Daughters often put in emotional labor and significant time to make Mother’s Day feel special. Research shows that this type of “kin work” is largely invisible – to the daughters themselves, and others – because it is expected of daughters to make that contribution, said a Baylor University expert in mother-daughter relationships.
“Many daughters don’t even notice the amount of investment they are making because they consider it a typical contribution to a thriving relationship with their mother,” said Allison Alford, Ph.D., clinical assistant professor in Baylor’s Hankamer School of Business, who co-edited the book, “Constructing Motherhood and Daughterhood Across the Lifespan.”
Daughtering, Alford said, is defined as the behaviors of adult daughters toward their mothers. It includes care work such as avoiding conflict, considering their mother’s emotions, respecting their mother, fulfilling obligations, including their mother in daily activities or rituals, and allowing access to the daughter’s children. Daughters do things like the mental work of thinking about their mother’s future, teaching their mother contemporary ideas and technologies, and performing kin work such as visits, gift-giving, phone calls and social media communication.
“Mother’s Day may look quite different from what we are used to because of the COVID-19 pandemic,” Alford said. “Health concerns, especially for aging parents, may keep families apart this year. This means more time spent thinking about your mother’s welfare, communicating with her over the phone or internet, and perhaps even managing her disappointment related to lifestyle changes. The time and effort you expend on daughtering work is valuable and pays dividends in your relationship and for our communities.”
Below, Alford shares five tips for adult daughters as we head toward Mother’s Day 2020.
Call it work.
When you notice that you are working on something for your mom (gift-buying, event planning, phone call time and listening), it is important to acknowledge that this is labor or work that you poured out for your mother and for your relationship. Good relationships do not magically occur—you work for them. Whether you are doing things for your mom out of obligation or a genuine desire, the time spent on these activities is time away from another task. Notice your work and feel a sense of accomplishment for it.
Because daughtering involves work, it takes up time and energy. Set a goal for what you would like to accomplish for your mother and then put it on your daily schedule. Spend the time that you have allocated and no more. When daughters spend too much time on daughtering, they may feel resentful of it. Thoughtfully consider how much time you have to give, whether it is for a phone call or a lunch at her house, then set the boundary on your time. Daughtering can be both a gift to her and to yourself.
Your partner, children and siblings may not realize how much daughtering you are doing unless you share it with them. This may mean simply talking about it or it might extend to asking for their help to complete some tasks. When you share the work, others can also give you acknowledgement for a job well done or they may even shoulder the burden. An added bonus is teaching others around you how care work is done, so they may do it for you or others they love.
Reach out to your peers and learn what daughtering they are doing. You may gain a few tricks for daughtering shortcuts or commiserate on the more difficult aspects of your adult daughter role. Use these comparisons to bolster your feelings of accomplishment but avoid the pitfall of shame from feelings of ‘not doing enough.’ Each mother-daughter pair is unique and it’s not a competition.
Ask for praise.
It’s OK to ask your mom for hearty praise. When she notices your daughtering work, ask for her to praise it. Generously accept the compliment. Smile and say thank you graciously (you can even hear a smile over the phone!).