Differing points of view in your mother-daughter relationship

Differing points of view in your mother-daughter relationship

Convincing kids that it's worth devoting time and effort to schoolwork can be a major source of tension. Here, a mother, Jennifer, and her daughters, Emily and Samantha*, give their views on a typical mother-daughter struggle over homework – showing how understanding other people’s points of view in family disputes can reduce anger and upset on all sides.

Mother-daughter relationship problems and homework: a case study

Mum Jennifer’s point of view: I want Emily to work harder

Jennifer studied hard to earn a university place and become a mathematician. Now she faces a daily battle with her 15-year-old daughter, Emily, about her own studies.

“She is good at arts subjects and mostly does her homework, but she dislikes maths and sciences and either does the work very quickly or not at all,” she says. “Trouble is, I really feel these are important subjects and open many doors in life. In the beginning I tried offering to help, but she said no, so I tried to leave her to it.

“Then I began looking at her homework books when she was out and saw what poor homework she was turning in. Of course she was annoyed I’d looked at her books, but I was just so annoyed at how little effort she was making. We argued about it.”

Daugher Emily's point of view: Mum just criticises me

Emily sees things differently. She explains how her mother offers to 'help' with the work.

“What that really means,” she says, “is her telling me what is wrong. Then she doesn’t seem to understand and gets upset when I get frustrated at not knowing the answer. It makes me feel useless and that mum doesn’t love me because I can’t meet her standards.”

Rather than encouraging her to do better, she says, her mum’s behaviour makes her nervous and rebellious about doing homework. 

“Sometimes I feel really bad and useless and I will talk to dad who sympathises with me,” she adds. “But really I want my mum to stop nagging and let me find my own way.”

Sister Samantha's point of view: I can see both sides

Emily sometimes talks with her sister Samantha, 22, who remembers her own homework issues with her mother.

“Emily is more confrontational and she is bothered by the way mum behaves much more than I ever was,” she explains. “I understand my mother wanting to help Emily do well, because she is bright and I know that getting good results has enabled me to get into the career I want.”

She also sees Emily’s frustration. “It would be great if she could speak with our mum about her feelings in the same way she does to me,” says Samantha. “I don’t think mum realises how miserable it makes Emily for them to be quarrelling.”

Samantha has suggested that her parents hire a tutor for Emily or talk to teachers at her school rather than being so intimately involved. “I believe my sister needs to be encouraged,” she adds, “and perhaps that would help Emily’s self-esteem and give her the confidence to know she can do it on her own.”

Strengthening the mother-daughter bond: compromise is the key

What we want for our children, and how we feel we can help them prepare for the future, may conflict with how they see things. This is especially true when we have difficulty understanding why certain things are so important to them. So, what can mums do to help?

  • 1

    Create a safe environment

    This could be at home or on an outing together where you can talk to your daughter and she can share her point of view

  • 2

    Be willing to compromise

    Don't be afraid to back down or modify your views when disagreements arise

  • 3

    Be open and honest

    This is fundamental to maintaining positive two-way communication and ensuring she feels safe and supported to express how she feels

Mother-daughter relationship problems and activities: a case study

Girls' interests change as they grow older

Barbara wanted to learn piano and her parents paid for lessons when she turned 11. For two years she was enthusiastic and practised regularly. But then, her mother Mary says, “She lost interest and said none of her friends played instruments.”

Her parents were frustrated, but Barbara explains, “I just didn’t like playing any longer and I was expected to do it at times when my friends were meeting up or hanging out on Saturday mornings. I thought I could take piano up again later if I wanted.”

An older sibling’s perspective can help

It can be valuable to ask a sibling or relative to look at a conflict and help everyone listen to the different viewpoints.

It was her older brother, in his 20s and at university, who helped Barbara see that she could tell their parents she wanted to practise at a time that suited her, rather than giving up completely. When she explained how important it was for her to spend time with her friends, they understood why she had felt she wanted to give up and agreed to the compromise.

“We also realised,” Mary says, “that it was making Barbara unhappy feeling she was disappointing us, but she was also worried about becoming an outsider with her friends if she couldn’t be with them at what seemed important times.”

Are you having similar mother-daughter relationship problems? Do you find that your efforts to encourage your daughter seem to have the opposite effect? Start a conversation and find out what’s happening from her point of view.

next steps

  • Encourage your daughter to explain her feelings and let her know you're listening
  • Consider talking to an older sibling to get their point of view on the issue – research from the University of Missouri found that older sisters often take on roles as key confidantes, mentors and sources of support for younger sisters, particularly on sensitive issues
  • Suggest a compromise. Ask her to put in 15-20 minutes of hard work on her homework and then allow her to take a break. Often, it's starting that's most difficult and, once started, a project will be finished – and maybe even enjoyed
  • Explain that good feelings can come before, during or after we do things. A party is something we might look forward to, enjoy while there, and look back on with fond memories. For other activities, feeling good comes afterwards: the satisfaction of completion, pride at feeling competent or pleasure at having learned something new
  • Mothers and daughters sometimes need help communicating: watch our Parent Translator video with your daughter and explain to her that sometimes parents say one thing but their daughter hears a different message