Relationships are never easy, and relationships between mothers and daughters are no exception to that rule. There's actually a whole field of research dedicated to the effects mothers have on their daughters, and in turn, how a daughter's behavior and growth effects her mother — but beyond the research, mothers and daughters are also known for having a certain innate connection and bond. This reputation can be both gender-based and societal — which also means that there are a lot of mother-daughter tropes our culture likes to perpetuate, not all of which are helpful. In fact, many of them are actively unhelpful.
If relationships between mothers and daughters are so complex, though, why are there so many stereotypes and tropes surrounding them? Personally, I think women are often stereotyped in general because we lack well-rounded representation in the media, and throughout history, have lacked equal rights and opportunities. I also think people like sticking labels and stereotypes on things which are potentially big, complicated issues because it makes it seem simpler to digest and — even if it prevents us from understanding them as fully as we might otherwise.
Here are are five tropes about the relationship between mothers and daughters to stop perpetuating. Because we're more than just tired old stereotypes.
1. The Unsung Hero Martyr Mom
This one is a family dynamic trope we see far too often. Basically, it hinges on the idea that mothers are natural martyrs: They give selflessly to their children and get nothing in return, only to then guilt their offspring about their devotion to them. This can certainly happen between mothers and sons as well, but I think it's often stereotyped as something which happens between mothers and daughters.
For example, a mother tirelessly dotes on her brooding teenage daughter, only for the daughter to lack appreciation for her mother's efforts. Then, the mother becomes passive aggressive and lashes out — behavior which the daughter then learns and perpetuates in turn. This trope is dangerous and frustrating because it sends a message that women are naturally co-dependent on and rely on others for self-esteem and confidence. It also sends a message that young women are unappreciative and take others for granted.
2. The Mom Who Wishes She Was Still A Teenager
When people stereotype mothers as wanting to relive their "glory days" as teenagers, it enforces the idea that women are immature and vapid. It also relies on the notion that women aren't accomplishing things as adults — that women can't hold successful careers, complete higher education, or give back to their communities in ways that nourish and enrich them in adulthood. This trope also sends the message that mothers can be your friend, but can't actually be a role model or disciplinarian because they still have the mentality of teenagers themselves.
3. The Evil Step Mother
We all know this trope from everything books to movies and TV shows, but it's actually quite damaging. The association of step parents as "evil" is one deeply rooted in our society, dating back to folklore and fairy tales. In children's movies — often adaptation of those same folk and fairy tales — step mothers are frequently depicted as ugly, old, or mean-spirited. The "evil" step mother idea also contributes to the notion that step parents can never assimilate into families or offer the same love and compassion as a birth parent. This perspective is actually really isolating for people who come from non-traditional families, as it sends a message that something is innately wrong with them and their family structure.
4. The Best Friend Mom
Now, there's nothing wrong with having a good relationship with your parents. Plenty of women have great relationships with their mothers and that bond can be really important and beneficial. However, the "best friend mom" trope sends a message that there's only one right way to have a good bond with your mother. Not everyone enjoys daily coffee chats or weekly movie nights with their mothers, but that doesn't mean they have a sour relationship. Also, not everyone confides in their mothers like they would with a best friend. If you want to get relationship, dating, or sex advice from your mother, that's A-OK, of course — but some people draw a line and keep that discussion to just their friends. The best friend mom stereotype puts pressure on people to share everything with their mothers — and on the mothers to share everything with their kids — and that's simply not everyone's cup of tea.
5. The Overly Emotional Mom
You know that stereotype about a mother who cries about literally everything? Every accomplishment, every game, every aced midterm exam? Or, on the flip side, the mother who feels all of their kids' failures so deeply, she also ends up in tears and anger over the injustice of it all? That's the overly emotional mom stereotype. It often involves a teenager daughter who is pointedly disinterested in whatever her mom is worked up over, essentially making her mom out to be a helicopter parent and reflecting the daughter as someone who is too moody and emotionally unavailable to appreciate her mom. This paints women in bad lights in both directions: If women are too emotional, we're branded as irrational or ridiculous, and if women aren't emotional enough, we're labeled as distant or unloving.
If you find yourself relying on these stereotypes to make sense of your relationship with your own mother, or to judge how a mother-daughter duo you're close to is interacting, you're not a bad person. It's easy to fall into stereotyping behavior. In my opinion, the best thing to do is remind yourself that all humans are unique individuals who deserve their own identities and attention. If you find yourself relying on, or perpetuating, a trope, take a breather to think about why you're seeking out a simpler answer, then dig back in and try to understand the relationship from a more nuanced, well-rounded perspective.