Fighting! Does it stop?

Everyone knows that parents and their children argue at least once in a while, but in an article by Elizabeth Bernstein, she tells of a case where the arguing happens a little too much between a mother and daughter.

According to the article by Bernstein, Jessica Setnick, a 39 year old dietitian in Dallas, views her mother’s remarks as demeaning and hurtful. One time, before Ms. Setnick even got to her mother’s house, she sent a text message saying, “I got my hair cut today and I think it looks fine. So if you don’t like it, please don’t say anything.” Her mother, Sandra Zucker, a 70 year old college librarian, sees her comments as a helpful suggestion. Criticism can be helpful if stated correctly, but criticism can also be very hurtful, especially if it is persistent.

Bernstein says it is common for mothers and daughters to battle in the daughter’s teen years, but often the feuding continues past that, as has occurred with Ms. Setnick and Ms. Zucker.

Bernstein says that mother-son relationships can be intense, but typically mother-daughter relationships are more fiery. She says women are more emotional than men. Also, sometimes mothers and daughters compete, says Mikki Meyer, marriage and family therapist in Manhattan and Highland, N.Y. It’s true that women tend to be more emotional than men, and that tends to lead to more verbal exchange. However, I’m not sure how mothers and daughters would compete.

Bernstein agrees that conflict usually starts when the daughter hits adolescence and starts to rebel against authority.  She says that the mother should allow her daughter to grow up and make her own decisions, but some mothers, on the other hand, have trouble letting go. I think it is a difficult process for any parent to have to accept that his or her child has to become an independent adult, and it makes sense that the conflict would start when the child is seeking independence, which usually starts during adolescence.

Bernstein notes that Ms. Setnick says her problems with her mother started when she was 12 and her father passed away. Ms. Setnick remembers feeling that he just left her with her mother. Bernstein mentions that Ms. Setnick thought she was all grown up and didn’t need her mother. Here Ms. Setnick was reaching the age where she was seeking independence, and of course, I’m sure Ms. Zucker wasn’t happy about that. Also, I think Ms. Setnick felt a little betrayed by her father and didn’t want to be left with her mother.

Bernstein mentions that Ms. Zucker had a controlling mother, herself. Ms. Zucker once called her daughter almost every day for three weeks straight to see if she had scheduled a mammogram. Ms. Zucker calls herself directive, not controlling. It seems as though Ms. Zucker’s controlling mother had an effect on her to make herself controlling with her daughter. Is this the case with all controlling mothers? It might be true in many cases, as people tend to emulate what they’re familiar with or know.

Bernstein continues to say that mothers and adult daughters annoy each other because they are close; some experts say too close. She says mothers may see daughters as an extension of themselves and may be afraid to let go. This may contribute to the fighting into adulthood.

Bernstein mentions that Lisa Brateman, licensed clinical social worker and family therapist in Manhattan, sees the mother and daughter both separately and together once a week for mother-daughter therapy. In therapy, both mother and daughter tend to feel guilt about how they have treated the other.

Bernstein notes that with therapy, Ms. Setnick learned to stand up to her mother calmly, and she stopped loading her mother’s dishwasher because she was tired of being told she did it wrong.

Ms. Zucker appreciated that her daughter could stand up to her and express her anger because she was never able to say anything to her own mother.

The following are some ideas that came from the article by Elizabeth Bernstein for a healthy relationship between mother and daughter:


  • Tell your mom how you do things. Tell her that you’ll ask for her advice if you need it.
  • Don’t lie to your mom; it puts distance between you, and she always finds out.


  • Ask your daughter, “What do you need help with?” “Asking is the most important thing that the mom can do, because it gives credibility to the daughter as an adult,” says marriage and family therapist Mikki Meyer.


  • Ask, “What are we really fighting about?” Does your daughter feel disrespected? Is Mom mad that you never call?
  • Imagine a satisfying relationship. “You can only have it if you can picture it in some way,” says Lisa Brateman.

As you can see, a mother-daughter relationship can be shaky; some shakier than others. There may be some reasons for the uneasiness, such as the mother being afraid of letting go of the daughter as the daughter becomes an adult, or they’re too close and annoy each other. However, there can be more smiles than screams, which unfortunately occurred many times with Ms. Setnick and Ms. Zucker. For example, Ms. Setnick would have to run out of the house many times after they argued, to take a walk around the block to cool off and then return. Also, it seems as though the mother-daughter relationship creates more issues than the mother-son relationships. This is most likely true because girls are more emotional. As what happened with Ms. Zucker, if there is an unhealthy relationship with a parent, the child may develop an unhealthy relationship with his or her own child.

If a parent is demeaning or critical, like Ms. Zucker, then it may be necessary to seek therapy and attend seminars, as did Ms. Setnick and her mother, to reach a healthier relationship. While no relationship is ever perfect, a relationship with a parent or child can improve, and fighting and arguing can be controlled to a minimum.


Bernstein, Elizabeth. “‘I’m Not Your Little Baby!’ Calling a Truce in Mother-Daughter Conflict.” The Wall Street Journal. N.p., 24 Apr. 2012. Web. 04 Oct. 2012. <>.

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