Personal Growth, Self Help

When the Mother-Daughter Bond Is Missing

127 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

Author

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.

Your Comments

127 Comments so far

  1. Andreia Santos says:

    I had to double check i didn’t write this post, everything you say Lisa i can connect to. You will be fine, stay strong, you’ll find that you’ll knock your head a few times along the way and your eyes will open occasionally to truths and ways of being that you didn’t realise before… I have a son (and yes, i thanked god it was a boy) my aim is to provide my son with the childhood i never had, so far it’s working, and i hope to bring you all hope that you can too, it’s definitely worth it… also very upsetting as you often realise along the way what lacked from your own mother, but the best way to overcome this is to really force yourself to devote the love you never got in the loving way we all dreamt we got. When i left my mothers house at 18 i went through a crazy phase where i did what i wanted when i wanted and made a fool of myself so many times, the only way i got out of that was through believing that i was a good person, it didn’t always work, but eventually i found myself. The pain, emptiness, numbness and the questions never leave but i couldn’t continue destroying myself and questioning myself, as time was flying by… i still have the pain, emptiness, numbness and the questions, but now i concentrate on making a positive mark on other people, on keeping the positive thinking alight even when it seems gloom.

  2. Andreia Santos says:

    Maybe you can help me, i too feel the need to model nurturing and love towards my mother… She feels so guilty and so ashamed of the past that she constantly brings it up with comments such as “you never loved me” “it was your fault” and blaming the rest of the family etc and whenever i offer her a compliment the response i get is somewhat too rude and embarrassing to put here, the last time this happened i was mentioning a good memory i had of hers because she said i had none, i didn’t even get to say what the memory was before she told me to fuck off and start a big rant then!!! but i am always on edge and as i have a child, i refuse to allow negativity into my house and put my foot down that no bitchiness, arguments, name calling etc is allowed (not even by me) now my son hasn’t created a bond with my mum because she can’t put the arguments aside and focus on him being her grandchild, so she rarely sees him, and she is even more frustrated now because i wont allow her to take him out on her own (i just don’t trust her to not hit him or worst, and i’m too terrified to actually tell her this is why)… Since my son was born i have been on a mission to provide him with the love and lifestyle i never had, and i have in that time cut ties with my mother a few times… but regardless of the issues i love her and miss her and end up speaking to her again, she always calls a few weeks later and is very generous bringing us home grown fruit and veg. I really don’t know how to tackle this problem and most of the time i’m too busy focusing on being a good mum that i don’t find the patience and time for my own mum… any advice?

  3. Andreia Santos says:

    i wish i could take your pain away… don’t feel silly…. the pain never leaves. Keep fighting to be the better person and in the end it wont matter who knows it because you will x x x

  4. Andreia Santos says:

    i have one good memory too, it’s a slightly cloudy memory but it’s what i hang on to. You were much luckier that at least your mother took care of you… in our house, i did most the cooking (my mother would cook for other people, she always presented herself like a charm to other people) i also did the cleaning, my mother was too lazy to work most of the time and resented me especially because she had to work to provide, we never owned a washing machine so i had to wash our clothes by hand and there couldn’t be a single stain on them, i would do it until my hands were raw, i also took care of my brother… other than school, i was never allowed to be on my own in the house or let out the house alone, i wasn’t allowed friends, and wasn’t allowed to have a conversation to anyone else in the family or even the most intimate needs such as “time of the month” necessities, she would sit at my side when i bathed calling me names and commenting/degrading my body… All this because she gave me away to a man when i was very little who drugged and abused me and luckily took me back to my grandmas house instead of killing me… my mother hates that i know this and blatantly denies it saying that i went to that man by myself, even though i remember her telling me where to wait for him, i don’t remember anything else and i don’t talk about this with her for many years now, i have even somewhat forgiven her for it (putting it down to jealousy because my grandma raised me from 8 months until then aged 11 and having an auntie 5 years older than myself i naturally grew to call my gran mum), she hates anyone ever talking about her (i feel very guilty right now) and she developed terrible hoarding and the most idiotic compulsive lying, anyone in their right mind sees through the lies which are sometimes hard to understand why lie in the first place either answer has the same reaction… i was even told off once for saying she was fine when someone asked how she was. I fantasize that she gets help and becomes a loving grandmother to my son, im still hoping.

  5. Andreia Santos says:

    WOW… If my mother wasn’t so preoccupied in keeping her outside appearances so high and snubby i think she could be that cruel too… but i was lucky… im so sorry for all your heartache, and i hope you can console yourself that you are a better person x

  6. Andreia Santos says:

    i agree heather.

  7. Andreia Santos says:

    Send them a heartfelt letter, describing everything you ever regretted and everything that you may have done to hurt them, tell them you love them and tell them that you will always be there for them (but don’t be too pushy or too giving or they will take you for granted and will corrupt a possible re-instated relationship)… if they see that you understand where it went wrong for them (rather than for you) and they read this along with the lines of how much you love them and want them in your life, then they may begin to understand your feelings for them rather than for yourself and slowly they may come closer to you… Just don’t be pushy for results, sometimes it will take the wrong word to send things right back to where they started… it’s a long process and only your love for them and patience for their love back can win in this case. i hope it helps

  8. Andreia Santos says:

    sorry you’re describing a normal angry teen, not one that hates her mum? Where are you comparing yourself to the parents that emotionally damage their kids… the parent that calls her daughter a whore and an ugly cunt just from the way she has a bath? the parent that breaks her bones and tells everyone lies on how she did it, and the daughter agrees in fright her mother may kill her and place her under the floorboards as she was too many times told she would be, the parent that shaves her daughters hair just because she plaited it to look pretty but that meant she was a whore, the parent that gives her daughter a black eye because she didn’t peel the potatoes thin enough? If you are like that then still i wouldn’t hate you, i’d just wish you could get help and become the mother the rest of us that were mistreated always dreamt of (sorry for the bad language) i don’t hate my mother, many times i felt i did, but i don’t… i really wish she’d get help though and i wish she didn’t emotionally destroy me so much… it’s great to know it wasn’t just my mother though, it makes me feel a bit more normal than before.

  9. Andreia Santos says:

    sounds like it’s her dad making her feel like she needs to choose sides… if you start to talk in a respectful way about her dad then she may feel that at least with you she can be herself and not take sides… i could be wrong and only going on what you said here.

  10. Andreia Santos says:

    sorry you lost your mum, i think that people here may find it difficult to offer you the advice you need because we never received any good advice from our mums.

  11. Andreia Santos says:

    stay strong and remember that only you can break the cycle that your mother passed onto you, devote yourself to show your daughter the love and devotion you never received.

  12. Andreia Santos says:

    Do write them a letter and do stay around, with time they may understand… start putting the past behind you and working on the future … good luck.

  13. Dreia says:

    you’re still young and it will take a while for you to start having a little more confidence in yourself… it’s not you and it’s not your fault, i’m 34 and now i feel strong enough to even talk about it… stay strong and live your battles with the thought that you are a good person and just keeping aiming to be the good person you wished your mum was x

  14. Dreia says:

    you say that now, but even through your sarcasm i can sense the pain in what you said.

  15. Dreia says:

    my mum is bpd too, i do get how you feel, somewhat im jealous as you are handling it better than i can… well done and keep it up.

  16. Natty Kadifa says:

    Have you tried expressing your resentments about each other without fear of judgement? It doesn’t sound like y our story with her has finished. My mother knows why I feel the way I do about her, but she refuses to take responsibility for her part in a truly unsettled childhood. Until she takes responsibility, she will not be in my life.

  17. Natty Kadifa says:

    did you resolve your issues?

  18. Anna White says:

    I made the mistake of giving your post a up. I thought I was clicking on comments. Anyway, so don’t count it cause you sure didn’t earn it. It’s clear your jealous of your daughter. It’s clear you hate giving her credit. I’ve lived the life your poor daughter is probably having to live. You should be ashamed.

  19. Anna White says:

    Emmy,
    Maybe she didn’t say the things you think she did. Don’t let other people intrude on what should be between you and your daughter. Unless you have heard her say these things yourself take it with a grain of salt. Some people may not want you and your daughter to have a good relationship. My brother stood in the way of me and my mom getting along for years. Others can just make it worse. All the while secretly loving seeing you and your daughter hurt each other.

    For all you know these informants of yours could be the problem. Things get twisted in the gossip ring and even your closest friend can get it wrong without meaning to. I hesitate to tell you what to do but I will make a suggestion. Talk to her. No matter what it takes. Talk to her about it and talk only to her. Then see if that makes any difference at all. If not then you must be willing to admit your faults as well as wanting her acknowledge hers. I would give my whole world up if my mom and I could just really talk about truth rather than me being accused of things I never said or did.

  20. Anna White says:

    You say “They were raised the same.” Sweetie. That’s the problem. They are not the same person so you can’t raise them all the same. I don’t say that to put the blame on you as it appears your daughter does need to make changes. But now that she is grown perhaps she just wants you to acknowledge that she is different from the other two and that that is o.k..

    I’m nothing like my brother and feel my mom hates me for it. They raised us the same to. And nothing they did was ever considerate of my needs but only his. How was I supposed to be like him when I wasn’t him. And quite frankly I thank God I am not as he is spoiled and abused me as a child. Which they accepted and never stopped. So maybe your youngest has been made to feel she is not good enough for not being a clone.

  21. Patricia Longo says:

    sure– I hear it every day– before school, after school, while I’m brushing her hair, helping her dry off after a shower…
    Poor her!!!
    — As a tantrum throwing aspie she faces bullies all say– I stand up to them, hold down a job, or 2 or 3– and take the abuse– punches, peeing on the floor & furniture=—- feces in my yogurt from HER– in place of where a daughter might be….
    Because it’s family. Because she’s not grown yet.
    I guess one day she can cry to you all about it–HOW UNFAIR!! her mom was to let her be at home- into her twenties…. before stealing your wallet and bolting from your third date. Because anti-social IS as anti-social does, You are fully welcome.
    I accept that no thank you’s– no “happy mother’s day”– no “merry Christmas, MOM!!” is included– just your 100% certain pre-judgement– your hate– your NORMALITY. And my private black hole of service to society. I hope one day YOU can be a mother and enjoy a similar status– never giving enough– always blamed– until you finally collapse– as I am doing this year– toothless, broke, not able to get the bills– and STILL SERVING a “child” of grown years who hates me. Who never once brushed or washed her own hair.

  22. Chelsea says:

    I am a 27 year old woman who grew up in a physically and mentally abusive relationship with my mother. Many of the memories from my past are hard to acknowledge. I do not speak to people about them I mostly keep it to myself. It is hard to explain to someone how a teenager could grow up dealing with the issues I have dealt with. My mother was never there for me. I do not have one memory of her that was warm and or caring. I have two brothers and a sister. When I was younger I felt as if they did not realize the situations that I was in. My mother made people believe that I was a disobedient out of control teenager… which I was not. Some of the things I did were reactions to the situations I was put in. My father was not in my life. I did not feel any bond to him and when I would reach out to him he would be unreachable. When my parents divorced we moved to my mothers childhood home. From a time frame of middle school until high school I spent my years moving from home to home. I could not stay with my mother. Me living in my mothers home would result in physical fights between us and fights with my siblings. Altercations that would involve the police. I have never lived with my mother longer than three months. I have been on the streets, I have stayed in abandoned homes, I have stayed with friends, I have stayed in a juvenile detention home also. When I was not with my mother or transitioning from place to place I stayed with my Grandmother. This would not last long due to family issues. By this time I was an unloved bitter teenager that did not know what real love was and did not know where to find it at. My first boyfriend became my child’s father. I took what love and attention I received from him in whichever way it was given and ran with it. I became pregnant… thanking the Lord this was the only thing that happened. I could have become so many other things. A drug addict or a prostitute. When I turned thirteen I became ill. From the time I could remember I was sick from September till February. I am sure it was further back than that its just the memory I have. My mother did not notice that I was sick because she was not there. I have told my mother that someone has made me feel uncomfortable in a sexual way and she did not believe me. Instead I was called names and mistreated by her and her family. In fear that I may speak the same about her boyfriend at the time (now husband) my mother pushed me further away. The relationship with my mother and I has continued on the same way. I moved away eight years ago to leave the situation and it didn’t make anything better. My mother still treats me as if I am nothing to her and that I am any woman on the street that she does not know. My mother takes her issues out on me. It can be something that I have nothing to do with and she makes sure she let’s me have it. My mother and my sisters relationship is different. I believe my mother wants to live up to her words of making people think that it was me when I was younger so she made sure she treated my sister different and did not repeat what she did with me. Giving my sister time, giving my sister freedom, letting my sister live her teenage years normally. Making sure she is there for my sister and building a relationship with her. I have stated several times that I hate my mother. This is not true and it does not feel good to speak. I do not hate my mother… I just wish that our lives would not have ended up like this. I wish my mother the best and I appreciate her for giving birth to me and at times doing her motherly duties. This is the end.

  23. patience says:

    Reading through some of the comments here.. i’m beginning to wonder if I’m just ungrateful> My mom was abused physically by her own mother while growing up.

    So she grew up with the rage and hatred for her own mothers. Then I was born. As far as i could remember, being beaten up frequently by my mum ever since i could crawl. I’ve never be comfortable with being in close contact with her because she while raising me up for the first few years and the next was in and out of my life (with work, often running away from home and abusing prescription drugs) In fact i had the most frightful memories of her threatening me with a knife, was just 8 then

    Till My dad had enough of her abuses on both of us (emotionally and psychologically) and finally left. But that wasn’t it. For ht next couple more years, she was manipulative, And i had to lie to my dad about the abuses that she had done to me even thought she didn’t have any custody of me.

    But sometimes i’d wonder.. i should be thankful to her for bringing me up to be the person that learnt never to use a fist or a threat to hurt someone. But instead, learnt to take the blame for everything else?

  24. Laurie says:

    I wish there were free literature and even some of these books on audio cd. I have lived my entire life without a mother daughter bond, something my mom did not want or know how to do. I feel she has never really loved me and nothing I have ever done or will ever do will be good enough. She knows all the wrong or how rotten I was or at least makes me out that way. It has totally destroyed my life and even though I have been a fairly decent mother to my kids/girls and boys I know I could be so much more of the mother they need if I only knew how. Now they have their own lives and if I don’t reach out to anyone, no one reaches out to me. I’ve loved my mom with all my heart my whole life but when you can’t talk with her or stand up for yourself what’s the point. I have stayed away for 3 weeks now and not called her and this too kills me but I can’t allow her to keep dragging me down.

  25. melody says:

    My mom never wanted a mother daughter bond either. And now she is trying to turn my son against me. He is 2 and doesn’t understand. My mother has told me she hates me my entire life. Never and I love you or a hug. Never really showed me how to do anything just got mad when I did it wrong. I think she hated me because she married young and didn’t love my dad. But stayed married for 33 years anyway. Now I’m forced to live In the same house with her. And I can’t afford to leave. I have to leave. It’s miserable. She’s always undermining what I say to my child. And trying to stir up problems with me and my brother and dad. I’m 29 btw. She’s 49.

  26. Merry says:

    I had the mother who I firmly believe disliked me. I was a daughter after 6 sons and she treated me like I was vermon as I got older yet adored her son’s ( who all became drug abusers and social failures). But with all those older brothers, I became a little fighting spitfire and I challenged her wrongness., her fakeness, her lying at every turn. And I vowed to NEVER be like her.

    Today, I’m a mother to two daughters who I doted on and encouraged and loved….but it was still not enough because as I learned——-sadly, way too late, that little girls who never know true mother love become grown girls who don’t often know how to truly attach to their children. And I came to realize that the curse of a narsisstic mother crosses through generations, unbeknownst to us, by leaving us unattachable and distant and standoffish which in turn, makes our daughters feel unloved at times. ….my girls show much healthier habits with their children so I hold on to the hope that the bond of narcissism will continue to unravel with the next generation even more.

    But I still cry for the little girl inside me….she tried so hard.

  27. lou says:

    Hi there, iv been feeling really astranged feom my mum for years now. First off i have been in care since i was five after loosing my father to lung cancer. After that everything is a little here there and every where i had brief contact with my birth mum until i was 12 then all contact stoped (got to love social services back in the 90s -2000,not) i then met my mother at 16 years old she had a new husband and a 4year old daughter. I have always felt as though im a stranger and from a different life. I feel like she doesnt care. She has always treated me different to my sister. But apparently she cant see it for herself i have tried telling her how i feel theres always tears but nothing seems to change. Im getting married in june and i have tried to get her involved but seems as though she has better things to do. Im not angry at my sister and my mum should stop getting her involved shes only 13. I am at my wits end im always the one to call her or message her but it will takes weeks or months for her to do the same for me. I feel like i should of been adopted but obviously i cant change that now. There is a lot more to this story but i dont want to waste your time. Im just so confused and feel abandoned. Im nearly 26 and feel like im not my mothers daughter at all. It has been getting me rather down and dont know where to turn. I have tried to let her go snd not have her in my life but its too hard. I want her to be my mum soo bad but it seems so difficult for her to be my mum. I feel like a stranger someone you just met.


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