Mean Girls- Understanding the psychological issues behind Mother/Daughter Conflict

By: Dwight Bain LMHC

Moms and daughters, why is it that sometimes they can’t stand to be apart- and other times they can’t stand each other? One of the most complex, challenging, confusing as well as rewarding and meaningful relationships in life can be found between mothers and their daughters. This psychological tension could occur early as early as childhood or be delayed until the teen years, and in extreme cases create problems for decades. At its worst, the friction and fights generated by these conflicts can destroy a relationship for good and even ripple into serious damage that could break a family apart. 

Understanding what is causing the conflict in a home is the beginning of solving the problem. When a young woman is engaged in a battle with her mother over power and control their home can become a war-zone.

The five most common conflict styles that surface during the journey from girl to young woman are listed below. Once you identify the traits that seem to describe the tension in your home, skip down to use the parenting strategies as well as what to do to directly cope with conflict and bring peace back to your home.

1) KIA- Know it all's
Showing disrespect through continual arguments to degrade and discredit their mother as an authority on anything, especially being a parent.
Mood: Bossy, harsh, critical, aloof and continual verbal conflict. (Mood worsens as Mom attempts to confront her behavior).
Message: "I'm in control of my life, you can't tell me what to do- so don't even try. Wake up and smell the coffee Mom- you’re an idiot."
Motivation: (Arrogance from self-Authority)

2) Drama Queens
Method: Dressing like a fully "grown up" woman with sophistication on the outside; while underneath acting like a spoiled little girl with self-serving behavior. (Princess)
Mood: Changes instantly with no predictability. Weepy and screaming one minute, then brooding or giggly the next. Loud with continual demands for more!
Message: "I want to look like I just stepped out of a clothing catalog, but really I’m scared to death inside. Watch out! Next mood swing- two minutes!"
Motivation: (Approval through Adult Acting)

3) Tough Chicks
Method: Attacking mom with aggression and meanness, this pushes her away, but also continually punishes mom as the one closest person in her life.
Mood: Dark, evil, hateful, spiteful, bitter or extreme. Use of gutter talk and lifestyle are common ways to add to the hurt directed to Mom. This often includes the lifestyle of “sex, drugs and rock n’ roll”, Gothic, or whatever will tick their mom's off the most.
Message: "Get the *#*and%* out of my way you sorry *#%and*. I hate you, I hate you, I hate you! Please don't ever leave me!"
Motivation: (Attacking to prove Acceptance)

4) Lost Girls
Method: Driven for acceptance, particularly from young men, while over reaching for relationship with mom. (Note- this behavior is often tied to the absent father syndrome that occurs in homes where the dad leaves after divorce, or is gone all the time at work).
Mood: Nice, naughty, needy or seductive, passive-aggressive, codependent, compliant, fearful, clingy, chameleon in all settings, but never the real person inside because she doesn’t know who she really is.
Message: "I'll do whatever a guy wants me to do or be whoever he wants me to be, as long as he doesn't let go!"
Motivation: (Acceptance from Anyone who cares)

5) Good Girls
Method: Dodging mom with busy activity and lots of "yes ma'am" talk but never letting mom get close enough to see what’s really going on.
Mood: Distant, casual, deception, socially acceptable- perhaps even friendly at times- but you are never allowed inside to see the heart. Or the hurt she hides.
Message: "I'll play by the rules to keep the peace, but cannot wait to get out of this house and be away from you b-----!"
Motivation: (Avoidance through Activity)

Frequently asked questions about mother/daughter conflict:

When do these mother/daughter conflicts show up and when are they the hardest to deal with?
The patterns can be identified in late childhood, around age 7-8, but are definitely the worst at age 15-16 when things can become completely chaotic and out of control. Sadly as an older teen, dangerous and impulsive choices can occur that result in permanent damage or death, like some of the tragic car accidents you hear about in the news when a teen girl breaks all the rules of safe driving and it seriously injures her or even sometimes may cost her life.

Is it possible to have more than one of these mother/daughter conflict styles going at the same time?
Sadly, yes and the more conflict dynamics going at the same time, the harder it is to stabilize and treat to bring stability back to the home.

Why do daughters do these terrible things to their Mom?
(Lots of factors seem to complicate and influence this hurtful behavior from daughters to their mothers; however the biggest issues are listed below).
- Negative peer pressure from other girls and especially from the influence of older guys who seem to have unusual power over impressionable girls who are younger.
- Experimentation with drugs, alcohol or other forms of substance abuse, which can cause a child to act totally differently toward family members. Remember, parental denial is a subconscious reaction to prevent the parent from feeling the pain of discovery, but research shows that teens are actually into substances 6 times more often than their parents believe. Secrets, lies, cover-ups and sudden changes in behavior are warning signs of dangerous behavior changes that may require immediate attention.
- Cultural and society pressure to be "perfectly" beautiful or thin, and the often dramatic shift in a girls behavior because of the secretive life that comes from Anorexia, Bulimia or compulsive overeating disorders.
- Media pressures to act like a thirty year old female in charge of her life and new found sexuality instead of a teenaged girl. (e.g. television shows like “Sex and the City”, “Friends”, and many "chick flick" films portray this message as well, which is easily misinterpreted by teens who are confused as to how a grown up woman should act).
- The need to feel in control of one's life as part of discovering one's identity in adolescence. This is normal, but really complicated in broken, blended or dysfunctional families where the girl doesn't feel connected, or feels lost and unattached to her family.

Can Mom's make a difficult situation like the ones you have described worse and not even know it?
(Mom's are often the closest human connection to a teen, who is trying to figure out how to be an adult. The girl part of her wants to take control of her future by experimenting with new feelings and attitudes, which is a normal and healthy emotion in young women on the journey to adulthood. However, if a Mom steps in with a parenting style that feels "smothering" to the teen, Rebellion is worsened if a Mom isn't tuned into her daughter’s changes and reacts with the appropriate parenting style. This is seriously complicated when a dad is absent; either through divorce, workaholism or addiction to sports or TV; as well as the number of other children that Mom may be parenting or number of other jobs she works!
-       Mom's have an IMPOSSIBLE job! God never designed for her to do it alone, and if a dad isn't involved, he has to be drawn in to reach out to protect and guide his daughter. Mom's can never replace a dad, nor should they try. That's why it’s so important for girls to see healthy role models and have access to other safe adults, especially a trusted woman like a relative, teacher or coach during these years when it may be really difficult sometimes to connect to their own Mom.
So what can we do to begin to rebuild and restore mothers and daughters?
Take positive action now to address the issues that you may have identified in this special report. Don't wait another minute to reach out to rebuild this lifelong relationship!

Mother/Daughter Conflict Strategy:

To connect a daughter into healthy family relationships and guide her to become a strong young woman, she needs to receive the five elements of becoming a confident young woman. These are the areas for both mothers and fathers to focus on giving to their daughter in her journey to become successful as an adult.
1) Acceptance- From the people closest to her, no matter what she may have said or done in the past.
2) Approval- In spite of all of her teen insecurities, imperfections, fears and failures, which she feels like she is drowning in sometimes.
3) Affection- Gentle, tender, kindness and love from safe people in her family and life. She needs healthy touch now more than ever!
4) Authority- Giving up control to accept the leading of her parents and God’s purpose in her life as the ultimate source of guidance, love and support.
5) Accountable- Following measurable actions with responsible attitude to develop strength and character.
Remember, whatever steps you take to build a better relationship with your daughter is worth it for now and forever!

About the Author –  Dwight Bain helps people rewrite their story through the power of positive change. He is a Nationally Certified Counselor and Certified Executive Coach in Orlando. Follow him across all social media platforms @DwightBain

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