5 Tips on Breaking the Cycle of Broken Mother-Daughter Relationships
“My mom and I don’t get along. She and my grandmother didn’t get along, either. They would go for years and not speak to each other.” Marissa’s eyes welled with tears as she looked at the sleeping newborn in her arms. “I love this sweet girl so much, it would break my heart to have that happen between us. What can I do to break the cycle?”
Relationships between mothers and daughters are precious, yet many of them have some degree of brokenness. And that brokenness seems to have a generational aspect to it. Patterns repeat in families as easily as water descending a hillside flows into existing ruts. It takes prayer, work, and intentionality to carve new ruts—to change habitual ways of relating. Behaviors and beliefs that have been modeled for us feel normal. They will be our instinctual “go to” in times of stress.
Here are five tips for breaking the cycle of broken relationships between mothers and daughters:
Identify patterns in your family tree. Step back and look at how your mother related to her mother, how your cousins related to your aunts, and so on. When Marissa looked at her family, she realized that there was a pattern of women cutting others out of their lives and refusing to speak to them. She saw the pattern in her mother, her grandmother, and her aunts. Themes tend to run in families. Examples of themes are anger, criticism, control, people pleasing, addiction, body shaming, abuse, and neglect. When we realize that our mothers have been affected by the same intergenerational patterns as we were, it can help us have compassion for them.
Look at yourself first. How have the patterns in your family tree affected you? What triggers have they created? What false beliefs? What tendencies to act in less-than-loving ways? Whether your mother is willing to work with you or not, you can always do work in your own heart, mind, and soul that will keep you from unconsciously repeating negative patterns as you raise your own children. Pray for God to illuminate these things for you.
Let God reparent you. Apply God’s truth about who you are and how loved you are. Marissa was imprinted with the lie that she deserved rejection. As she meditated on biblical truth, like Ephesians 2:10 (“We are God’s masterpiece”) and Deuteronomy 31:6 (“He will never fail you nor abandon you”), her beliefs about herself changed. Renew your mind. Put off the old and put on the new through journaling, Bible study, and prayer. Grieve what wasn’t and ask God to help you let go of bitterness. He may want to do this work with you directly, or he may nudge you to seek the help of a counselor, pastor, or coach.
Be a peacemaker with your mother. The Bible gives this instruction: “If it is possible, as far as it depends on you, live at peace with everyone” (Romans 12:18, NIV). As you do your inner work, you will be able to reach out to your mother from love and forgiveness, rather than hurt and anger. Knowing you are loved and embraced by God will give you the resilience to relate to her from your adult self, rather than from your hurt, younger self. However, it takes two to make a relationship. Even if you do your part to reconcile, you can only do your part. What you can do is break the cycle in your generation, so it is less likely to pass down to your children.
Be intentional. Old ways of thinking and acting will continue to pull at you, but you can be intentional in choosing new ways. No matter what your mother does, refuse to react in ways that are not in line with who you want to be. When old instincts make you want to respond to people in the ways that were modeled for you, choose to act in new ways. Don’t yield to old instincts but follow the Holy Spirit. Remember that you have a new family tree in Christ, and live according to its patterns.
Debbie Alsdorf and Joan Edwards Kay are co-authors of the new book It's Momplicated, which releases September 5, 2018 from Tyndale.
Debbie Alsdorf for the past twenty-five years, through her speaking and writing, Debbie Alsdorf's mission has been to help women live a better story by leading them to the heart of God's love and the truth of his Word. Debbie is a biblical lay counselor, a Christian life coach, and the founder of Design4Living Ministries. She and her husband, Ray, have raised a blended family of four adult children. Today Debbie's favorite role is being a grandma to ten little ones.
Joan Edwards Kay is a licensed marriage and family therapist in the East Bay of San Francisco and has been an adjunct professor at Western Seminary. She received her bachelor's degree from Vassar College and her master's degree from Western Seminary. She is happily married with two adult daughters, four stepdaughters, and five grandchildren.