All parent-child relationships are special. Father-to-daughter, mother-to-son, or father-to-son. One of my areas of clinical special interest is Mother-Daughter relationships. I myself am a mother of a daughter, and a daughter to a mother. I have found working with mothers and daughters together, and separately very rewarding. There is something unique about a mother-daughter relationship that is hard to describe completely. (Moms, I know you can identify.)
Women and young girls both have the ability to multi-task, multi-plan, empathize, and create strong attachments. These skills are beneficial when used properly being manifested, expressed, and channeled in a healthy way. Additional common female traits are sensitivity, emotional, and hormonal fluctuation, and anxiety.
Social Pressures On Today’s Teens
Body image issues, eating issues can also be struggles that our daughters are struggling with, which is not surprising considering the societal pressures that are on our growing daughters to fit into the “ideal body image”.
Sensitivity and emotionality are special qualities that can serve as our best allies and serve us to our greatest benefit. Stress management, practicing empathic listening, insightfulness are instrumental goals that we need to continually and mindfully work on throughout the life cycle. Mother and daughter, individually and together as a parent-child dyad, can unintentionally create confusion, misunderstanding, and hurt feelings when they fail to listen to what the other person has to say.
When emotions are not acknowledged, addressed, and dealt with in a healthy way, sensitivity can drive a wedge in a parent-child relationship. By improving one’s communication skills, and maintaining humility to learn from past mistakes, feelings can be channeled and expressed in a positive direction. Emotion can be heard with greater meaning, and thoughts turn into words spoken with greater wisdom.
Daughters are just as accountable to be effective listeners. They will follow the model of what listening is all about and adapt to the changes they experience. Good listening is a two-way street; both mom and daughter need to put forth a genuine intention of real, substantial connection, and communication with each other.
How Perceptions Affect Our Listening
The art of listening, like the vibrancy of an oil painting, are both very complex in nature and are subject to different interpretations depending on the individual observer’s perceptions. You and I could be listening to the same person’s life story, and have different messages and meanings from what that person has to say.
Our prejudices and limited thinking can skew our opinions, and thus shaping our reality. Culture, family upbringing, social media, and current local, national, and global trends are some of the environmental contributors that shape our self-concept and our world-concept.
Our way of having subjective thinking styles create listening barriers between what is being said, and how we interpret what is being said. We are vulnerable to “selective attention” or “selective memory” when we can pay attention to what appears important or understandable to us, and leave out the purposeful information from the conversation.
In hindsight, our selective memory may cloud the accuracy of the actual conversation, and we are subject to remembering what we want to remember. Like in Barbara Streisand’s song, “Memories”…”What’s too painful to remember, we choose to forget. So it’s the laughter we will remember.”
So the question is, when you listen to your daughter, are you “hearing” what she is saying, or are you “listening?” Listening requires us to give our daughters our undivided attention. By truly being is the present moment, and putting all other priorities aside to get the essence of the real meaning our daughters are conveying, we are working towards a stronger connection with our daughters.
Solid relationships that last a lifetime even when the mothers become empty nesters, begin early on with the healthy bonding the mother-daughter formed as early as when a daughter is born. Every development stage of girls is gratifying and challenging at the same time. No one stage is more important than the other. They are important.
Creating a better understanding of our daughters is the key.
Empathic listening will dramatically improve your relationships in a relatively short period of time if practiced consistently.
Ways To Become A Better Listener
1. Keep It Short
Use “sound bites” or short questions so the listener does less talking and let the talker have the opportunity to disclose (For example, “How’s that working for you?” or “What else would be helpful?”
2. Ask Open-Ended Questions
For example, “What is most important to you?” or “Where do we go from here?”
3. Choosing The Right Questions
Avoid asking closed-ended questions such as, “Do you want to make a change in your life?” – where the answer would be “yes” or “no.” Instead, use an open-ended question like, “What would motivate you to make a change?” or “What does that change look like to you in your mind?”
4. Avoid The “Why” Questions
Avoid asking questions that begin with “why” which can put others on the defense. Instead, begin with “how” or “what”. For example, instead of asking, “Why don’t you want to come with me to the movies?” …ask…. “How do you feel about going to the movies? What other activities do you have in mind?” These open-ended questions encourage others to speak their mind and express themselves more freely.
Practice giving positive affirmations, and ask questions that lead towards making your daughter feel reassured, hopeful, and capable. A statement such as, “I am really proud of how far you have come” is validating and supportive. An encouraging question could be, “What is one thing you can do today to make your life better?”
Encourage your daughter to initiate conversation, and value her feedback. Make room for error, and understand growing daughters are still learning (as are we). Be patient when it comes to redirecting your daughter when she is off track, and gently guide her to look at a given situation with a new perspective.
To help stimulate conversation, use reflections (or “mirroring”) in addition to asking questions. A Simple Reflection is repeating or paraphrasing the other person’s message to demonstrate your understanding or that you are empathizing with her situation. For example, “It sounds like you are really disappointed in your friend, Jane. I hear what you are saying when you talk about being excluded from Jane’s birthday party.”
8. Turn A Negative Notion Into A Positive One
To get the flow of conversation into a more optimistic direction, you could say, “I know you wish that Jane remembered to include you in her birthday party. Maybe Jane was limited to how many friends she could include. Think of all your other friends who you cherish, and how you are blessed with people in your life who care about you. On the night of Jane’s party, let us go out and do something special together.” Or simply ask, “How can I be supportive for you right now?”
9. Maintain Eye Contact
Lock eyes with your daughter when you are talking with her. This creates more genuine communication between mom and daughter. Eye contact will give your daughter the impression that you are interested in what she has to say. It will also let your daughter know that you respect her opinions and thoughts.
Watch for facial expression, body language, and vocal tone to make more accurate observations of your daughter’s emotional experience.
Some Final Thoughts
- Learning to be a good listening is a process and requires ongoing practice to get it right.
- Never give up on your ability to become a better listener. Let your daughter know that you are continuing to try your best to better understand her as a person.
- Keep striving towards building a closer and stronger bond with your daughter.
- For the moms and the daughters: we are not to judge each other, but instead, support the other to achieve the best life has to offer!
- Moms: we are our daughters’ teachers. Through the power of empathetic listening, modeling connectedness, and healthy communication, our daughters mirror these values and begin to live by them.
- When we improve our listening skills and are better able to receive our daughters’ messages, we discover that our daughters can teach us something new and beautiful about ourselves that we did not know we would find.