Northern Beaches Mums Group
Northern Beaches Mums Group

Letting Go of Mother’s Approval

Seeking approval from others is exhausting. The never-ending cycle of keeping people happy, keeping up your approval rating, sacrificing your own happiness at the expense of pleasing others. It’s like a hamster on a wheel, running round and round, not able to stop.

Approval-seeking in our family relationships often spills over into friendships, work colleagues and others. There is an unmet need such as wanting to be liked, to feel needed, avoiding conflict, the need to keep someone in our life at the expense of our self-worth. 

If you’re trying to get others’ approval, you lose your sense of self and create another version of yourself in order to be acceptable to others. This is the lost woman. The lost child. Losing yourself by embracing other people’s opinions and thoughts in order to be accepted, to be approved.

Approval-seeking and its sister, Harmony, have their origins in childhood. If mum was sad or angry, a young girl wanted to please mummy and would ‘shrink down’, make herself small, be mummy’s helper, a cheery clown so mummy would be happy, not sad. 

As a child you wanted to be seen by your mother, to be noticed, not be invisible, not feel dismissed. Seeking mother’s approval, though, came at a cost. Mother may have depended on you to be her confidante, the keeper of her secrets. She possibly depended on you to be her nurturer as she lacked strong support in her own relationships. 

Perhaps you’re finding it stressful being compliant, an obedient daughter, a comforter or protector towards your mother, keeping her happy yet feeling resentful of this burden. Maybe you feel a sense of obligation towards your mum.

There are a number of crucial life points that can create conflict between a mother and her adult daughter when she chooses to tread her own path. These key phrases are when a daughter moves away; when she gets married; gives birth; parenting. 

Parenthood is often a challenging time between mothers and daughters. Each is from different generations, have grown up in different families, in different places, with different experiences. Differing expectations create resentment between mothers and daughters, a silence, a void in the relationship.

We want our mothers to be a consistent, loving presence in our lives, someone who has ‘our back’, someone we can feel safe with, not criticised for asserting thoughts and feelings that differ from mother and the family norm.

As a daughter matures, her growing awareness of being her mother’s caretaker means she realises she cannot continue to be her mother’s helper and sounding board and does not want to repeat history. If we were mothered by a mum who was anxious, insecure and needed validation, then these patterns can be repeated with her own children, particularly with her daughter. 

Let me say to you – it’s not easy being in this relationship when your boundaries are crossed time and again and you feel dismissed and devalued. It is draining, it is anxiety-inducing. Many women don’t want to exclude their mum as they feel compassion for her, and the life she has lived. Yet the emotional toll it creates on a daughter’s life can be immense.

Here are some ideas to navigate your relationship with your mother:

  • Be clear on what your values are. Being clear on your values will help you know what your boundaries are and where to draw the line with other people including your mother.
  • Research your mother’s background and the environment she grew up in. Ask your mum, ask your aunts, what it was like growing up in their family, in that era. Was it tough home life, a volatile country or extraordinary life events that she experienced? These events impacted her and created the woman she is now. She may view the world through her own anxiety. Become aware of her expectations. Recognise her fear, not her disapproval or evaluation.
  • If you’ve decided not to seek your mother’s approval, it can be challenging. Give yourself permission to be kind to You. Take small steps but you will get there with practice because this is a conditioned behaviour. 
  • Are you doing too much for your mother, enabling her behaviour? What would happen if you slowly cut the cord that still deeply connects you? This may allow you both to grow.
  • Be firm in your resolve to draw the line in the sand with your boundaries. If your mum crosses the line, a reminder to her may help. 
  • This can be a scary time for you as you navigate this new stage of your relationship. Observe your feelings as they arise. Be mindful of bodily sensations. Be aware of your thoughts at the time without being carried away with them.
  • When you feel frustration towards your mum and are tense in your body, be conscious to slow your breathing. If you can, go for a walk. When your mother realises that you won’t ‘buy’ into disagreements, these will lessen.
  • You may have to accept that your mother may never fully approve of your choices. You can’t force another to like you or accept you. Tread your own path.
  • Ask yourself: “Why does my mother’s opinion matter to me?”  Then ask yourself the following question: “What am I hoping to gain from her approval?”

As you gain confidence, you will have less resentment. You will feel less stress and more energy.

Janice Williams is a qualified Counsellor and a Certified Mother-Daughter Coach who is known for helping women in mother-daughter relationships. She sees women individually or as a mother-daughter duo. To find out more about Mother-Daughter Coaching and how Janice can support you, check her out here: