Now, let's take a look at what shapes the mother-daughter bond age by age:
The Preschool Years (3-6) These are the years when your daughter is learning what it means to be a girl, and noticing the differences between the sexes. At this stage, it's important for you to feel good about being female, and to find a way to convey these good feelings to your daughter. When you enjoy your 3-6 year old's wish to dress up in your high heels, or pretend to carry your attache case to her make-believe office, you're helping her to develop a healthy female identity. Imaginative play enables your pre-schooler rehearse for real-life roles that she may assume later in life. You can increase your bond with your daughter now by exploring and encouraging her inner world.
The Schoolage Years (6-9) In these years, your daughter will be asked to use her mind to think, create, produce and perform. Too many expectations, too soon, can stifle her growth, and make her anxious and insecure while age-appropriate expectations based on a realistic appraisal of her strengths and weaknesses can make her feel that her mom is her greatest booster! But don't forget that it's important at this phase to let your daughter know that you love her for who she is, not for what she achieves.
The Pre-Teen Years (9-12) In these years, friendships are forged and broken week-to-week, and your daughter's wishes for acceptance can leave her feeling anxious and vulnerable. (There may be some really mean girls out there!) Talking about your own childhood experiences with friends and foes, as well as your triumphs and disappointments when you were her age, can help your daughter gain perspective on the ups and downs of life with her peers. By offering her understanding and empathy, you intensify her bond with you.
The Teenage Years (13+) The teen years are a time of both physical and emotional upheaval for your daughter. Between the changes of puberty, peer pressures, the perils of emerging sexuality, and exposure to drugs and alcohol, your daughter needs all the support she can get from you! Even though she may cry on your shoulder one day and only to put you down or push you away the next, hang in! But remember she needs a mom, not a pal. The whole point of adolescence is to separate the generations, not join them together. Moms who try to be teenagers just don't get it! Teens need their parents to caution and protect them and set limits for them. This is the time to use what I call the "4 C's" - compassion, communication, comprehension and competence, to shape your relationship to your teenage daughter. Don't forget that she's still that same little girl trying on your shoes, and she is worried about whether she can fill them!
Good Luck and Happy Mother's Day!
Dr. Siegler is the director of the Institute for Child, Adolescent and Family Studies in New York City, and the author of two award-winning books for parents, "What Should I Tell the Kids? A Parent's Guide to Real Problems in the Real World," and "The Essential Guide to the New Adolescence: How to Raise an Emotionally Healthy Teenager." She is married and the mother of two children.
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