Sharing the same gender gives moms and daughters a head start on intimacy. Their knack for expressing feelings helps them grow close, says Dr. Cohen-Sandler. And since mom has experienced firsthand much of what her daughter is facing, like navigating social cliques, empathy comes with the territory.
It makes sense that you get along so well, at least until adolescence, notes Dr. Fedele. During the early years, when a girl is establishing her gender identity (usually between ages four and six), she watches your every move so she can be just like you. But this can lead to what Dr. Cohen-Sandler calls the number-one problem in mom-daughter relationships. "When you identify strongly with a child, it's tempting to assume you know exactly how she's feeling," she says. "You may not be as attentive a listener and it may prevent you from truly understanding her."
As your daughter approaches adolescence, the loving observation she used in order to be "just like Mommy" may turn to critical scrutiny. It helps to remember that this is normal behavior, not a personal vendetta. When your daughter suddenly thinks everything you wear is wrong, it may be simple preteen self-consciousness that spills over onto you. With puberty comes the painful but necessary process of forging one's own identity. For a girl, that means making sure you know she's not like you, says Dr. Cohen-Sandler.
It's a mistake to view this as rejection and withdraw, says Dr. Cohen-Sandler. She needs you now more than ever. Try to deal with criticism matter-of-factly: "I'm sorry you don't like my hair. I think it looks nice." But don't accept abuse: "I can't hear you out until you stop calling me names."
Hard as it may be to believe, there are positives amid this turmoil. If girls bottle up anger and avoid conflict, they can hurt themselves and their future relationships. Battling with you, the person she feels closest to, helps your daughter learn that strong emotions, when expressed appropriately, aren't bad and that good relationships can withstand conflict.