Personal Growth, Self Help

When the Mother-Daughter Bond Is Missing

155 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.

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155 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.

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