With more holiday gatherings right around the corner it is not surprising that we begin to think about important family relationships. Of those relationships, none is more complex or important than the mother-daughter dyad. Indeed, Indeed, almost all psychological theorists from multiple perspectives (psychoanalytic, family systems, feminist) recognize the developmental significance of the mother-daughter bond, as well as its lifelong emotional impact.
As a woman, if your mom is the first person you seek out as you enter the house this holiday, science can account for that. According to a 2016 study in The Journal of Neuroscience mother daughter relationships are the strongest of all parent-child bonds because the part of our brain that processes and regulates emotion is in fact, the most similar. In other words, while the connections between mothers and sons, father and sons, or fathers and daughters may be built on strong foundations of love- they tend to lack the same degree of intuitive, empathic connection. Ironically, while similarity in female brain structure may allow mom to more easily understand what is troubling you, or imagine herself in your shoes- you may also be more likely to disagree and butt heads.
Yet, while neural circuitry may account in part for the strength of the mother daughter bond, the actual quality and nature of that bond plays a pivotal role in determining a daughter’s self esteem, success in future relationships, and overall psychological well being.
Three aspects of the mother daughter relationship are said to determine the overall quality of this bond. The first dimension of importance is the degree of connectedness which derives from the ability to share feelings and ideas, which promotes an affective attachment. The degree of interdependency refers to both an openness to advice taking and help seeking behavior in emotional and practical issues, and at the same time feeling the freedom to make one’s own decisions. Finally, a feeling of trust in the maternal use of power in the relationship.
Researchers have thus observed that high levels of connection and interdependence during childhood play a powerful role in determining a women’s self-esteem. It has been shown that high levels of self-esteem ultimately establish the belief that one is worthy of love and support, one is capable, and can set and accomplish goals more easily.
In women who possess this kind of high self-esteem psychologists have observed strong early maternal support and interest in a daughter’s ideas, even when they are not in total agreement. There is also a deep sense of trust that mother has a daughter’s best interests at heart. In contrast, daughters who have insecure bonds with mother in childhood- will not fare as well as they are more likely to have psychological problems and become less functional.
The following novels highlight not only strong mother-daughter bonds, and the sacrifices mothers will make on behalf of their child, but also capture the exquisite complexity of emotions that any mother can relate to.
"The Dream Daughter," by Diane Chamberlain, is a genuinely creative, captivating and unforgettable story that will have you on the edge of your seat wondering just how far a mother will go to save her child.
Carly Sears is a young, pregnant woman in North Carolina in 1970. Hoping for a new beginning following the death of her husband in Vietnam, she moves in with her sister, Patti and brother-in-law Hunter in Nags Head, NC. But tragedy continues to follow her. Carly soon learns that the daughter she is carrying has a potentially fatal heart defect and nothing can be done to save her. But Hunter, a physicist with a mysterious past, tells Carly he believes he knows a way to save her unborn baby. Yet Hunter’s plan shatters everything Carly knows to be true. To save her child will require an unimaginable leap of faith, breathtaking courage, and risk everything she holds dear.
"Not Her Daughter," by Rea Frey, is a tense, emotionally gripping, and heartfelt story that will have you struggling with the notion of what really defines motherhood.
Five-year-old Emma is a beautiful, gray- eyed, lonely child, living with an unpredictable mother, Amy Townsend and a clueless father. A chance encounter with Emma at an airport leaves successful CEO Sarah Walker wondering whether anyone notices Amy’s harsh verbal and physical treatment of Emma. While shocked at Amy’s behavior, Sarah hopes that this is just an aberration and the result of parenting stress.
Yet, a second chance encounter with Emma leaves no doubt in Sarah’s mind that Emma is suffering from neglect and cruelty at her mother’s hands. Sarah decides to kidnap Emma to protect her. The decision has far reaching consequences for everyone involved. A nationwide hunt for the pair ensues, and Sarah must decide whether kidnapping a child to save her, is really a crime at all. Isn’t it a mother’s responsibility to see that a child is safe, secure and loved?
"The Witch’s Daughter," by Paula Brackston, is a uniquely visceral, spellbinding blend of historical fiction and supernatural fantasy about love and loss.
Young Elizabeth Hawksmith loses her father, brother and little sister to the plague during the 1600’s. With her life in danger as well, her mother turns to Gideon, a master of dark arts to save her daughter at any cost. The cost is high- she becomes an immortal witch pursued through the centuries by this dangerous dark lord seeking to possess her. Elizabeth is forever fearful of all attachments that might put anyone she cares for in harm’s way. That is, until she finds Tegan, a young girl she comes to love like the daughter she never had. Ultimately, Elizabeth is forced to make difficult choices she never imagined.Nancy Harris of Scituate a practicing psychologist and a former instructor of psychology at Harvard Medical School.
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