A Mother Daughter Relationship ~ Part 5


~By Carla Dippel~

The last few posts written by my Mom and I have been focusing on how my Mom’s belief system impacted me and molded our relationship with each other. To wrap up this series, we will each share one more post describing what our relationship had become with each other, what it took to break free from this “enmeshment”, and what our relationship is like today.

My Mom and I grew to be very inter-dependent with each other. For me, it almost felt like I had never left the womb- I was so tangled up between wanting to be free as an individual but not knowing how because my actions/moods/feelings had such a strong impact on my Mom. We were not separate people. My life was my Mom’s life… Even though a part of me was fiercely fighting to be separate, her belief system permeated mine. I tried to live out her dreams for me because I didn’t know how to follow my own. I didn’t date many guys, but in social situations this possibility was always on my mind and caused me great anxiety. I hated myself if I gained too much weight. I went to Bible College (SURELY I would fall in love and marry someone there!) I was very active in my church. Marriage, college, church- these things weren’t “bad” things in themselves. But I pursued them with this unconscious drive, believing that they would make me happy and help my Mom to be happy too. I was so afraid to live my life on my own two feet. Depending on my Mom to help me through my life came to feel uncomfortably safe, but also suffocating and inhibiting. Every step I took was gauged with how it would affect her.

I started seeing a counselor in the middle of one of my deepest struggles. My counselor introduced me to individual freedom. He didn’t try to control me or lead me in one specific direction. He taught me certain principles that would help me make my own decisions in my own best interest. In the course of my counseling, I came to know that my Mom’s happiness could not depend on me anymore. Our tightly spun web of interdependence was killing me. I needed to know that just because she was my Mom, it didn’t mean that I had to sacrifice my own individuality to help her be “ok”. I had to know that her happiness was not my responsibility. It wasn’t in her best interest to glean her identity from me and vice versa. For the first time, I saw our interdependence as a kind of umbilical cord that was keeping us alive in some ways, but ultimately robbing us of the real life we each deserved to have. It had to go. Hacking away at this umbilical cord was painful and unpredictable. I started drawing stronger lines between my Mom and I. In the past, I would have shared every bit of my life with her. I started giving myself freedom to have my own secrets, to take actions that she might disagree with, to live my life for myself. I told myself, “You don’t have to get married if you don’t want to! You are just as valuable single. You don’t have to go to church or play the piano if you don’t want to either. You are free to make your own choices.” I knew this new way of thinking caused my Mom a lot of angst, but I forged ahead anyways. I learned that it wasn’t all up to me to help my Mom feel better. She was her own individual person, capable of taking care of her own heart and mind. These were new beliefs for me about what love really was all about- I used to believe that if I loved my Mom I would live my life in such a way to make her happy, I would give her access to every part of me so we could be “close”. Now I believe that love means having the freedom to pursue my own individuality. It means sharing when I want to share, not because I have to share. It means valuing my Mom for the person that she is instead of me trying to be the person she wanted me to be so she could feel valuable…

Today there is new respect within our relationship. My Mom respects boundaries I put up when I feel I need to. She is seeking to build her own life and her own identity. This has had a huge impact on the health in our relationship. Because she is open to learning and growing, I have a growing trust that I can be honest with her. There are still remnants of our past enmeshment that show up from time to time, both in her trying to sway me to her way of thinking or in me over-depending on her to solve my own problems. But we are both aware of these tendencies. Many times I have had to correct myself and not call my Mom to “help” me or make a decision for me. Or I have had to reinforce the line between us that says, “Mom, this is my life, not yours.” These are growing pains that always help to make our relationship better, and I am thankful that I can now know my Mom as one of my true friends.

22 response to "A Mother Daughter Relationship ~ Part 5"

  1. By: Dee Posted: 29th December

    Hi Carla,

    Thanks for your reply and well wishes. I am struggling with knowing where the balance lies in how often I communicate/see my mom. We’ve gone from daily contact to contact every few days. It was hard at first when I set the initial boundary and now I am not sure how to find balance. Do you have any thoughts on this? How was your experience with your mom? I want to be my own person, but I don’t want to feel like I’m going too far either. This is where I’m torn right now.


  2. By: Carla Posted: 20th December

    Dee, I’m so glad that my words and story have helped support your own healing journey in some way. 🙂 All the very best to you, and many blessings too! ~Carla

  3. By: Dee Posted: 18th December

    Carla, Thank you for sharing your story and experiences. I realized that I was in the same dynamic, being too enmeshed with my mom, and have begun the separation process. Finding your post is helping me on my journey. 🙂


  4. By: DXS Posted: 28th August

    Free to make your own choices: This was a “lie” my mom told me. “When you grow up you can make your OWN choices.”

    (Getting out the Universal Decoder Book….) What she really meant was, “Your choices had better be what your Dad and Mom would have chosen.”

    She also told me, “Do what you want to do.” What she really meant was, “As long as it’s what your Dad and Mom want you to do.”

    I confronted her with these a couple years ago. She didn’t say anything, which I took to mean, “She’s not denying it.”

    My mom is full of hidden agenda.

  5. By: Carla Posted: 15th May

    Hi Mary Beth! It’s nice to meet you. I think it’s safe for me to say that my Mom has been through much the same journey you are describing. 🙂 I have never considered how it might feel on the other side, to have to learn to let go of the constant feeling of being responsible for your child- thanks for sharing that. I like how you describe your mindfulness and sensitivity towards your daughter. That “space” has helped a lot in my relationship with my Mom too. And it’s been really great to watch my Mom gradually let go of me, and then embrace more and more her own passions and life apart from me. It makes our recovering relationship that much richer. I hope your relationship with your daughter will continue to evolve and unfold in its own unique time Mary Beth! ~ Carla

  6. By: Mary Beth Posted: 14th May

    I am currently waiting to see a Mother and her Mother of a client who describes their relationship when near him as having “bullets fly around him.” the relationship is very tangled and so entrenched that I wonder whether I can get them to change the current toxic way they are invested in each other.
    This has also caused me to consider my own relationship with my daughter. Her recent marriage was wonderful. It was also one of the saddest days of my life. I was struck by the very obvious- albeit necessary- realization – that my role in her life had taken a dramatic shift. During the wedding planning I felt a gradually increasing diminishment in the influence I previously had with my daughter as far as ideas, choices, suggestions, etc. I realised fully it was her day and her choices but I often felt cut-off-at-the- knees when she told me “No” before even hearing me out. Finally I asked her to let me know when she wanted my oppinion and that in the meantime I would enjoy seeing and hearing about her planning. I told her I would limit my suggestions to emails and occasional links to websites and magazines as simply FYI’s she might want to look at and that she needn’t respond specifically to any unless she wanted to comment. I told her to let me know what she wanted me to simply send her a check for and what we needed to arrange with my credit card. It felt I was orbiting Pluto regarding her wedding but rather than be cut out entirely and to help reduce the stress she was feeling regarding her future mother-in-laws “helpfulness,” it seemed the best mode of operation.
    As it turned out her wedding was beautiful and for my daughter this big, creative opportunity to express herself and be generous toward the family and friends who had loved her and her husband was the initiation into her grown up life as a married woman.
    I am still left with a, What now?” feeling and take my cues from her as to the role she needs and wants me to play in her new life. I ponder that they put a new baby in your arms and say you now accept full responsibility for the care of ths new person and to some degree for the adult they will be and then that baby commits the unforgivable sin of growing up. Its hard to flip “off” a switch that has been “on” so long. I take comfort in the fact that I learned long ago that when she draws a circle to shut me out, I can when the time is right draw a circle that takes her in when she needs it.

    • By: Darlene Ouimet Posted: 14th May

      Hi Mary Beth
      Welcome to emerging from broken. I am the founder of this site and you have “landed” on Carla’s post but I wanted to welcome you. I am not sure if you noticed but there is an entire category for mother/daughter relationnship posts.
      I love your story of empowering your daughter this way. By your willingness to let her decide. I have strived to do that with my children and it has really paid off! I try to communicate that I know they can make great decisions for themselves, that i am here for them but the choice is for them to make. Motherhood is not an easy thing! There are lots of “what now” feelings, but most of the answers today are pretty good!
      Thanks for sharing,
      Hugs, Darlene

  7. By: Darlene Ouimet Posted: 7th July

    Hi Susan
    The author of this post (Carla) is no longer writing for emerging from broken and she may not get the notification that you commented, so I will answer.

    A huge part of my recovery has been about realizing the damage that was done to me because of my mohters emotional dependance on me. I write about it a lot in this site. I found healing through understanding this dynamic in my own life.
    I hope you continue to read and share.

    Hugs, Darlene

  8. By: Susan Posted: 6th July

    This post about a woman’s interdependence really spoke volumes to me. My own mother passed away in 1996 of heart failure.I was saddened and shocked at her passing,of course. But I felt an underlying relief at the same time that I still feel very guilty about today.My parents had an extremely volatile and unhappy marriage due to my fathers struggles with mental illness. I was the second youngest in a family of seven children.As I grew older in my family, my mothers dependence on me grew constantly as I was single and had other responsibilities except for work and my own relationships. I know now as much as I loved my mother, I couldn’t fix her marriage, her unhappiness, the stresses in her life she couldn’t resolve,really until she drew her last breath.I felt tremendous sympathy and wanted to support her in her life, but she was so dependent on me to make her life manageable that it left a huge rift in our relationship. She was a typical ‘refrigerator’ mother, and I always tended to be a very expressive personal emotionally so it was extremely hard to communicate at times. I only hope in death she found the peace and solace that seemed to elude her in life.

  9. By: Carla Dippel Posted: 19th September

    HI Arai~ it’s really nice to meet you! From reading your comment, it sounds like you have a really good grasp on what’s going on between you and your Mom. Working out of an inter-dependent relationship is not easy, but I believe it is so heroic and it really is worth it to get that sense of being your own self, of being your own individual person. It is so important for YOU.

    Unfortunately, I can’t give really solid pointers!… Each person goes through the process in their own way. For me, sometimes I would decide to put up a boundary and then I would see how my Mom reacted. Sometimes we would talk about things openly, but that was because I knew she was willing to listen (really listen, not just become defensive). Some people do just walk away because they need to, and other people take more time and give more chances. It really is up to you and how quickly you want to go through the process of untangling, and how much evidence your Mom shows that she is willing to go through her own process too. But I think the bottom line is to keep working towards your own health, at any cost. Have that as your goal and you will figure out the action steps that YOU need to take along the way. I totally understand- it is painful. But it sounds like you are well on your way.

    You might find the book “Co-dependent No More” by Melody Beattie really encouraging- I did!

    I’m glad you enjoyed this post and thanks for commenting. Many blessings to you too!

  10. By: Arai Posted: 18th September

    Thank you for sharing this! I’m experiencing the same right now… I have always let my mom’s value system take the lead in my life, and now at 28 I am realizing what an inauthentic life I am living. The snag I keep running into is that when I do assert my own opinions, my mom gets all cold and short (often ending the phone convo or outing together) and tells me “some family you see only on holidays and send birthday cards to”, meaning that’s now our new relationship… 😐

    I feel a bit held hostage, but then a large part of me just says “forget about her and do whatever you want.” I find myself listening to that part of me more often now and risking our great relationship, yet one that was suffocating me as a whole human being. It’s just painful, but I feel like I don’t have any other healthy choice. Any pointers on calling her out on it or do you think I should just forge ahead without her and see if she comes along on her own?

    Thank you and many blessings.


  11. By: Carla Posted: 7th June

    Adelaide, I am so sorry for your pain. I really don’t know what it’s like to be a mother disconnected from her daughter. I’m glad that my Mom could share her perspective, and I really like what she said about finding her own emotional health first, apart from me. We needed to know that we could survive and be totally complete as individuals apart from each other. For periods of time, we were sometimes disconnected in our relationship. We learned that wholeness was available to us as individuals, apart from each other! This was extremely freeing. I don’t find my self-esteem through my Mom anymore- I build it by knowing the truth for myself.

    I am sorry for the loss you are suffering now Adelaide, and I wish you continued healing too. Thank you for sharing here. ~Carla

  12. By: Debbie Posted: 7th June

    Dear Adelaide,
    My heart goes out to you. Your situation sounds extremely difficult. You are correct in that both sides need to be willing to take responsibility for the relationship to heal. I also agree that the mother/daughter connection is very important. We are affected by our mothers whether the relationship is intensely close, openly abusive, or neglectful.

    The trigger for me to evaluate myself was a counselor I saw only one time. After sharing my struggles with him, he said “You’re using your daughter to feel better about yourself”. This sounded harsh. How could I, the one who loves her so much, actually be using her? But I knew it was true, I just didn’t know why. Later on, as I saw Carla become stronger while seeing a different counselor, I realized that if I was to have a relationship with her, I needed help. I was afraid of loosing her. I started to see Carla’s counselor. Interestingly enough, the help I received was by focusing on myself and my marriage, not Carla, that brought insight and healing. I needed to become emotionally healthy myself before I could have a healthy relationship with my daughter.

    I’ve learned that being in touch with and able to express our feelings (even if only to ourselves) is an important step towards emotional health. And like you’ve said, it doesn’t matter what our age, our feelings matter.

    Wishing you healing,


  13. By: Adelaide Posted: 7th June


    As with all my post, I write from the perspective of both a daughter and a mother. I have been struck by the angle that leans on your mother’s willingness to “finally” evaluate herself. How is it that is the perspective. Mother’s have to wait until their daughter’s are mature enough to realize that the mother daughter connection is primal to understanding self and improving one’s self-esteem.

    Since knowing of you both, I have wondered at what time you finally realized that you need to create positive contributions.

    As a rejected mother, I do know what it means to gauge my every move in terms of what she would be proud of. This is not where I should be, but it is were I have been thrown. I may be a mother, may be older, but I am not a piece of metal. I am a human being with feelings.

  14. By: Adelaide Posted: 7th June

    It takes a willingness on a mother’s side. IT takes a willingness on a daughter’s side. I have seen both. I intimately know the unwillingness from each side, the unwillingness of my mother and the unwillingness from my daughter. You both have something very, very special. It does not get any better for you are able to live in the moment because of this.

    The unwillingness of my own mother ravaged my soul for years. My battle with her was my Viet Nam for it was a war that I lost and had to accept. I did. It is behind me now. But my daughter’s unwillingness to engage and communicate, to let me know how much she devalues me, has me accepting a brokenness from which I feel too overwhelmed to emerge. I am left to experience the sorrow of not having a mother daughter relationship, such as your own. My torment is so overwhelming and I want the world to know that I am screaming inside. To be a mother and to know that the emotional investment is lost to me is the most devastating torment a mother can know. I had hoped for so much more and you two get it.

    Wherever you have been, it is working now and the depth of your past angst is proportionate to the magic of your growth! It is real. It is one of the greatest blessings in life.

    Please, will the mother contact me?

  15. By: Carla Dippel Posted: 7th June

    Thank you Cyndi~ I appreciate your comments! It is a gift that my Mom chose to respond the way she did. It can be scary to take these steps because we can’t predict who will join us or leave us or if some relationships just won’t grow deeper. It’s so great that you have established your boundaries and pursued your health, and sad that your Mom isn’t ready to dig deeper with you. Maybe that will change one day! Hugs to you Cyndi.

    Thanks Patricia! I agree, it has been worth the struggle. Hugs to you too.

    Love Carla

  16. By: Carla Dippel Posted: 7th June

    Lisa, thank you for being so candid. I know that my story is not the “norm” and not all mothers will take the steps that mine has. What I think is important (in both mine and Darlene’s story) is that we pursued wholeness for ourselves first and took the risk as to whether or not our mothers would accept us or reject us (when we were ready). There was a point when I knew that my own self was more important to help than keeping the unhealthy relationship going between my Mom and I- I think each of us can come to that point at different times. The hopeful news is that the freedom to take that first step is always there for us and no-one (not even our parents) can take that freedom away. Thank you for your comments and making this a richer post… Hugs to you on your journey. ~ Carla

  17. By: Carla Dippel Posted: 6th June

    Dear Emptynest~ welcome here. Thank you for sharing your story. I would imagine that one of the hardest things for a parent to do is to let go of the expectation of being really close with their children… I’m sure my Mom can attest to that. It took some time on my side to rebuild trust after coming out of a controlling relationship with my Mom. The most attractive thing my Mom does to encourage our relationship to grow now is to keep offering real love that’s not controlling and always giving me the choice to keep having relationship or not. Also, I have found that the more she grows as her own individual, the more attracted I am to having relationship with her. Those are thoughts from my experience, and I hope they help in some way. I’m sorry for your pain with your sons… I hope that you will continue to find healing and freedom for yourself. Hugs to you and thanks for commenting. ~ Carla

  18. By: Cyndi Posted: 6th June

    Well, this is just a lovely post. I’m so happy for both of you that your mom was eventually willing and able to take a look at herself and work on your relationship with you instead of continuing to fight the changes you were making. I too was enmeshed and when I started establishing boundaries my mother did not not take it well. She never did choose to dig any deeper or take a look at herself so our relationship is now very superficial (in reality it always was since I was not a separate person, just an extension of her – in her mind). It’s sad really. We live 3 miles away, see each other every couple of weeks but our conversations never go any deeper than the same type of small talk you would have with an acquaintance at a party and I have no idea if that even bothers her at all. Good for both of you for changing yourselves and your relationship for the better!

  19. By: Lisa Posted: 6th June

    I congratulate you (and your mom) on your new strong and healthy relationship. I really do.

    But I must confess that When I first started reading this post, I felt, well, rage. I do not feel open to the possibility of ever having an “independent” and healthy relationship with my mother. I don’t feel her willingness, or, frankly, my own.

    “Every step I took was gauged with how it would affect her.” you said. I still have this kind of relationship with my mother. Even though we haven’t lived together (even in the same city) for years, I still make no decisions without gauging her reaction first. I don’t tell her about anything in my life that I don’t want her to “steal.” More often, I don’t do anything good for myself (go to counseling, join a writers group, go out with friends, etc.) because I don’t want to have to tell her about it, and I don’t want to have to “hide” it from her. I know that sounds childish, but there you are.

    I know that our insane interdependence is quite literally killing me. But I don’t know how to stop.

    I’m sure that more will come to me later in reaction to your post, but …I am so overwhelmed with emotion right now, I cannot be articulate. Suffice it to say that I am jealous of you–that you found the right counselor who gave you the right tools, that your mother was willing to work too, that you had the courage to change your life. Congratulations.

  20. By: EmptyNest Posted: 6th June

    This article has spoken to me. Although I am the mother of two young adult sons, I have the same tendencies. As a child I was molested, beaten, ignored, very mothering/protective of my younger brothers and am still living with the emotional impact of this traumatic childhood. As a result I was an overprotective mother homeschooling my boys, helicoptering them, worrying and stressing about every move they made that was not inline with what I felt was best. As a result, my oldest, precious, sensitive son has had to become distant and deceitful to me. He still loves me and speaks kindly to me but rather than hear my take on how he should be doing things…college, work, responsibility, drinking, friends…he is vague, leaves out pertinent information and outright lies to me. Even though I’ve begun to see the effect I’ve had on him, I don’t seem to be able to stop my concern and worry about him. Eventually this leads to an outburst from me regarding his choices, which drives him further away. My younger, less sensitive son, figured out early on to just keep Mom and emotions at arms length as to not become entangled. So in the end, they are both emotionally distant, which is the exact opposite of how I thought we would be…I pictured, since we were all so close and did everything together when they were young that we would continue to be close, doing things together, keeping in contact. I was so independent before kids and I’ve tried to now redefine my life as my own and not as MOM but I continuously backslide. I will keep trying and telling myself that no one will hurt them like I was hurt as a child and that they can handle themselves. I NEED TO STOP this and see them as the great young men they have become, separate from me. Articles such as these are so helpful, enlightening and encouraging. Thank you for taking the time.

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