Parentified Daughters as Adults: Mother Yourself
One of the many manifestations of the Mother Wound is the pattern of the “parentified daughter.” In this pattern, the daughter plays the role of parent to her parents, particularly as a mother to her mother. Parentified daughters experience deep wounds of abandonment, continuously seek safety through control, and struggle to stop resolving the tension around them. Learn how parentified daughters as adults find the way to freedom, true leadership, and authenticity through the process of inner mothering.
What Is a Parentified Daughter?
A simple definition of a parentified daughter is when a daughter plays the role of mother for her own mother; the roles are reversed.
Impact on Parentified Daughters as Adults
Often a parentified daughter must grow up very fast and loses the chance to be a child, as she is expected to manage the emotional and/or physical needs of her mother and/or father. This kind of dynamic sets up the daughter for low-self-esteem, poor boundaries, a deep sense of shame and co-dependent relationships. Often these daughters grow up to be high-achievers and/or emotional care-takers (among other patterns). Major challenges for these women can be self-care, self-compassion and self-love.
Patriarchal values that support the parentification of female children have been in place for centuries; the belief that female children are particularly adept as care-takers, emotional laborers and the dumping ground for disowned family wounds and secrets.
Especially in generations of old, mothers and fathers alike felt a certain entitlement to the daughters; having them play out their own attachment wounds and feed upon their empathy, vulnerability and powerlessness. (Many of these patterns are also true for male children.) Often these women talk about wanting to become “real”, as they were regularly made to feel like dolls or that they had to wear a mask of cheerfulness, politeness and gratefulness amidst abusive and dysfunctional family scenarios.
The Struggle to Feel Safe
One of the main challenges parentified daughters can have is the sense that struggle, hypervigilance and striving are necessary to feel safe. This is often due to early trauma related to abandonment and/or invasion. The pattern of hypervigilance can be ingrained very early if the mother’s behavior was erratic and unpredictable, causing the child to be on constant alert. Until the early trauma is addressed, this hypervigilance and fear is a constant backdrop to adult life and can get projected onto various other areas of life as a way to unconsciously manage it. For example, trauma-related fears can get misplaced onto relationships in the form of co-dependency; or onto careers in the form of money fears, overwhelm and burnout/depletion.
The misplaced trauma-related fears can make it seem like the problem lies in these surface, present-day areas, when in fact, they are really related to the attachment wounds of early life.
Once these attachment wounds are sufficiently addressed and worked through, the present-day, surface problems begin to lighten and dissolve with time.
The fear of this aloneness often lives at the heart of many entrenched fears:
- Fear of being successful
- Fear of speaking our truth
- Fear of receiving
- Fear of being visible
This can manifest in a feeling of “I just need to find the right partner”, Or “I just need to make x amount of money.” The panic and anxiety related to these areas usually is much more intense than the situation calls for, indicating that the panic of attachment wounds are stimulated. It can manifest like, “I can relax once I buy that house, finish my PhD, have another child, leave my current marriage,” etc.
In this way, the wounded infant child at our core is looking for mother, looking for that “north star” of safety so that it can relax, and feel ease. For parentified daughters who could not feel supported or safe in the emotional environment of their parental home, struggle was mother. In that gaping void where mother should have been, struggle and striving were the only ways that the child could get traction and a sense of control over her environment.
The Impossible Dream of the ‘Good Mother’ Returning
At the heart of many parentified daughters is a narrative, that one day your “real” mother will come for you and everything will be OK. Or, it can be something like, “One day when my mother is healed, she will finally be able to be a mother to me” or, “One day when I am good enough, mother will be here for me.” This is the dream forged in the heart of the parentified child, that her hard work will pay off one day and her mother will finally “come for her” and she will then be able to rest and finally be a child. The amount of energy and effort expended unconsciously is vast and we usually don’t realize this until afterwards, when we can feel the energy returned to us as it is released from the wound.
The Key to Freedom: Giving up the “Impossible Dream”
The impossible dream is a survival mechanism that helps the child survive an emotionally abusive and barren maternal landscape. In this way it is brilliant and effective, yet this adaptation is a major barrier to our fulfillment as adult women. Until we address this unconscious, powerful dream at the heart of present struggles, we will continue to exhaust ourselves with hypervigilance and projections onto various areas of our lives. Freedom dawns when we can come directly into the center and address the primary scarcity at the core, the primitive, unmet ‘need for mother’ from our earliest days.
Our inner child must take in that “Mommy is not coming…”
Once we have the courage and sufficient tools and support to face this early Mother Wound, we can feel safe enough to allow ourselves to fully feel the pain and grief that was unsafe for us to feel as children: the profound and primordial grief from early moments of abandonment by our mothers.
Surrounded by safe, loving and professional support, a woman healing this early wound must allow her infant self to take in three things in conjunction:
- Mommy is not coming.
- I am loved.
- I am safe.
Through this process, we can eventually put down the existential exhaustion that emanates from that constant waiting and longing for mother. We can finally STOP the struggle and striving that has been driving us from our earliest days, which has been projected and transferred to countless people and situations. We can finally rest in our core and put down the impossible dream. Here is where we claim our lifeforce from the Mother Wound. Giving up the impossible dream is what makes it possible to truly create the life of your dreams, rather than grasping at things in reaction to the Mother Wound.
How to Create Your Own Inner Safety
As we heal the Mother Wound, we must create the inner safety to face two kinds of aloneness:
- The original traumatic aloneness of our childhoods
- The aloneness that may come up as we evolve and diverge from any dysfunctional norms of our families and culture. (And getting support to face any resulting backlash that may happen from family members (including mother)
The Aloneness of Childhood
The first kind of aloneness is the original traumatic aloneness of our childhoods. Facing this loneliness is essential to getting access to our core, authentic self and cultivate bond of inner safety with the inner child. This inner safety is what allows us to feel unstoppable and deeply grounded in our own truth and power.
The Aloneness of Breaking Away
This second kind of aloneness is necessary for us to face as leaders, to be able to be bold, to be visible and to bring forth new ideas and solutions that are unprecedented.
As we heal the original traumatic aloneness of our early childhoods, we gain greater and greater access to our core, authentic, divine self; that divine intelligence that which wants to express itself through us. When we rise it may trigger those around us, mirroring back to them their own unlived dreams or disowned longings. Things that were never our responsibility, but in their pain, they may lash out and try to assert that it is your responsibility. Not taking this backlash personally is critical to continuing to move forward in our lives, which IS our responsibility.
We Mother Ourselves into Mastery
I’ve found that the women who are attracted to this work of healing the Mother Wound are often women who have done an enormous amount of work on themselves and are bright, accomplished and advanced on many levels. All the prior work done before they get to this work is often preparation for approaching that sacred inner space of claiming the inner infant and being ready to really claim her as your own, her innocence, purity and wisdom. This step is when your inner infant can more fully realize her goodness, deservingness and freedom through your consistent attention and love.
YOU are the (inner) mother you have been waiting for…
At a recent workshop I led, one of the participants discovered the inner narrative, “My mother couldn’t be my real mother, because my real mother wouldn’t abuse me. I believed one day my real mother would come for me.” This woman’s big “a-ha” moment was realizing that SHE, as her adult self, IS the mother that her inner child has been waiting for! After a guided meditation, she reported a huge degree of relief and exhilaration in feeling her inner child really take it in that the waiting is over, that even though her actual mother wasn’t capable of meeting her needs, her adult self IS willing and capable of giving her all the love and nurturing that she needs. The joy exuding from her was palpable and profound.
As we effectively mother ourselves, we can more effectively mother the world
As we embody the inner mother, claim our inner infant and care for her, we can then increasingly be more effective mothers to the world, bringing forward the new ideas and solutions that the world is needing. With each tiny step on the journey, we become more capable of embodying the radically healing, revolutionary powers of the Divine Feminine in a very real way.
Art credits: “Night Unlocked” by Lucy Campbell