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Adult Mother-Daughter Relationships: A Review of the Theoretical and Research


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Adult Mother–Daughter Relationships: A Review
of the Theoretical and Research Literature

Diane K. Shrier
Margaret Tompsett
Lydia A. Shrier

“Your son is your son till he gets him a wife: but your daughter’s your
daughter all the days of her life” (17th century English proverb)

“Women don’t have penis envy, men do” (comedian Woody Allen)

Abstract: This review of the psychoanalytic, developmental, and other relevant theo-
retical and research literature on mother–daughter relationships was undertaken as
part of an ongoing research study, Generation to Generation: Mother–Daughter
Physicians (Shrier and Shrier 2000, 2002b). The review focuses particularly on moth-
ers and their adult daughters during the longest period of a woman’s life (between the
end of adolescence and old age). The research literature on normative mother–daugh-
ter relationships is quite limited and while there is an extensive and evolving theoreti-
cal literature, it is not grounded in a nonclinical empirical database. Highlights are pre-
sented of past and current theories and research studies about female development and
mother–daughter relationships, embedded in their historical sociocultural context.
This comprehensive literature review documents the need for an empirical database
drawn from a nonclinical population and the importance of methodologically sound
research to support or challenge existing and evolving developmental and psychoana-
lytic theories on adult mother–daughter relationships.

This article will provide a review of the theoretical and research literature
on mother–daughter relationships, predominantly drawing from psychoana-
lytic, developmental, and other relevant literature. The highlights of current
psychoanalytic theories and related limited empirical research will be traced

Diane K. Shrier, M.D., Clinical Professor of Psychiatry and Behavioral Sciences and of Pedi-
atrics, George Washington University Medical Center; Senior Consultant, Walter Reed Anny
Medical Center; Attending at Children’s Hospital in Washington DC.
Margaret Tompsett, M. B., B. Chir. Clinical Assistant Professor of Psychiatry and Mental
Health Sciences, University of Medicine and Dentistry of New Jersey—New Jersey Medical
School, Newark, NJ.
Lydia A. Shrier, M.D., M.P.H., Assistant Professor of Pediatrics, Harvard Medical School;
Attending Physician, Adolescent and Young Adult Medicine, Children’s Hospital, Boston, MA.

Journal of The American Academy of Psychoanalysis and Dynamic Psychiatry, 32(1), 91–115, 2004
© 2004 The American Academy of Psychoanalysis and Dynamic Psychiatry
92 SHRIER ET AL.

in the context of their evolution over the past century. The focus will be on
normative (nonclinical, nonpathological) relationships between mothers and
their adult daughters. Much of the limited literature on this subject is embed-
ded in general theories on female development, so these theories are briefly
reviewed.
A PsychINFO computer search, using the search terms “family relations”
and “mothers and daughters” limited to English language, yielded 408 articles
from 1872 to November 2002. Abstracts were obtained and less than two
dozen of the articles, including doctoral dissertations, were efforts at research
that were nonclinical and focused on normative, nonpathologic adult
mother–daughter relationships. Several of these studies are briefly described
in the research section of this article.
Library searches for books on mothers and daughters or books on
women’s development in which there was material on adult mother–daughter
relationships led to a small number of additional publications relevant to this
article (Caplan 2000; Chase and Rogers, 2001; Chodorow, 1978/1999, 1989;
Debod, Wilson, and Malave, 1993; Fenchel, 1998; Firman and Firman, 1989;
Jordan et al., 1991; Logan and Spitze, 1996; Manning, 2002; Norris and Tin-
dale, 1994; Phillips, 1996). A perusal of the books’ bibliographies identified
other useful references. In addition, personal communications with several
psychoanalysts, psychiatrists, psychologists, and sociologists known to have
a particular interest in women and gender issues or mother–daughter relation-
ships led to a few other relevant publications. None of the experts who were
consulted could identify bibliographies on research and theory on adult nor-
mative mother–daughter relationships.
Until very recently, psychoanalytic and developmental theories and re-
search on both normality and pathology assumed the male as the universal
norm (Caplan and Caplan, 1999; Unger and Crawford, 1996). Most research
on parent–child relationships was done on males and on fathers and sons, less
on mothers and sons, with remarkably little interest in females and even less
on mother–daughter relationships (Phillips, 1996). Mother–daughter relation-
ships were viewed from the perspective and assumptions of earlier genera-
tions: a combination of predominantly negative or overly idealized views of
women and of mothers and their alleged adverse impact on their daughters
(and sons).
Normative psychoanalytic theories have not been grounded in empirical,
methodologically sound research of nonclinical populations or even on clini-
cal research. Instead, theory-building has been based almost exclusively on
small samples of clinical cases or on theorists’ interpretations of their own or
their colleagues’ personal and professional experiences. The traditional ana-
lytic perspective has been that theories of normal development of women
(and men) can be developed out of in-depth study of individual women in
MOTHER–DAUGHTER RELATIONSHIPS 93

treatment with disturbances in their development and in their relationships


with their mothers. Clinical material is believed to provide access to obstacles
and interferences that shed light on patterns of healthier development (Miller
in Jordan et al., 1991). But, in fact, drawing conclusions about normative
functioning from pathological experiences may lead to inaccurate results. To
give but one example, based on clinical case material on disturbed adoles-
cents, psychoanalytic theorists concluded that the main task of normal adoles-
cence was to separate psychologically, if not physically, from parents (espe-
cially mothers) to reach a healthy state of adult functioning, that such a task
required sturm und drang and that, therefore, it was often impossible to dis-
tinguish normal from disturbed adolescents (Freud, 1958). This theory of
adolescent development was subsequently challenged by empirical data on
large samples of high school students. Most healthy adolescents were found
to remain strongly attached and connected to their parents, continuing to in-
corporate their parents’ values and to identify with them in a positive way,
without significant inner or external turmoil (Offer, Ostrov, and Howards,
1981; Offer and Sabshin, 1984; Rutter et al., 1976). In fact there is some con-
troversy over whether or not psychoanalysis should be considered a medical,
scientific discipline. Chodorow (1989), for example, states that she sees
“. . . psychoanalysis as an interpretive and not a medical or scientific enter-
prise . . . as a social science that is a theoretically grounded but . . . empiri-
cally infused study of lives. . .” (p. 18–19). Other psychoanalysts have at-
tempted to study psychoanalysis and psychoanalytic psychotherapy in a more
scientifically rigorous fashion (Luborsky, 1984).
What little empirical quantitative and qualitative research exists focuses
more on pathological mother–daughter relationships or on mother–daughter
relationships at the extremes of life—mother–daughter relationships during
the daughter’s infancy, childhood, and adolescence or on elderly mothers and
their caretaking daughters. Mother–daughter relationships during the now
longest span of a woman’s life (between the end of adolescence and old age)
or of nonclinical, nonpathologic mother–daughter relationships has generated
little research. However, in the last three decades, there has been a greater and
growing awareness of the importance of gender on the questions we ask, the
observations and assumptions we make, the ways in which we analyze re-
search data, and the myths and beliefs we hold (Unger and Crawford, 1996).
Only in the past decade has there been a resurgence of interest in the subject
of mothering and of mother–daughter relationships, both for a popular audi-
ence and among academics who identify themselves as feminists. Based
largely on individual life stories and sometimes including poetry and fiction,
the authors emphasize the strength of mother–daughter bonds and the posi-
tive, empowering aspects of mother–daughter relationships (Caplan, 2000;
Chin, 2002; Manning, 2002; O’Reilly and Abbey, 2000; Canadian Woman’s
94 SHRIER ET AL.

Studies special issue, 1998). An example of this literature are personal stories
by women physicians about their physician mothers and/or physician daugh-
ters or of several generations of women physicians (Christiansen, 1999; Eck-
hardt, 1998; McMurray, 1997; Shrier and Shrier, 2002b; Tompsett, in press).
There is also an extensive ethological literature on parent–child relationships
in primates and other mammals which will not be reviewed for this article
other than to note that, in some species of primates (and other mammals such
as elephants) the mother–daughter bond is the strongest relationship through-
out their lives (Manning, 2002). These two streams of literature will not be a
focus of this article.
There are specific and somewhat unique characteristics to mother–daugh-
ter relationships. The mother is commonly the primary caregiver for children
and is the primary object for identification and a role model for the daughter,
sometimes on a lifelong basis. The relationship is of two individuals of the
same gender and, for some mothers and daughters, can be emotionally intense
and sometimes highly ambivalent. As part of the developmental process,
there may be elements of fusion or strong feelings of attachment, connection,
mutuality, as well as increasing psychological separation and autonomy. The
relationship has consequences for how the daughter feels about “her body,
self-esteem regulation, career choices, and relationships to men” [and to other
women] (Fenchel, 1998, p. xvi). Furthermore, “the mother’s own identifica-
tion with the daughter adds an increased two-way intimacy to that special re-
lationship” (Firman and Firman, 1989, p. 4). The psychoanalytic and devel-
opmental theoretical literature is replete with assumptions that the
mother–daughter relationship is more complicated and more problematic than
father–son, father–daughter, or mother–son relationships, tied in part to a
long-standing cultural belief that there is somehow a conflict between being a
mother and being a mature psychologically healthy adult person (Firman and
Firman, 1989). In contrast, as will be described, what little recent empirical
research exists finds a predominance of strong positive lifelong relationships
between mothers and daughters (and more broadly between parents and chil-
dren).
While traditional developmental and psychoanalytic theories allege to be
universal they are, in fact, strongly rooted in Western (and especially in
United States) values. Ideals of autonomy, independence, rugged individual-
ism, separation from families of origin (especially from mothers) are consid-
ered psychologically healthy, normal, and necessary—particularly for males
and more recently also for females (Debod et al., 1993). With limited excep-
tions, little thought has been given to the fact that in most non-Western cul-
tures, central importance is given to human interdependence and connection
to family and community taking precedence over, or being of at least equal
importance, to the needs of the individual (Shrier, Hsu, and Yang, 1996).
MOTHER–DAUGHTER RELATIONSHIPS 95

In addition, even within the United States, the experiences reported in the
literature on mothers and daughters are primarily from Caucasian middle
class, college educated backgrounds. Little is available on the experiences of
mother–daughter relationships from African-American, Latina, Asian, and
other backgrounds or of daughters (or mothers) who are lesbians. Further-
more, what literature does exist on non-mainstream populations is mostly
clinical in focus and generally not based on empirical research. There is some
recent literature suggesting the importance of supportive networks of women
and close, largely positive relationships among mothers and daughters from
these types of backgrounds (Caplan, 2000; Chodorow, 1989; Jordan et al.,
1991). Divorce, single parenting (usually by mothers), and other sociological
phenomena introduce added dimensions to the mother–daughter relationship.
This article, while acknowledging the importance of studying mother–daugh-
ter relationships from diverse backgrounds, will not review the non-main-
stream literature.

PSYCHOANALYTIC AND DEVELOPMENTAL THEORIES ON


FEMALES AND ON MOTHER–DAUGHTER RELATIONSHIPS

For heuristic purposes we have divided the literature into four major
streams of psychoanalytic and developmental theory-building about women
and about mother–daughter relationships, rooted in the historical context of
their times. First, we will briefly outline traditional Freudian theories on the
psychology and development of women, including Helene Deutsch’s present-
ing mother–daughter relationships as noxious to daughters’ healthy develop-
ment to adult life. Representatives of three main trends of post-Freudian
thinking will be presented as the second, third, and fourth groups of theorists.
The controversy and diversity of viewpoints are complex and evolving, some-
times overlapping, and thus cannot be fully elaborated on in this article.
Readers are encouraged to look into the original sources referenced.
The second group of theorists claimed to be strongly anti-Freudian and
often overtly rejecting of psychoanalysis. In fact, they retained some of the
most negative and often self-hating, blaming views of women, of mothers,
and of mother–daughter relationships as they linked motherhood to the domi-
nation of women by men (Dinnerstein, 1976; Friday, 1977).
The third (Chodorow, 1978/1999, 1994) and fourth (Jordan et al 1991;
Miller 1973) groups of theorists maintain their identities as psychoanalysts,
but challenge traditional theories about female development, mothering, and
mother–daughter relationships. They have much in common, but diverge in
important ways. Both groups of theorists hold a primarily positive view of fe-
males and of relationships between mothers and daughters and between
96 SHRIER ET AL.

women in general. Both challenge tendencies to either overly idealize or


blame mothers. Both acknowledge the importance of early psychoanalytic
challengers to Freud’s theories about women, most notably Karen Horney
(1967) and Melanie Klein (1975). Both note that the early challenges did not
have a major impact on mainstream psychoanalytic thinking until the recent
upsurge of interest in female psychology that was sparked by the feminist
movement of the 1970s. Both groups incorporate ways of thinking about
women and their development predominantly from interpersonal (Sullivan,
1953) or from object relations theorists (Fairbairn, 1952; Guntrip, 1973; Win-
nicott, 1958), but also from Eriksonian (Erikson, 1950/1963); attachment
(Bowlby, 1969), and self psychology (Kohut, 1971, 1983) theorists, all of
which take into account the importance of interpersonal relationships. Both
groups base their theories predominantly on clinical cases and on personal
life experiences, rather than on research studies of normative populations.
The major differences between the third and fourth groups of psychoana-
lytic theorists are as follows. The third group, best represented by the work of
Nancy Chodorow (1978/1999, 1989, 1994), retains concepts and language
from traditional psychoanalytic and developmental theories such as drive the-
ory, the Oedipal complex, the importance of the pre-Oedipal period, and the
assumption that separation-individuation and autonomy are primary markers
of healthy adult development. Superimposed on this traditional foundation
are modifications incorporating predominantly object-relations theory, but
also perspectives from the attachment, self psychology, and sociological, an-
thropological, and historical literatures
The fourth group, best represented by Jean Baker Miller and her col-
leagues at The Stone Center (Jordan et al., 1991; Miller, 1973), almost en-
tirely rejects traditional psychoanalytic and Western developmental terminol-
ogy and theory, especially the view that separation-individuation, autonomy,
and detachment from primary relationships are essential to healthy matura-
tion and formation of the adult self. Instead this group asserts the need for
conceptualizing an entirely new theory of female development that puts a
greater emphasis on the central role of relationships as an integral lifelong
and evolving part of healthy female development and that a healthy mature
adult self remains a “self-in-relation.”

Traditional Freudian Theories about Females and about


Mother–Daughter Relationships—Sigmund Freud and Helene Deutsch

While Freud readily admitted he knew little about women and questioned
what women want, his theories about female development remain highly in-
fluential and have become part of cultural assumptions and humor about
women, for example, “penis envy,” “castrating women.” Freud’s original the-
ories on what he called the female Oedipus complex are briefly summarized.
MOTHER–DAUGHTER RELATIONSHIPS 97

Freud assumed that in the pre-Oedipal period little girls and little boys were
undifferentiated until they became aware of the genital differences between
girls and boys, namely the presence or absence of the penis. Girls were
thought to believe that they once had a penis and lost it or will grow one,
based on Freud’s assumption that girls wished to have a penis, called “penis
envy.” Eventually the girl gives up her hope that she will get a penis, but sub-
stitutes instead a wish for a baby as a kind of replacement for her missing
penis (“penis-baby”). As a consequence of not having a penis, Freud theo-
rized that little girls felt inferior to little boys and that they viewed their moth-
ers as defective, because they too had no penis. The little girl blamed the
mother for putting her at a disadvantage by not having given her a penis or as
punitive for having castrated her. The central feature of the female Oedipus
complex “maintains that for a girl to develop normally she must reach a point
where she moves away from her mother, erotically fixates on her father, then
gives up sexual wishes for him, longs for a baby from him, and returns to
identify with her mother” (Stiver, in Jordan et al., 1991, pp. 106–107). Also,
true mature femininity was said to require a shift from clitoral to vaginal or-
gasms. While some classically trained psychoanalysts continue to assert the
essence of Freud’s original theories and present complex theories about why
little girls reject their mothers and turn to their father in the Oedipal stage,
their literature repeatedly notes the enduring and powerful nature of the
mother–daughter relationship (Stiver, in Jordan et al., 1991).
Sander Gilman, a historian, specializing in psychiatry and psychoanalysis
as well as Central European history, puts Freud’s theories on females (and on
mother–daughter relationships) in the context of his times (Gilman 1993).
Oilman’s material is summarized as a well-documented example of how the-
ories about healthy development and functioning are embedded in historical
and cultural perspectives. From the mid-19th century through the 1930s there
was a well-documented rising tide of intense anti-Semitism in Europe and
“Vienna was the most anti-Semitic city in Europe” (Gilman, 1993, p. 15).
Distortions and myths about race and gender were presented as though they
had an objective scientific basis and were an integral part of the biology, an-
thropology, and medicine of that time. The circumcised Jewish male was
viewed by the Aryan Christian European culture and by scientific and med-
ical communities as different, hidden, “the dark continent,” unknowable, less
intelligent, less competent, less moral (deceptive and lying), feminine, physi-
cally and psychologically weak, and excluded from the mainstream—paral-
leling similar stereotypes about women and about people of color.
Freud, who was born in 1856 and died in 1939, was an acculturated nonre-
ligious Jew who, from his private correspondence, was clearly affected by the
racial theories and discrimination of his era. However, in his psychoanalytic
theories and scientific writings Freud chose to ignore the differences of race
and ethnicity so emphasized in the science of his time. Instead Freud theo-
98 SHRIER ET AL.

rized universal instincts “common to all men living today—and . . . to those


of ancient and prehistoric times” (pp. 29–30, Gilman, 1993, from Freud, SE
21:249), thus including Jewish males in the category of all males and making
the important distinctions between all males and all females, not between
(male) Jew and (male) Aryan. While excluding the rhetoric of race, Freud
constructed “a specific image of the feminine onto which all the [alleged infe-
rior] qualities of the male Jew were projected.” (Gilman, 1993, p. 38). In
Freud’s theories a “sense of inferiority was attributed to the woman because
of her [alleged] `envy for the penis”’[Freud, SE 20:212]. In the anti-Semitic,
anti-feminist, and racial views of Vienna (and Central Europe) of Freud’s
times both the circumcised penis of the male Jew and the “truncated penis” or
clitoris of all women were viewed as “defective” sexual organs. In Viennese
slang, the clitoris was known as the “little Jew” and female masturbation was
known as “playing with the Jew.”
Helene Deutsch accepted and expanded on Freud’s theories on women in a
number of articles from 1925 through 1933 (Deutsch, 1925, 1930, 1932,
1933), culminating in a very influential two-volume book called The Psychol-
ogy of Women (1944, 1945). Deutsch wrote extensively about what she
viewed as the biologically based core traits of the feminine personality: nar-
cissism, masochism, and passivity. Further, Deutsch discussed the problems
of women who denied their feminine role “as servant of the species” and who
assumed “masculine” functions (Deutsch, vol. I 1944, p. xvi). Deutsch de-
scribed attachment to the mother (but not to the father) in prepuberty as an
obstacle to the girl’s growing up in a healthy fashion and presented as fact,
rather than theory, “the condition of ‘psychic infantilism’ found in many adult
women represents the outcome of an unresolved attachment to the mother
during prepuberty” (Deutsch, vol I, 1944, p. 9). It should be noted that from
information about the lives of Helene Deutsch and other early women psy-
choanalysts, they did not feel constrained by psychoanalytic theory in their
own lives nor, from case studies, did Deutsch appear to impose her theories in
negative ways on her patients, instead encouraging their self-fulfillment and
autonomy (Chodorow, 1989). While some of the early psychoanalysts
strongly challenged the traditional Freudian views of women, the culture was
such that their views were marginalized and mainstream psychoanalysis was
not ready to hear their voices until the second feminist movement of the
1970s (Miller, 1973).

Rejection of Traditional Psychoanalytic Theory with Continuation of


Hostility Toward Women as Mothers

As noted by Chodorow (1989, p. 165), the dominant stance of the early


feminist movement was “enormous hostility to and condemnation of . . .
MOTHER–DAUGHTER RELATIONSHIPS 99

Freudian theory and therapy . . . as major factors in women’s oppression”


(Dinnerstein, 1976; Flax, 1978, Friday, 1977). The oppression of women was
viewed as resulting from patriarchal political, economic, cultural, and social
factors. Psychoanalytic emphasis on the unconscious and the psychological—
as theory and therapy—was thought to have nothing to offer except a rein-
forcement of traditional societal values and expectations of women in both
their roles and their sexuality. Until the 1970s, the narrowly defined role of
woman as primarily an all-powerful and exclusive mother and an asexual
caregiver led to both an idealized view of the perfect, self-sacrificing, de-
voted, and giving mother and a blaming of the imperfect mother for every-
thing wrong with society, with how her children turned out, and specifically
with her daughters and their limitations.
An excellent review of feminist hostility to both psychoanalysis and moth-
erhood can be found in Chodorow and Contratto’s essay, The Fantasy of the
Perfect Mother (Chodorow, 1989, pp. 79–96). Ironically, in an effort to
counter prevailing societal restrictions of women’s roles to motherhood,
many early feminists ended up in a similar position to traditional Freudians
such as Helene Deutsch, with a view of mothers as noxious to their daughters’
healthy development. The widespread early feminist position was that “moth-
ers are the agents of their daughters’ oppression” (p.81, Chodorow 1989) and
that “women’s mothering is perhaps the central feature in the reproduction of
gender inequality” (Chodorow, 1989, p. 81), with some writers emphasizing
mother blaming (Friday 1977) and others that mothers are themselves victims
and transmitters of a patriarchal culture (Arcana, 1979; Dinnerstein, 1976;
Lazarre, 1976; Rich, 1976).
More recent feminist writings, especially since the 1990s, for the most part
have focused on the positive aspects of mothering (and parenting), that many
women want to be mothers and find motherhood a wonderful and transforma-
tive experience, although others may choose not to bear children (Abbey and
O’Reilly 1998). The debate has shifted to how best to integrate and balance
motherhood with work and with other relationships and personal needs, how
or whether to move the responsibility for childrearing from the isolated
mother or nuclear family to the broader society, and whether or not there
should be a more egalitarian family with far greater responsibility for fathers
than has traditionally and (even currently) existed (Shrier, 2002a; Unger and
Crawford, 1996).

Modifications of Traditional Psychoanalytic Theory

Nancy Chodorow, an anthropologist, sociologist, feminist, and psychoan-


alyst, has written some of the most thoughtful and complex theoretical psy-
choanalytically oriented books on the subject of gender and of motherhood
100 SHRIER ET AL.

(1978/1999, 1989). Chodorow’s psychoanalytic feminist theories about gen-


der and about motherhood and about mother–daughter relationships have
become integrated into the mainstream of psychoanalytic thinking
(1978/1999, 1989). Her first book, The Reproduction of Mothering: Psycho-
analysis and the Sociology of Gender (1978/1999), is both scholarly and ac-
cessible and has become a classic, impacting on attitudes in the broader so-
ciety about mothering and the reproduction of mothering through female
development, both intrapsychic and interpersonal. Chodorow noted that
“there is a striking lack of systematic description about the mother-daughter
relationship” (Chodorow, 1989, p. 46).
Chodorow challenges and critiques traditional psychoanalytic theories but,
rather than throwing them out entirely, she reconceptualizes and modifies
them with primarily object relations perspectives. She notes that Freud made
two questionable assumptions of the innate biological and psychological su-
periority of maleness. He defined the presence or absence of masculinity as
central to his definition of gender and sexual differentiation and he asserted
that gender identity and differentiation was determined by biological destiny
arising out of anatomical genital differences between the sexes. Chodorow re-
formulates traditional Oedipal theory, putting the emphasis on the importance
of the pre-Oedipal period in the establishment of gender identity and a sexual
body-ego. She notes that Freud recognized that, in order to understand
women, one needed to appreciate girls’ pre-Oedipal attachment to their moth-
ers. Chodorow asserts that the development of girls (in contrast to boys) and
the capacity for parenting, particularly for mothering, is based on very differ-
ent experiences, reactions, and needs in relation to the girl’s mother. These
differences “cut off or curtail relational possibilities for parenting in boys, and
keep them open and extend them in girls” (Chodorow, 1978, p. 91). She con-
cludes from both clinical cases and an ongoing women’s discussion group fo-
cusing on mother–daughter relationships, that the special relationship be-
tween mothers and daughters during the pre-Oedipal periods leads to
particular problems in female development with separation and individuation
and with ego and body-ego boundary confusion. As she states “A girl does
not simply identify with her mother or want to be like her mother. Rather,
mother and daughter maintain elements of their primary relationship which
means they will feel alike in fundamental ways” (Chodorow, 1978/1999, p.
110). The maintenance of this relationship is viewed as an indication of a fail-
ure of development, rather than an indication of the need for a new model of
female development.
Chodorow accepts the assumptions of traditional psychoanalytic theories
that women are more prone to identification with others, have a stronger fan-
tasy life, and greater intuition and perceptiveness, as well as a less rigid and
punitive superego which is more open to persuasion by others. She attributes
MOTHER–DAUGHTER RELATIONSHIPS 101

these differences to the continuing influence of pre-Oedipal “lack of reality


principle” on the ego and the greater continuity of primary external object-re-
lations. She concludes that differences between males and females are attrib-
utable to women doing the mothering and the ways in which mothers provide
what Chodorow calls asymmetries in the relational experiences of boys and
girls. These differences lead to males defining themselves as separate and dif-
ferentiated from others and having rigid ego boundaries with repression and
denial of connection and relationships, which prepares them for participation
in the public sphere. Females define and experience themselves as continuous
with and connected to others, with flexible and permeable ego boundaries and
thus with greater capacity for and commitment to the role of wife and mother
in the private sphere of the family. Chodorow concludes that, in order to elim-
inate social inequality and a social organization based on gender, both men
and women should be responsible for parenting and childcare. As long as
only mothers do the “mothering,” women will continue to be the primary
child caregivers.
In her preface to the second edition (1999), Chodorow recognizes that she
had written The Reproduction of Mothering in 1978 in a specific historical
period to document the impact of the political, economic, and social impact of
gender and male dominance on women. In that era full-time mothering and
total maternal availability to the child was the ideological norm and there was
no acknowledgment of other aspects of women’s identity nor of the simulta-
neous devaluation and idealization of women. In that context it was important
for Chodorow to challenge traditional psychoanalytic theories that made fe-
male psychology derivative of male and determined by the absence of a penis.
She acknowledges her critics who speak from the perspective of a very differ-
ent historical era, one in which the lives of women and families have changed
quite dramatically, where women have far more personal and professional life
choices, and where there is greater awareness of the importance of taking into
account cultural, racial, ethnic, economic, and sexual diversity.
In her more recent writings, Chodorow builds on her view that the
mother–daughter relationship is a very powerful one that “contributes in pro-
found ways to the creation and experience of self’ (preface, 2nd edition,
1999). Rather than turning toward more universalizing or generalizing theo-
ries, Chodorow has become interested in focusing, from a more clinical per-
spective, on the individual mother–daughter relationship where unconscious
fantasies and subjective meanings shape the experiences of mother, daughter,
and other mutually created relationships. She no longer calls for equal parent-
ing by fathers and mothers, which arose out of her linking of mothering and
male domination and was easily transformed into the father’s rights move-
ment in the context of divorce and custody disputes. Further, the current soci-
etal expectations and economic pressures on women to work full or part time,
102 SHRIER ET AL.

even when they might prefer to stay home with their children, has shifted the
emphasis of feminists, like Chodorow, to advocate for society to find ways to
better support women m their role as mothers and revise workplace practices
to take into account the needs of both children and of parents.

New Models of Female Psychoanalytic Theories—Self-In-Relation or


Integration of Attachment and Relationships with Autonomy

In 1973, Jean Baker Miller, a psychiatrist and psychoanalyst, edited a book


called Psychoanalysis and Women in which she gathered a sampling of 15 pa-
pers published from 1927 through 1972. These papers and Miller’s own
views challenged classical psychoanalytic deficiency and defectiveness theo-
ries of women and instead presented new ways of understanding female de-
velopment which identified and valued women’s strengths.
In her concluding chapter, Miller summarized her own position and rec-
ommendations for future work. She felt that such issues as “penis envy, in-
nate biological passivity, submissiveness, and masochism” (Miller, 1973, p.
375) had been demonstrated to be without scientific foundation. She sug-
gested that additional work needed to be done on examining the social, bio-
logical, and psychological forces that have influenced the overall develop-
ment and roles of women. Most importantly Miller strongly advocated for the
need to develop a “coherent and unified overall theory of the psychology of
women” (Miller, 1973, p. 378) for a new way of looking at the stages of a
woman’s life, with implications for the evaluation and treatment of women
with emotional problems. Miller disagreed with traditional Western psycho-
logical and developmental theories that emphasize almost exclusively in-
creasing separation, individuation, and autonomy from others as central to
healthy development and ignore or minimize the importance and growing
complexity of human relatedness and attachments as at least an equally im-
portant part of development. The implication of these traditional theories is
that one must disconnect from earlier relationships with parents, especially
mothers, in order to form a clear sense of one’s own separate identity and fur-
ther, that intimacy, empathy, and relatedness can threaten autonomy and self-
determination (Jordan, et al., 1991, p. 36).
In regard to the specific topic of mother–daughter relationships, Miller
raised the issue of the long-standing devaluation of women. Women were
seen as existing predominantly to service others, especially men and children,
having limited and restricted societal roles, and mothers were viewed as a
danger to their daughters (and sons). These depictions of mothers and women
encouraged a daughter’s distancing from and conflict with “the most signifi-
cant person in her life who is also the figure from whom she builds an image
of herself as a feminine being” (Miller, 1973, p. 392).
MOTHER–DAUGHTER RELATIONSHIPS 103

Miller and several other psychoanalytically trained professionals, who


were drawn to her challenge to develop a new psychological theory of
women, subsequently established The Stone Center at Wellesley College
where they have continued to work on elaborating this theory. A simplified
essence of this evolving theory has to do with the development of “self-in-re-
lation” and the increasing capacity for greater complexity in relationships and
for mutuality and empathy. Unlike Chodorow (1978), whose eloquent and
scholarly analysis of how women become mothers and whose modifications
of classical psychoanalytic theories are rooted in object relations theory, the
Stone Center theorists (Jordan, et al., 1991) acknowledge that object relations
theorists recognize the power of relationships, but reject the fact that they re-
tain the language of drive theory and destructive impulses and present rela-
tionships as secondary to satisfaction and frustration of drives (Fairbairn,
1952; Guntrip, 1973; Klein, 1975; Winnicott, 1958). They also recognize the
value of Kohut’s self psychology and his emphasis on the importance of em-
pathy (Kohut, 1971, 1983), but disagree with his notion of selfobjects as part
of lifelong need-determined relationships and that he ignores the idea of mu-
tuality in relationships and does not seek ways to teach patients to learn em-
pathy (Jordan, et al., 1991). Instead, they draw more from Sullivan’s model of
interpersonal psychiatry (Sullivan, 1953), from Daniel Stern’s studies of early
infancy (Stern, 1986), and from feminist theorists like Belenky, Clinchy,
Goldberger, and Tarule (1986) on different modes of knowing such as “con-
nected knowing” and others (Gilligan 1982; Rich, 1976). Sullivan, while not
considering the mutuality of connection, did depart from drive theory, stating
that “a personality can never be isolated from the complex of interpersonal re-
lations in which the person lives and has his being” (Sullivan, 1953, p. 10).
Daniel Stern, a psychoanalyst and infant researcher, studied mother–infant in-
teractions and the mutual self-other experience from very earliest infancy and
demonstrated that the development of competence and mastery is shaped
through engagement in the relationship. Interestingly, the Stone Center theory
did not appear to draw heavily on Bowlby’s theories on attachment (Bowlby,
1969) nor Chess and Thomas’s research on temperament and the contribution
of the child to the parent–child relationships from early infancy on (Chess and
Thomas, 1984).
Several of the Stone Center theorists focused on the mother–daughter rela-
tionship as the model for future relationships. These include Jean Baker
Miller on women’s development of the sense of self-in-relation, Jordan, Sur-
rey, and Kaplan on women’s development of empathy, Janet Surrey on the
development of the relational self, Irene Stiver who presented the argument
for eliminating the concept of the Oedipus complex for female development,
and Kaplan and Klein who explored the relational self in late adolescent
women (Jordan et al 1991).
104 SHRIER ET AL.

Miller and her colleagues propose a theory of healthy self-development


and maturation throughout one’s life which has as its basis relationship-dif-
ferentiation, “a dynamic process that encompasses increasing levels of com-
plexity, structure, and articulation within the context of human bonds and at-
tachments” (Jordan et al., 1991, p. 37). For women in particular relational
needs are primary and motivate psychological growth at all life stages. From
childhood on most females show a greater capacity for emotional closeness
and relatedness and capacity for mutual empathy. Within Western culture
(and likely in other cultures as well), from early on mothers and daughters are
engaged in mutual identification and a mutual reciprocal process of high and
evolving levels of responsibility for one another and empathy to one an-
other’s feelings. This relationship serves as a precursor and template for
women’s evolving relationships with others while retaining the relationship
with mother and other primary attachment figures. Miller states that “one of
the hardest developmental tasks is . . . to grow into psychological adulthood
in relationships with one’s own parents, especially one’s mother.” (Jordan et
al., 1991, p. 39). She emphasizes that these critical relationships evolve
throughout the life cycle in actuality, not just in intrapsychic form. Miller re-
jects Chodorow’s pathologizing of women’s development when she talks
about pre-Oedipal development in women persisting longer than in men into
adult life and of women having less definitive and more permeable ego
boundaries. Instead, she reframes these observations as reflecting women’s
“more flexible and inclusive ego boundaries” which have both positive and
problematic aspects (Jordan et al., 1991, p. 39).
Irene Stiver challenges in detail classical psychoanalytic female Oedipal
theories (Stiver in Jordan et al 1991). These include the concepts of castration
anxiety, penis envy, equation of penis with baby, and the central assertion that
normal development requires the girl to go through a complex process of
turning away from the mother, erotically fixating on the father from whom
she wishes a baby, and returning again to identify with her mother (Stiver, in
Jordan et al., 1991). She also challenges the idea of true femininity requiring a
shift from clitoral to vaginal orgasms. Stiver finds no systematic clinical or
research studies that support the idea that most girls turn away from their
mothers. Instead studies indicate that girls have attachments to their fathers
that are different from those with their mothers from very early on, women
have different but no weaker superegos, during the latency years girls con-
tinue to have passionate feelings, and current research on female sexual func-
tion does not differentiate clitoral from vaginal orgasms. She views the self-
in-relation conceptualization, which stresses mutual empathy and
empowerment, as a better model for normal development than castration anx-
iety and penis envy where fear and envy are the driving forces (Stiver, in Jor-
dan et al., 1991).
MOTHER–DAUGHTER RELATIONSHIPS 105

Stiver notes that adult women who are in psychotherapy are likely to be
critical of their mothers, emphasize her negative qualities, and struggle
against being like her. She notes that these women’s relationships with their
mothers are intense and often conflictual. Stiver cites Lewis’s and Herman’s
explanation that the major source of daughters’ anger and lack of compas-
sion toward their mothers is due to the daughter’s awareness of the ways in
which the mother is devalued and denigrated by the father’s attitudes and
behavior toward her. The daughter also feels outraged that the mother did
not fight harder against this devaluation and subsequently identifies with the
aggressor (Lewis and Herman, 1986). Boundary confusion can occur with
more disturbed patients who describe very intense, engulfing, and destruc-
tive relationships with one or both parents. All too often these clinical expe-
riences have led to assumptions in psychoanalytic theory that apply these
pathologic experiences to normal female development and mother–daughter
relationships.
Kaplan, Gleason, and Klein have written on women’s self development in
late adolescence (Kaplan et al., in Jordan et al., 1991). They note that tradi-
tional developmental and psychoanalytic theories equate psychological matu-
ration with increasing autonomy, separation, independence, and competitive
achievement. From their observations and clinical experiences, this develop-
mental pattern does not fit women’s actual experiences. For women, the sense
of self develops, not out of separation, but through the internalization of expe-
riences of progressively more complex relationships marked by mutual iden-
tifications, empathy, and concern for maintaining the relationship. “Conflict
is a necessary part of relationships, essential for the changes that must be
made so that the relationship and each person in it can change and grow” (in
Jordan et al., 1991, p. 125).
Like other psychoanalytic and developmental theorists, the Stone Center
group constructed their theories based predominantly on clinical cases and
personal experiences, rather than normative samples. Miller acknowledges
that what normal development means for women (and for men) is currently
not known. Miller takes the traditional psychoanalytic perspective that “clini-
cal material allows us access to some of the vicissitudes and obstacles to de-
velopment that may shed light on normal development” (Jordan et al., 1991,
p. 39), but as Stiver noted, pathological experiences of daughters and their
mothers “does not represent the norm (Stiver, in Jordan et al., 1991, p. 112).”
Miller and her colleagues have elected to publish primarily through what they
call working papers and books rather than submit their theories for publica-
tion to refereed journals. This approach makes it more difficult for their very
significant efforts to develop new models for healthy development of women
to be modified or strengthened by outside criticism. They do not appear to be
aware of recent changes in psychoanalytic theories that emphasize relational
106 SHRIER ET AL.

theories similar to self-in-relation concepts (Mitchell and Aron, 1999). As


one example, post-Kohutian self psychology includes a focus on empathy,
mutuality, bidirectionality, and co-construction of experience, as well as rela-
tional theories which might fit within the Stone Center model (personal com-
munication, Sandra Hershberg, M.D., psychoanalyst and self psychologist).
While the work of the Stone Center theorists has been picked up by many
feminist scholars and by some traditional mental health and other professions,
such as business (Fletcher, 1999), it has not to date been incorporated into
mainstream psychoanalytic thinking nor has it had as widespread an influence
as Chodorow’s theories.

EXISTING RESEARCH ON ADULT MOTHER–DAUGHTER


RELATIONSHIPS AND RECOMMENDATIONS FOR FUTURE
RESEARCH

In this section, brief summaries are presented of quantitative and qualita-


tive research pertaining to mother–daughter relationships. The emphasis is on
studies dealing with normative, nonclinical studies involving adult daughters
and their mothers and does not include studies of mother–daughter relation-
ships where the mother is elderly and the daughter is responsible for her care.
Also, because of space limitations, doctoral dissertations are not reviewed.

앫 Chodorow describes three sociological or anthropological studies from


the 1960s of mothers and daughters, two from non-Western cultures
(Chodorow, 1989). One is a working class population in East London
(Young and Wilmott, 1966), another in Java (Geertz, 1961), and the
third of the Atjehnese in Indonesia (Siegel, 1969). In all three studies,
despite the existence of discrimination against women, the mother–
daughter relationship remains positive and strongly valued by both
mother and daughter from childhood through old age. There is mutual
cooperation, companionship, and a strong sense of self and of self-worth
without excessive guilt, although at times there is ambivalence (espe-
cially in adolescence and prior to marriage). Chodorow (1989) also de-
scribes two qualitative studies for which she was the principal investiga-
tor. The first is a women’s group devoted to discussion and analysis of
mother–daughter relationships and, to a lesser extent, family relation-
ships in general. Chodorow interprets her findings as signifying contin-
uation of pre-Oedipal issues into women’s adult life, with increased in-
tensity during adolescence. In the other qualitative study, she conducted
more than 80 interviews of women psychoanalysts trained in the 1920s,
1930s, and early 1940s and contrasted them with a group of women psy-
MOTHER–DAUGHTER RELATIONSHIPS 107

choanalysts trained in the 1970s (post feminist revolution). She found


that the two groups of women psychoanalysts had very different views
of the salience of gender, as opposed to country of origin and socioeco-
nomic and political issues, as well as on the roles of women as mothers
and women in the workplace and in the psychoanalytic profession.
앫 Signe Hammer (1975) interviewed over 75 mothers, daughters, and
grandmothers. She found strong lifelong levels of identification and
emotional attachment. However, as she accepted the Western (and psy-
choanalytic) model of healthy adult development requiring separation-
individuation, she interpreted her findings as pathologic or as indicating
inadequate resolution of pre-Oedipal issues. She saw mothers and
daughters as tending to remain in a semi-symbiotic relationship, emo-
tionally bound up with one another and not seeing one another as sepa-
rate individuals.
앫 Nancy Gleason, a senior social worker at the Stone Center Counseling
Service reported on a survey conducted by three students participating
in a research group on daughters and mothers of a random sample of
100 freshman and 100 juniors at Wellesley College in 1983 (Gleason, in
Jordan et al., 1991). The focus was on whether or not the mother–
daughter relationship changed during college and the current level of
closeness and importance of the relationship as well as how they might
wish the relationship to change. Fifty-two juniors and 45 freshman re-
turned the survey, which showed no difference between the two groups.
More than two-thirds of the daughters felt very positively about their
mothers, felt closer to mother and shared more with mother than with
anyone other than her best friends, and anticipated the relationship
would continue to be close, although perhaps evolving. Of the minority
of respondents who felt tension and distance with their mothers, most
wanted a closer, more open, and friendlier relationship. Only six of the
respondents wanted less to do with their mothers. No data was available
on those who did not respond to the survey.
앫 Fischer interviewed baby-boom mothers and their adult daughters and
characterized mother–daughter relationships as both “holding on and
letting go” (Fischer, 1986, p. 63), arguing for the complexity of these re-
lationships and cautioning against assumptions of either autonomy and
separation or dependency and closeness.
앫 Debra Kaufman, a Professor of Sociology and Director of Jewish Stud-
ies at Northeastern University has been studying a convenience sample
of midlife mothers and their young adult daughters (at least 20 years of
age) to explore the nature of their relationships. Participants completed
a brief demographic questionnaire followed up by a one to three hour
open-ended interview. This study builds on earlier primarily qualitative
108 SHRIER ET AL.

research of newly Orthodox Jewish women at the beginning and end of


the baby-boom generation and their reports of their relationship with
their mothers (Kaufman, 1991; Kaufman, 1992). Kaufman urges the de-
velopment of a theoretical framework and methodological approach to
better understand “how mothers and daughters really live their lives and
make their decisions” (Kaufman, 1992, p. 475). Kaufman concludes that
for both mothers and daughters, children remain a life priority and that
baby-boom women may have been given many ambivalent messages
about work and motherhood from the 1950s to the 1980s, during the pe-
riod when expectations of women’s roles were in transition.
앫 Anni Bergman, a psychologist and a training and supervising analyst on
the faculty at the Institute for Psychoanalytic Training and Research,
and her Research Associate Maria Fahey reported a 30 year follow-up
on two mother–daughter pairs who had participated in Margaret
Mahler’s original research on separation-individuation begun in 1959
(Mahler, Pine, and Bergman, 1975). Mahler’s study involved daily ob-
servations by multiple participant and nonparticipant observers of
mother–toddler pairs in a playgroundlike setting, frequent unstructured
clinical interviews with the mother, occasional home visits, and occa-
sional interviews with the father. Two follow-up studies were done, one
in 1973 when the children were in latency and an adult follow-up study
beginning in 1988. The follow-up assessment involved psychological
testing of the children and their mothers and a series of unstructured,
clinical interviews. The authors presented two case histories of daugh-
ters and their mothers in which the early mother–daughter interactions
were described and the daughters’ later development traced. From these
cases, Bergman and Fahey drew a number of preliminary conclusions,
including that the mother’s conceptions of her daughter affected both
the ways in which the mother interacted with her daughter as well as the
daughter’s internal representations of self and others, that the early
mother–daughter interactions served as a foundation on which the
daughter “built her sense of herself in relation to others” (Bergman and
Fahey, 1996, p. 481), and that there were unpredictable and creative
possibilities and transformations for the way each daughter used these
early interactions as she engaged in new experiences and other relation-
ships.
앫 Victoria Mills, a psychologist and a training analyst at the National Psy-
chological Association for Psychoanalysis has produced a 51-minute
documentary called Mothers and Daughters: Mirrors That Bind (Mills,
2000). The film is based on 250 hours of interviews of 65 mother–
daughter pairs from diverse racial and ethnic and socioeconomic back-
grounds who were interviewed both individually and together. The film
MOTHER–DAUGHTER RELATIONSHIPS 109

explores a variety of themes—identification, envy and competition,


body image, and sexuality. Stereotypes about mothers and daughters
are challenged in the direction of empowering women as the transmit-
ters of culture from one generation to another. Mills also demonstrated a
fuller, more complex relationship with an intimate lifelong (sometimes
multi-generational) bond, albeit mixed at times with conflict and am-
bivalence.
앫 Four psychologists from different parts of the country conducted a qual-
itative study of different patterns of separation-individuation through in-
terviews of 72 mothers and their young adult daughters (Charles, Frank,
Jacobson, and Grossman, 2001). The investigators cite the growing the-
oretical and empirical literature on the importance of early parent–child
relationships in contributing to both the quality and the “cognitive, af-
fective, and relational patterns” of subsequent relationships “across the
life span”(Charles et al., 2001, p. 706). They also note that these pat-
terns may be transmitted from one generation to the next via fantasies,
projections, and working models of multiple aspects of relationships,
and be quite resistant to change. Conflicts and traumas which have not
been recognized and adequately worked through can become blind spots
leading to transmission of traumatic themes to subsequent generations.
The researchers assumed a psychoanalytic and developmental view of
mother-daughter relationships as “more intense and less differentiated
than other parent–child dyads,” stating that therefore “difficulties re-
solving conflicts associated with separation-individuation may be par-
ticularly problematic in mother–daughter dyads [in early adulthood]”
(Charles et al., 2001, p.707). The study focused on working models of
separation-individuation as distinct from working models of attachment
and sought a “better understanding of continuities and discontinuities in
transmission [of these working models from mother to daughter]”
(Charles et al., 2001, p. 707) The objective of the study was to examine
whether the mothers’ working models of separation-individuation (as
inferred from the mothers’ memories of their relationship with their own
mothers) might be linked to the young adult daughters’ relative diffi-
culty or comfort in becoming appropriately autonomous from their
mothers. The ultimate goal was to better enable therapists to more effec-
tively intervene with daughters whose “working models undermine their
abilities to . . . attain both mutuality and autonomy in important relation-
ships” (Charles et al., 2001, p. 707). The researchers called for addi-
tional research using more diverse samples and longitudinal designs.
앫 Paula J. Caplan, a research psychologist and college professor, has re-
viewed the literature on the pervasiveness of mother blaming in articles
in the major professional clinical journals (Caplan and Hall-McCorquo-
110 SHRIER ET AL.

dale, 1985). Also, she has been tracking interviews of mothers by their
daughters as part of either college level psychology classes or of non-
clinical groups of women interested in improving their relationships
with their mothers (Caplan and Caplan, 1999; Caplan, 2000; Caplan and
Hall-McCorquodale, 1985). The questions for these interviews were
based on research by Sue Cox (1981) and the expansion of her work by
Karen G. Howe (1989, 1990).
앫 The Association for Research on Mothering (ARM), a feminist organi-
zation based in Canada, holds symposia and publishes journals and
books and reviews other books on the subject of mothering (Abbey and
O’Reilly, 1998; Canadian Woman’s Studies, 1998; O’Reilly and Abbey
2000). The research is largely qualitative, drawing on women’s personal
experiences, writings, film, and is founded in feminist theory
(Chodorow 1978; Rich, 1976).
앫 Barbara Zax and Stephan Poulter wrote “A Multigenerational Inquiry
into the Relationship between Mothers and Daughters” (1997). While
clinically focused on disturbed mother–daughter pairs and generations
of mothers and daughters with problematic behavior, the article gener-
alizes some of the findings to normative mother–daughter relation-
ships.

DISCUSSION AND SUMMARY

A comprehensive review of the theoretical, developmental, and research


literature on (adult) mother–daughter relationships was undertaken as part of
an ongoing research study, Generation to Generation: Mother–Daughter
Physicians (Shrier and Shrier, 2000, 2002b). In the course of this review, and
from communicating directly with psychoanalysts, sociologists, and psychol-
ogists with particular interest in adult mother–daughter relationships, we
learned that there has been no prior bibliography on this subject.
There is an extensive and evolving theoretical (predominantly psychoan-
alytic and developmental) literature on female development, on mothering
and on mother–daughter relationships, particularly since the second feminist
revolution of the 1970s. These theories are based primarily on clinical cases
involving disturbed mother–daughter relationships and on personal experi-
ences, rather than on an empirical normative data base. This theoretical lit-
erature was divided into four major streams, embedded in their specific his-
torical and cultural contexts, beginning with a summary of Sigmund Freud’s
and Helene Deutsch’s theories on female development and mother–daughter
relationships. Theories were then presented from representatives of three
post-Freudian groups who challenged traditional psychoanalytic thinking.
MOTHER–DAUGHTER RELATIONSHIPS 111

One group consisted of early feminists who rejected psychoanalysis, but


maintained negative views about female development and mother–daughter
relationships, viewing mothers as the agents of their daughters’ oppression.
The third and fourth groups retained their identities as psychoanalysts and
had many features in common, as well as important differences. One group,
best represented by the work of Nancy Chodorow, retains concepts and lan-
guage from traditional psychoanalytic and developmental theories such as
drive theory, the importance of the Oedipal and pre-Oedipal periods, and the
assumption that increasing psychological separation-individuation and au-
tonomy are markers of healthy development of adult women. Superimposed
on this traditional foundation are modifications, predominantly from object
relations theory, attributing differences between females and males as at
least partly due to women doing the mothering and assymetries in the ways
in which they raise girls and boys. The fourth group, represented by Jean
Baker Miller and her colleagues from The Stone Center at Wellesley Col-
lege, rejects traditional psychoanalytic and Western developmental terminol-
ogy and theory as presenting a view of females as defective and deficient.
They assert the need for an entirely new model of female development (and
mother–daughter relationships). They propose that a greater emphasis be put
on the central role of relationships as an integral and evolving lifelong part
of healthy female (and male) development and that a healthy mature adult
self remains a “self-in-relation.” The daughter’s relationship with her mother
(and other primary attachment figures) becomes increasingly complex and
differentiated over the course of development, but is retained on a lifelong
basis and serves as a precursor and template for evolving relationships with
others.
The empirical qualitative and quantitative research on adult normative
mother–daughter relationships was reviewed, but is remarkably limited in re-
gard to what represents the longest period of a woman’s life (between the end
of adolescence and old age). There is clearly a need for additional research on
this topic and for theoretical assumptions on female development and
mother–daughter relationships to be firmly grounded in normative research,
rather than being based on clinical cases representing disturbed functioning.
Life spans have increased dramatically over the past several decades (es-
pecially for women), more adult women have mothers who have worked or
had careers, and women’s personal and professional experiences are often
quite different than those of previous generations (Shrier, 2002a). As socie-
tal attitudes about the roles and options for females have changed, so have
women’s (and men’s) views of themselves and of each other. Motherhood
has become a choice rather than an expectation and occupies a smaller and
often a less prominent portion of women’s lives. Increasingly, the focus in
the theoretical literature has shifted from issues of discrimination against
112 SHRIER ET AL.

women and the role of mothers in transmitting and reinforcing negative so-
cietal attitudes about females in raising their daughters (and sons) to con-
cerns about the importance of mothering, ways for society to assist women
in combining career/work and a personal/family life and, a greater emphasis
on the importance and strength of the lifelong bond between mothers and
daughters.
In this current historical and cultural context, our assumptions and theories
about women, about mothers, and about mother–daughter relationships need
to continue to be reexamined through studies of normative populations of
women and of mothers and daughters.

References
(Due to space limitations, this is only a partial reference list. A more compre-
hensive bibliography on adult mother–daughter relationships can be obtained
from the senior author)

Abbey, S., and O’Reilly, A. (eds.) (1998), Redefining Motherhood: Changing Identities and Pat-
terns, Second Story Press (Sumach Press), Toronto.
Arcana, J. (1979), Our Mothers’ Daughters, Shameless Hussy Press, Berkeley, CA.
Belenky, M. D., Clinchy, B. M., Goldberger, N. R., and Tarule, J. M. (1987), Women’s Ways of
Knowing, Basic Books, New York.
Bergman, A., and Fahey, M. (1996), Two women and their mothers: On the internationalization
and development of mother–daughter relationships, Journal of the American Psychoanal As-
sociation, 44 Suppl., 449–82.
Bowlby, J. (1969), Attachment and Loss, Basics Books, New York.
Canadian Woman Studies/les cahiers de la femme Journal (1998), Looking back, looking for-
ward: Mothers, daughters, and feminism, 18(2 and 3).
Caplan, P. J. (2000), The New Don’t Blame Mother: Mending the Mother–Daughter Relation-
ship, Routledge, New York.
Caplan, P. J., and Caplan, J. B.(1999), Thinking Critically about Research on Sex and Gender,
Addison Wesley Longman, New York.
Caplan, P. J., and Hall-McCorquodale, I. (1985), Mother–blaming in major clinical journals,
American Journal of Orthopsychiatry, 55, 345–53; The scapegoating of mothers: A Call for
change, 55, 610–613.
Charles, M., Frank, S. J., Jacobson, S., and Grossman, G. (2001), Repetition of the remembered
past: Patterns of separation-individuation in two generations of mothers and daughters, Psy-
choanalytic Psychology, 18, 705–728.
Chase, S. E., and Rogers, M. F. (2001), Mothers & Children: Feminist Analyses and Personal
Narratives, Rutgers University Press, New Brunswick, NJ.
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Early Adult Life, Brunner/Mazel, New York.
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Publications, Thousand Oaks, CA.
Chodorow, N. J. (1989), Feminism and Psychoanalytic Theory, Yale U. Press, New Haven.
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Chodorow, N. J. (1994), Femininities, Masculinities, Sexualities, Freud and Beyond, U. Press of
Kentucky, Lexington, KY.
MOTHER–DAUGHTER RELATIONSHIPS 113

Christiansen, E. T. (1999), Doctor Lois: Woman Surgeon of China, A Biography, Alpenrose


Press, Silverthorne, CO.
Cox, S. (ed.) (1981), Female Psychology: The Emerging Self, 2nd edition, St. Martin’s Press,
New York.
Debod, E., Wilson, M., and Malave, I. (1993), Mother Daughter Revolution: From Betrayal to
Power, Addison-Wesley, Reading, MA.
Deutsch, H. (1925), The psychology of woman in relation to the function of reproduction, pp.
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(1932), On female homosexuality pp. 208–230, in Fleiss R., (ed.) (1969), The Psychoanalytic
Reader: An Anthology of Essential Papers with Critical Introductions, International Univer-
sities Press, New York.
Deutsch, H. (1933), Motherhood and sexuality, Psychoanalytic Quarterly, 2, 476–488.
Deutsch, H. (1944, 1945), The Psychology of Women, Volume I-Girlhood; Volume II-Mother-
hood, Bantam Book/Grune & Stratton, New York.
Dinnerstein, D. (1976), The Mermaid and The Minotaur: Sexual Arrangements and Human
Malaise, Harper & Row, New York.
Eckhardt, M. H. (1998), The changing challenges in the lives of three generations of professional
women, The American Journal of Psychoanalysis, 58, 31–359.
Erikson, E. (1950/1963), Childhood and Society, W.W. Norton, New York.
Fairbairn, W. R. D. (1952), An Object Relations Theory of the Personality, Basic Books, New
York.
Fenchel, O. H., (ed.) (1998), The Mother–Daughter Relationship: Echoes Through Time, Jason
Aronson, Northvale, NJ.
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Diane K. Shrier, M.D.


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