My mother, myself
Whether your relationship with your mother has always been close and comfortable, difficult and distant or somewhere in between, when a woman becomes a parent, her relationship with her own mother reshapes.
How does our relationship with our mother change when we become a parent?
Some new moms feel a stronger connection, others want some emotional distance starting as early as during their pregnancy. “Your relationship with your own mother comes up for review as you develop your own identity as a mother," says Dr. Gayle Peterson, a family therapist specializing in prenatal and family development [An Easier Childbirth: A Mother's Guide to Birthing Normally, Shadow and Light Publications; August 2008].
New mothers and mom: establishing relationship boundaries
Becoming a parent for the first time forces couples to redefine their relationship with the most important people in their lives — their spouse, friends and mother and father. It’s a flux time brimming with self-reflection and discovery, filled with expectation for how everyone's new roles will intersect — roles that aren’t always so clear-cut.
Read about how to get along with your parents >>
If you’re feeling smothered, judged or you simply want more space as a family — say so. Non-defensively explain to your mother that your need for more autonomy isn’t a reflection on her or a lack of gratitude, but rather your need to figure out your own family dynamics.
Ask yourself, to what extent do you welcome your mother’s active involvement in your parenting life? Accept that how you feel now, an exhausted, overwhelmed new mother may not be how you'll feel in six months. You might rely on your mother more — or less, than you do now.
Read about how becoming a new mom changes you >>
As issues surface such as your prenatal nutrition, labor and delivery decisions, breast or bottle, staying home or returning to the workforce, potty training, discipline styles, who will host the family holidays etc., you have the opportunity to establish polite — yet firm boundaries.
Prepare yourself. Parent-to-parent discussions can be pretty sensitive subjects, but establishing clear “rules” along the way often reaps long-term benefits for everyone in the family, including the children. Open, regular communication can keep hidden or overt tensions from escalating and power struggles from continuing to make family members resentful, angry or anxious.
Greater empathy and appreciation for mom
Becoming a parent for the first time can foster a deeper connection between mothers and daughters or conversely, it can create new tension — more often it does both. “This renewed and broadened understanding extends to a more complete conception of what it means to be a woman. Of femininity and of the full circle of identity that binds generations of women together,” suggests Susie Michelle Cortright, founder and publisher of the online magazine Momscape in her May 2009 article, "Full Circle: The Evolution of Mother-Child Relationships."
Says Cortright, "Motherhood spawns a renewed sense of appreciation in women for their own parents." Most of us report a growing understanding, a greater sense of respect and more empathy for our parents."
Moms forming their identity
While some new mothers begin to more closely identify with their mother, others pull away in order to establish a separate sense of self. Nancy Friday, author of the ground-breaking My Mother/My Self explains, “A lot of women told me that it was liberating to realize they could act differently from mother and they wouldn't die. They could be themselves and mother still loved them. She didn't close the door and she didn't stop telephoning. But it can take generations to change the unconscious ways in which we think about ourselves.”
Mothers and daughters have always tended towards a push-pull dance — enmeshed by the intense and shared issues of their gender, connected through their familial bond, yet at times, adversarial.
Becoming a parent for the first time can become a defining moment for some women as their new role intersects with the people most meaningful to their lives. New moms are often forced to resurface their relationship with their own mother — and in the process redefine their own expectations, goals and evolving identity.