Personal Growth, Self Help

When the Mother-Daughter Bond Is Missing

168 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.

Powered by Zergnet

Your Comments

168 Comments so far

  1. Nichole says:

    Growing up, my mother spent her time telling me I was unwanted, that I was a broken condom from a one-night stand. She gave all of her love and attention to my older sister, and she both physically and emotionally abused me (and I still have some of the scars). Everyone around me always kept telling me that she loved me, that she couldn’t possibly hate me, and that she just had a unique way of showing it.

    I’m 25 now; I haven’t spoken to her in about 6 years, but I still see her face in the mirror. I have nightmares where I’m her, abusive and only able to feel love when I’m utterly despised and hated, and I fear of the sort of mother I’ll become when I finally have kids.

    I have no sweet memories of my mother, and I almost find it ridiculous to even think there are mothers out there like that: mothers their children like. I was never taught – even by example – what a good mother is, how to be loving and tender and sweet. And I’m too afraid of turning out like my mother or grandmother or great-grandmother to even have a daughter of my own.

  2. Blossom says:

    I never bonded with my mom. Conversations are empty, numb and dry but on good terms. I just lost another boyfriend who I thought was the one. We spent hours on the phone. He said he was so in love with me and loved it when I laughed and he was in love with my laugh. I am not a Jezebel or evil woman in anyway. That was a drop in the bucket to our compatability. I opened up about my mother and medical tests being done and the next day he broke up with me. I feel so empty and lost. I wish I was dead and hope to God my blood test comes back full of cancer because I cannot take the torment anymore. How can a man say things like he would go to the ends of the earth to find me and I am stuck with him, he is so in love and more and then just break up? We did not have sex so it is not because we had sex too soon. I hurt so bad.

  3. Buffy says:

    I need books for one of my twin step daughters to read. I am struggling with parenting her. She only sees her Mom once a month for about 36 hours and I am receiving the full brunt and blame for her mothers choices. I understand I am the adult in this situation but I also know it is crucial that she develops the proper tools now before puberty and relationships. I have attended Love and Logic workshops for years and while this does help I need a more targeted therapy to help her deal with all of the emotions she is feeling.
    Any suggestions? She is almost 9 but reads on a much higher reading level and loves diary and biography books.

  4. Sandbox says:

    As another Mother’s Day has come and gone, with my reading through nearly the entire Mother’s Day greeting card selection in the gift shop, I finally settled on the gift bag with the attached blank tag. I have done this for years. Reading each verse, wondering if there really are mothers out there that these cards relate to? Not mine. But, in standing there year after year, obviously I was still hoping to discover one that related to my mother and my relationship.
    Now, that my mother is in her later years, I have lost hope and don’t go to the gift shop.
    This year, like all the others, she played the game of “Hate the Holiday”. Every Easter, Christmas, Thanksgiving, Birthday and of course Mother’s Day is always the same pattern. Within the month leading up to the special day, she begins with expounding “I hate _____holiday. I can’t wait until it’s over. Other people’s children take them out to dinner in nice restaurants and you see the mother has a nice corsage. But, not my family. That’s why dad and I would just take a ride and pick up something to eat ourselves. I don’t know what we ever did wrong, but you kids sure aren’t close like other families.” And then, when the day is nearly over and she can be found at home, we (my siblings and their children) would usually scurry over to her place with gifts in hand, smiling faces and cards that read of ‘want-it-to-be’ feelings. She then turns on the tears and says “Oh, you shouldn’t have done this. I don’t feel worthy of this.”, but then shortly after turns on a smile as she won the game!

  5. Dinggleberry says:

    Once my little sister started having hay fever, my mother spent all of her efforts on her. This was not a life threatening set of allergies (except for a bee sting). After 7th grade I sort of became invisible. I was an honor student, had a part time job, did my own laundry and all the yard work (without being asked) and solved my own homework. Once I got a beater car to drive around I was never home because I didn’t feel like I belonged there. I ran the streets all night, partied, and worked and my mother never bothered. She didn’t help me with homework, teach me anything, or tell me about my period. And she never, ever gave me the talk. When I needed health information and other stuff, I went to the library. I moved out of the house as soon as possible. Put myself through college and graduate school with no help from my parents. I feel like my mother just didn’t want to be bothered with me because my sister took all of her time.

  6. alone says:

    I have the most difficulty with stories I hear from others. They speak of how tired they are that their mother calls them daily, or how irritated they are with the lectures. As I look back, and through therapy,now realize that I have basically raised myself. I do not have that t h pe of mother. What hurts more is that my sisters have a tially felt a closeness that I have not, realizing that she is capable, just not with me. With me it is more of a jealous sister feeling. She has not really been on my side. She has never hugged, never apologized. I have to try really hard to overcome repeating the pattern. The feeling is very unnatural. You’re supposed to have a relationship with your mother. She never even told people that I was her daughter until I was much older. Sick.

  7. Anie Idy says:

    Mine was a boring childhood with a workaholic dad and a career/business mum. The feeling of not being loved started eleven years ago, way back in elementary 3. Before then, I had always been too playful to notice anything but things changed after the death of my baby sister. I couldn’t help noticing the much care, the greater attention, the larger toys, the tours and the bedtime stories my brothers all enjoyed. I tried to have a fair share but was always turned back with words like ‘get out’, ‘go do the dishes’, ‘I don’t have your time’, etc. During every fight with my kid bro, I had to be the cause of the fight and when the punishments were given, i took all. When it was time for goodies to be shared, I took none. I kept wondering what my offence was until mum dropped the bombshell- she had expected me to be a boy. It was no longer about me- it was a fight against my gender. Question is…did I create myself? Sucked really bad! I’ve carved a niche for myself and today, at 19, I’ve moved on though the abuse continues.

  8. sha says:

    I realized when I was 18 or so there was something very wrong with my relationship with my mother. She has told me that she loves me only one time and she thought I was asleep then.. I have no sweet, pleasant memories of her–no hugging or snuggling. She is regarded as a kind, loving person and is very sweet to my children and tells them she loves them frequently. Toward me, she has always been a “life is tough, suck it up” person. No comforting, no listening. I am an only child and she and my father were divorced when I was one. He lived twenty miles away but was not a part of my life. I once went up to a stranger in a store and started talking to him; I thought he was my father. I hadn’t really seen him enough to remember what he looked like. I had one loving grandfather who died when I was 14. I am envious of those who have loving families. My mother recalls herself to be a great mom, one who was very involved but that was not the case. I think she is proud of my accomplishments in life because they reflect well back onto her. She never remarried or had more children and now I am the only one to take care of her while she is ill and elderly. She didn’t want a husband or more chlldren to take care of in her life but now expects me to leave mine to take care of her. I had a home invasion when I was 30 and was beaten up and raped by a man who had recently moved into the neighborhood. Although, I reported it to the police, I never told her about it. I knew she would not be sympathetic and would make it out to be that it was my fault. Things happen, she would say. Her mother died when she was 12 and her father committed suicide when she was 28 while she was on the front porch. He was 80 and shot himself in the head in the house.

  9. Heather says:

    I am 33 years old and I have two children of my own that I love dearly, I have always said I’d do things different than my mom. And I think I do, my children are 4 years old and 6 months. My 4 year old is so lovey and I know she’s happy and loves me with everything she has. So the way I can relate to this article is, my mom had me at 20 years old, she left my father at 2 years old and moved me to California. My dad then was in the Navy and moved to San Diego to be closer to me. He did everything for me, never selfish..EVER! WE are very close to this day. He’s my everything. As for my mom, I had a good upbringing, I mean she was there to get me what I needed for my sports etc. She let me have my friends over all the time, BUT from a very young age we have not been close at all. We fought throughout my teenage years and even after. My mom lives 3,000 miles from me and honestly, I like it this way. Although she’s moving closer to me, my brother and my children very soon. My brother also does not have a bond with her, or a relationship really. From what I can remember when I was a kid, she was very secretive, I have heard from family members that she’s selfish and didn’t act like a mom to me when I was young. I don’t have that bond like we see in movies, or that my friends and their moms have, this makes me sad but I don’t think there is anything I can do about it. She does love us, but judges us without knowing she is. My brother won’t even talk to her anymore. He’s only 24 years old. We have different dads. I do love my mom but I can’t pretend with her, she thinks we have this bond that we don’t have, she raised us as children not to be her friend, I had no freedom, so I snuck around with my friends, was grounded constantly. But what really needed to be done, was for her to trust me to begin with, but she never did so what else was I to do? I don’t get excited to see my mom. She stresses me out more than anything. I went to therapy and without telling the therapist my issues with her, she placed them all with her, my issues are her. I feel awful. Why can’t I have what others have. Why do I resent my mom?

  10. Else B says:

    how do you deal with a resentful mother?.. if the book answers that I will buy it. I am a confident women, but me resentful mother gets me done and there is a great lack of love.

  11. Aspiring Orphan says:

    The hatred I had for my mother was no mystery. I hated her because she abused me. The harder problem is doing something about it. No family members support her diagnosis of mental illness, and while I want her dead, I do not want to go to prison. I am left beating her the death in my dreams, instead.

  12. Megan Thompson says:

    I was taken from my mother when I was four years old .
    My dad basically kidnapped me at this age. Needless to say I have a huge empty hole inside of me. I am fifty four years old and am still looking for some nurturing person to fill that void.

  13. Lynn says:

    My mother was always mean growing up. She never smiled or seemed happy; she always sighed and acted like being a mother was such a chore. The anger has been with me for years. My husband left me after 20 years of marriage and I have no children. I am on my own and very lonely. I’ve tried to date, but the pickings are slim. I’m addressing things through therapy. But, I wish there was someone to talk to at the end of the day.

  14. junn says:

    i left my career in the city and moved back to my hometown to stay with my mom. it has been 5 years. i am tired of trying being a good daughter .. there are always argument. the most hurt me.. when i told her something she would never listen but when other siblings told her .. she will followed without any hesitance. i do put a side my priority for my mom yet f0r her i will never be good enough. I’M seriously tired trying…

  15. Kate says:

    I have not been wanted or needed as a daughter for many decades. My mother was totally absent emotionally the whole time and physically absent half of the time – most of my adult life. Now my father is dead I am meant to be a daughter. It is very hard and there is no acknowledgement that she is anything other than a normal mother and has been so all my life. It is bizarre and so difficult to cope with.

    Narcissism is overused and is thrown around as an insult left right and centre – look at the comments on this thread. I am sure that daughters can be confusing and denying of love to loving mothers, so why the need to call them names and make out they are the ones with issues? Just because this article is about women with emotionally absent mothers, doesn’t mean that bonds are automatically messed up by the mothers and children can’t have issues and problems bonding with well meaning mothers who are not emotionally absent. Two different things and those mothers are deserving of some respect I think, and maybe some understanding of their own? It is kind of obnoxious behaviour to be so rude to people looking for help and understanding, just as we are. Do you not know that children of narcissists have tendencies to become one themselves? I don’t see much kindness here which makes me sad.

    Incidentally my mother was not in any shape or form a narcissist. She just did not and could not like or love me. Something that has been devastating to my life. She was a person who dedicated her life to her husband and there simply was nothing left for anyone else.

  16. you too?! says:

    I had two mothers. My mom, who remarried when I was young, was a good mom most of the time, I think. My step-mom, was a beast! She was jealous of me, and has done the most horrific things to sabotage my life. Very abusive, plus some! My step-dad was about the equal of my step-mom, but in his own slick way. Both my mom and dad were good parents, great parents, when these two they married weren’t around. But, as I’ve grown, I’ve noticed, they have sabotaged my friendships, careers, love-life, anything they can, to make their spouses happy.?! They act like they care, but smile smugly when things go wrong in my life. They have done things to keep me underfoot and in there lives. I have an amazing daughter, and it really seems they do things to cause problems for us, as they smugly smile about it. I moved far away from them, over a year ago. Somehow, they still try to control things to some degree. I pretend a lot. I am the nice, loving, trusting daughter, as I was raised, “I’d better be or else”. They hail my brother(s) and his/their wife(s). And told me how their wives would get jealous, if they were too nice to me. I’ve ran from them many times, to make a life of my own, but they always seem to Cause some way, to keep me on their leash. I guess I’ve had the hope my mom and dad would remember the better parts of themselves, rather than the “vindictive” parasites they’ve become. They’ve caused feelings in me that made me less than pleasant at times, like I became them, all the sudden! But, It’s not at all how I am any other time. I don’t want to be. I hope the trouble they’ve caused for my daughter and I, never becomes an issue. And you know, they smugly smile about that too! I’ve tried many times to talk with them so they will stop it. But, I’m really beginning to wonder if they really care. As I look back over my life growing up, they really weren’t there like I gave them credit for. I always got in trouble, hardly my brothers. I could rarely go out, only work and help pay the bills. My friends would call to invite me out, and they would say, “my friends called but wanted nothing to do with me.” They’ve gotten me fired from jobs, “you were doing such a good job you were making your step-parents look bad.” Forced who I would date, “like it not, you will do as we say and like it, or else.” I want to tell them off after all these years but, that may not be good either. For now, I’m states away… Hoping my daughter isn’t affected by any of this later in her life. Overall she is happy and loved, and loving. If anything, “The Lesson?!” ugh..! Would be, We have to be careful of hurting or manipulated people in this world.!? Including ourselves.! I never write out. But, this has been somewhat helpful to do so, after reading some of your replies. This just may very well be a great book to read after all. Good luck to us all.

  17. Michelle says:

    I’m a duel result of the non Mother-daughter bond. I have no relationship with my mother, nor my daughter My mother should have never had children. She drank, brought many men into the home, smoked weed, took pills, the whole nine yards. She tried to sell me to a man at a bar for $100.00 when I was ten. If it wasn’t for my grandparents, I may have been raped, killed or sold into sex slavery. As I grew older, the competition started. I was younger and prettier and the men she dated noticed. Most of them were respectful to the fact I was still a child, thank goodness. I continued being the dutiful daughter even though she didn’t deserve it. I cleaned up the messes and tried to keep up the fact I was a normal child living in a normal household, even though I wasn’t. When I was 18, she finally settled down and married a wonderful man who was like a real father to me. She ended 10 years of marriage after cheating on him. He had many health issues, so I took him into my house to care for him. She hated me for “choosing” him over her.I finally severed the relationship after she accused me of sleeping with him, even though I was married with two children of my own. I have not seen my mother for 16 years now and there are times I wish I could have a relationship with her, but I know it’s impossible because of how unstable she is. Now I have a 21 year old daughter that recently pushed me to the point that I asked her to leave the home. We had a wonderful relationship up to the age of 13 years, when she began dressing goth and abusing herself. She became another person. I know all teens go through different stages, but she was just empty inside. She wasn’t happy anymore. She was never abused, had pretty much anything she wanted that we could afford. I don’t know what went wrong! We went to a therapist and tried to use medication, which she abused. Nothing helped. After 8 years, our relationship never regained the same love and trust we had before her teen years. I have held her hand through drug abuse, older men, job loss and more but this last disrespectful event finally broke me and I demanded she leave. Now I live in another state 8 hours away and doubt I will ever see her again. It hurts me to the core, and I can’t figure out what I did to make my daughter this way? She reminds me strongly of my mother, always making bad decisions and not caring who she affected. I search my heart and wonder what I did wrong? Should I be the first to apologize and try to make up? Or just continue to live my life and ignore the hollow spaces. I know with both of them in my life, it will be more stressful and complicated. It might even cost me my marriage, work and son’s affections. So for now, I am keeping both my mother and my daughter out of my life. I honestly don’t think I will ever have a relationship with either one of them and on one hand, that hurts me. But then I think of how the return of them both would damange my current life, and think maybe, just maybe sometimes things happen for a reason? I don’t know.

  18. debi says:

    y mother was decent enough when I was little. She was a single mom and I her only child. When I was around seven she let a bf of hers abuse me sexually. She did nothing about it.When I was 11 she married and also let him abuse me. My granddad intervened and prevented any further abuse. I moved with them for a time after some time in foster care. My mother never loved me and to top it off found out she never told my father about me. He subsequently died before I could notify him I was his daughter. She said she didn’t need a man to raise me

Share your view

Post a comment


© 2015 Simon & Schuster Inc., a CBS Company. All rights reserved.