Personal Growth, Self Help

When the Mother-Daughter Bond Is Missing

129 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.

Your Comments

129 Comments so far

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  2. Heather says:

    For anyone reading these threads I was also emotionally neglected as a child and it screwed everything up for me as I never had an answer. I’m 50 and now I do. I’m learning how to love for the first time ever and it’s really helping me to let go of the past pain which I took into all my relationships. If u want real help then look up Greg Baer on the internet. He is an amazing man and has what u need. I have met him several times and he is an endless source of inspiration in my life. I continue on my journey learning each day and so much of my pain has now gone. It truely is amazing. He is the founder of Real Love. Com.

  3. Heather says:

    You obviously have a perfect mother then. Who the hell are you to judge? We are not blaming we are searching for reasons why and unless you have been sat on my shoulder for the last 50yrs them u have clue to what u are saying. I agree with all the ladies on here. I knew somthing was wrong in my life and now I have the answer. I do not blame my mother at all. She simply did not have that love to give and the cycle passes down from generations. I’m now trying to break that cycle. I suggest u look at yourself before making such judgement and gather information on somthing u clearly know nothing about

  4. Cynthia Knight says:

    Monkey.. you are being just that ,,,a Monkey….. and ..neurotic to talk to this mother in this fashion. She is hurting and you are pouring acid in her wounds.. oh ! gracious of you.

  5. Tamding Tso Nagee Tsang says:

    i was raised by my father as my mother was died when i was 3 years old . i can feel that i am very different from other girls . i am very shy ,emotional , i can’t express what i feel .i always wanted to share what happened in class , or like whom i met . since my father is busy every day and also he is not into that kind of stuff. so i don’t get any advice what other’s mom usually gives . i feel so afraid to give love .
    and i always thought that it must be related to my mom’s death . i just wanted to be a frank and sociable girl but i can’t . i really need help .
    thank you .

  6. babsy sue says:

    you are not worthless. no one is.

  7. Andreia Santos says:

    I’m one of those daughters whose mother wasn’t there physically and emotionally, my mother would completely agree with you and blame me for the lack of bonding in our relationship, even though i have tried and tried to put our issues aside hoping for a new beginning. Your daughter sounds angry, and it baffles me how you tried to know why and still don’t, is she angry at you because her dad was the problem and you failed to notice? Is it your constant worry and negativity over your relationship there that puts her off and frustrates her? I really don’t know, but i can sympathise with you… in my eyes parents shape their children in their own way and deal with the consequences later but sometimes its other happenings around our lives that force anger to rise when our emotional state sees denial as a better way to deal with pain. The only advice i can give, is don’t let go of her, you do after all love her… make sure she knows your door is always open for her and you will be there if she needs you, with time and a bit of self finding and self healing she may come round. Good luck.

  8. Andreia Santos says:

    good insight juju… coming from a bad past i totally agree that she is fighting the voices that abused her through her childhood… when you are called the worst and beaten for the tiniest mistakes, you beat yourself up and become very angry and frustrated, times this by 10 if physical abuse and sexual abuse is there too…. I’m a mother now and i constantly fight my demons so that i do not let my frustration, anger, resentment and imperfection show onto my little one, i don’t want my child to ever feel like that about me, as i did about my own mother…. It’s a very hard battle indeed and one which professionals still don’t know how to tackle well. I’m managing well, but for me i have my partners support, he is aware of my battles and gives me the best advice and occasionally gives an hour to chill my head out if i start to show any frustration… (it’s very hard to know how to show love when that love was never shown to you). I hope i can make you feel better when i say that your mother probably loved you mostly, you probably are a very independent and head strong woman which would explain why she fought you the most, but once guilt sets in about mistreating a child, that child becomes the focus out of guilt (i have a brother that never suffered at her hands, she never felt guilty or resentment towards him)… but i am sure she loved you, sometimes she just didn’t know how to show it.

  9. 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.

  10. 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?

  11. 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

  12. 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.

  13. 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

  14. Andreia Santos says:

    i agree heather.

  15. 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

  16. 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.

  17. 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.

  18. 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.

  19. 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.

  20. 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.

  21. 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

  22. Dreia says:

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

  23. 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.

  24. 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.

  25. Natty Kadifa says:

    did you resolve your issues?

  26. 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.

  27. Anna White says:

    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.

  28. 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.

  29. 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.

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