accept the loss of my mother but do worry what the future holds. I am now with loving partner, a musician too, surprise surprise! Life is good but I long for simple life. The thought of becoming a mother myself truly terrifies me. What if I had a girl? I fear I’d simply be unable to connect. The fear of a return from my mother haunts me too or worse what if she feel ill. Can I live with that? I’m yet to find out.
    All I know is that support and self awareness is key. I hope you find them too xx

  • juju

    Lisa, much of what you say rings true with me. My friends tend to be men, and I find relationships with women fraught. I think if you have had a good relationship with your mother then she provides the bench mark of what you can hope to have in your relationships with other women. I,too, never had children, although I love kids and always worked with them. I think there was a subconscious fear of history repeating itself if I had a girl. I know someone who, when she knew she was having a boy, said a thank you prayer that it was not a girl, because of her own relationship with her mother. I also tend to take care of people, emotionally, as I did my mum, and it’s not always welcomed. Some one once told me to “stop mothering me”. I was crushed by that, as it’s the only way I know how to be. I’ve been that way since I was a child, always looking out for my mum. I have 3 sisters, whom I am very close to, but I miss not having a close female friend.As I have said before, I loved my mum, I just wish she had REALLY loved and valued me.

  • Naomi

    I think I remind my mother of the man she loved, but left anyway. He is Native American and was stuck in a cycle of drinking and letting my mom be the only financial support. I do not think my mother is narcissistic as I listened to many exchanges of love and affection between her and my older brother which makes it even harder to feel so rejected by her. It has created a sickly cycle of my own inability to be affectionate with my children. I do love them very much but just do not know how to allow myself to be touched by them?

  • juju

    Hi Naomi, I am sorry you are still suffering the effects of bad mothering. It is so sad this is now carried through to your own children – despite knowing that you do love them. Have you ever thought of telling your g.p.? They could put you in touch with a therapist, who could help you come to terms with your past and learn how to give and receive the love of your own children.I never had kids, probably because I feared history repeating itself. I was a nanny for many years, though, and I was fortunate in that I was determined to love those children as I had wanted to be loved.They in turn loved me, which made it all the more special for me. Please consider asking your g.p. for help. Mu mum did apologize,years later, for my childhood, and of course I said it was o.k., but you never really get over it.

  • Florida girl

    I had my second child, a daughter, a year and 6 days after my first daughter. When I was delivering her the doctor didn’t use an epidural like I requested but instead gave me gas to go asleep. I didn’t get to hold her when she was first born and didn’t even know what I had or anything about the baby until I woke up in my hospital room and I asked a nurse. I have never felt a closeness to her or her to me. She doesn’t even feel like my child although I know she is. She has all the characteristics of her Dad’s family. My husband was out to sea when she was born and until 4 months later so she doesn’t have a closeness with him either. She his been married and divorced three times and prefers to be by herself except for her three children. One, a daughter, is still at home and they are super close. My daughter and I don’t call each other unless it’s something important. The same with her Dad. (We’re divorced.) My first daughter and I are very close and always have been. I watched her being born and held her immediately. I think the difference is in the way each was born and the immediate attachment compared to being put to sleep and not sharing those first moments together. What do you think?


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