FORT WORTH, Texas (BP) – Mother-daughter relationships can be complicated. At each stage of life it seems like there is this constant tension. For mothers, it is trying to strike the balance of wanting to continue teaching and nurturing on the one hand, while allowing her daughter to be strong, confident and independent on the other. For daughters, the tension is almost the opposite. They seek to be strong, confident and independent but, almost secretly, long for that long-term nurturing and teaching that only a mom can give.
This tension seems to be even more complicated when trying to figure out how to mother an adult daughter. Many mothers have done well in launching their daughters into life and are proud of the women they have become. They sit back and admire their daughters as wonderful wives and mothers. Some mothers have especially raised their daughters to be strong, independent, self-assured women who can hold their own in a world that is hard and dangerous. But this leaves many a mom wondering whether she can still be a mother to her adult daughter … “Should I be her friend or should I be her mother?” “How much advice does she really want?” “Am I intruding?” Let’s add one more level of muddiness. When an adult daughter goes through a particularly challenging time of life – and we have all been there – how much mothering does she really need … or want?
As I find myself walking through a season that has knocked me back a few notches physically, emotionally and spiritually, I have rediscovered what I believe to be a universal truth:
Regardless of her age, how independent or self-sufficient she has become, there are still times that a girl just needs her mom.
Titus 2 reminds us that older women are to teach younger women how to live life in the day-to-day, and the mother-daughter relationship is the most natural place for that to happen. The “curriculum” we have been given in Titus 2 requires teaching well into adulthood. After all, it is not until your daughter has a husband, that you can truly teach her how to love him (v. 4). It is not until she goes through dealing with a rebellious child that she understands what it means to love her child as the mother she needs to be (v. 4). It is not until that first Thanksgiving is held in your daughter’s home that she suddenly realizes she needs you to teach her the finer details of making her house a home (v. 5). And, when your daughter faces unique difficulties, ones that not even you saw coming, that she wants to know how to walk so the Word of God is not discredited (v. 5).
When your daughter is going through a difficult time, she tends to be the most open to teaching since she is seeking answers, solutions and remedies. This is a time for you, as a mom, to take advantage of a teachable moment in your adult daughter’s life.
So how can you mother your adult daughter during difficult times?
Initiate. Don’t always wait for her to ask.
It is often difficult for women to ask for help. After all, hasn’t the world told us that we can have it all and do it all? To ask for help makes us feel like we are weak and have failed as a woman on some level. As a mom, initiate meeting a need that you see. You may simply declare, “I am going to be there,” rather than waiting for her to ask you to come. Or merely dropping a meal off without giving her a chance to say “No thanks.” One caveat: There is a balance here. Mothering does not equal smothering. But, for an adult daughter, it is often much easier to offer thanks for an unexpected pot of soup than to have to ask for the help.
Share your own experience openly and honestly.
When an adult daughter is facing an unknown, she seeks out information on what to expect. Whether it is a natural life occurrence such as a first child being born, or something more unexpected such as a surgery, a medical treatment or disease, there are many questions she may have. Share your own experiences as openly and honestly as possible. Inevitably we search the Internet for detailed stories of others who have walked the road we are on. What better source than to talk openly with someone who loves us? You, Mom, can be that someone we, your daughters, can ask those nitty-gritty questions without judgment or embarrassment. Sharing what you went through as a woman, a wife, or a mother lets your daughter know that she isn’t alone.
Feed her soul, not just her stomach.
While providing meals and tangible help at home seems to be the immediate, and perhaps easiest, need to meet, your daughter’s emotional and spiritual needs can often be more overwhelming than her physical difficulties. Share Scripture with your daughter. Pray for her. Tell her the truths that you are learning through this, for when a daughter is struggling, we all know mom is hurting as well. My own mother, who lives 400 miles away, emails me every morning with a “verse du jour.” Sometimes it is only one verse. Sometimes it is a longer passage. Always, these living Words serve as a salve to my soul. Find your way to sprinkle your daughter with the living water of God’s Word. It doesn’t have to be email. It can be an unexpected card in the mail, ending your phone call with a particular verse for that day, or posting on her Facebook wall.
Mother-daughter relationships can be tumultuous, wonderful, full of laughter one moment, and crying sessions the next! If you are a mother of an adult daughter, your job is not over! As an older woman, it is still your unique calling to teach your daughter how to live life in a way that upholds God’s Word (v. 5). When you see your daughter walking through difficult times, this is your opportunity. Lay aside any encumbrances. Embrace your role as her mother. I guarantee you, your daughter is craving a mother who will teach, nurture, guide and direct her … she just may not always admit it!
(EDITOR’S NOTE – Terri Stovall serves as the dean of women’s programs at Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary in Fort Worth, Texas. She co-authored the book Women Leading Women. This column first appeared at BiblicalWoman.org, a blog of Southwestern Seminary.)