Four Ways to Improve Your Mother/Daughter Relationships

Claire Fontaine, best-selling author and certified relationship and life coach, shares simple steps to improve your mother/daughter relationships:

4 Ways to Improve Your Mother-Daughter Relationships - Claire Fontaine

As women, the most significant relationship we’ll ever have is our mother/daughter relationship. It’s our first and most powerful template for human connection, and it tends to be a lifelong mirror for all of our relationships – issues or patterns we have with our mom and/or daughter almost always show up in other relationships, including the one we have with ourselves. And yet we often take it for granted more than any other. As someone who, for a year, had a completely broken relationship with my daughter, and for several years with my own mother, I can tell you that few things will haunt or hurt you as much.

How is it that we’ll intentionally commit hours each week to sculpting our bodies, taming our monkey minds, or strategizing our careers, yet spend little or no time consciously enhancing our mother/daughter relationship? How can we better honor and strengthen this most primal and powerful bond?

Have Mother Will Travel - Claire and Mia FontaineThree years ago, my daughter, Mia, and I took a journey around the world to explore this relationship and see what could be learned from other cultures. One of our most lasting lessons was that it’s never too early or too late to create a deeper, more joyful bond.

What we learned about ourselves, each other, and the world changed our lives forever, so much so that it became the subject of our latest memoir, Have Mother, Will Travel.

Given our ability to impact each other’s lives, for better and worse, why not make it an intentional relationship? Why coast, settle, or kvetch, when you can create amazing? Even if your relationship is strained, or broken. Trust me – our first tandem memoir had the tagline: A Mother and Daughter’s Journey Through Hell and Back. If we could transform our completely shattered relationship into an amazing one, anyone can. And with Mother’s Day around the corner, it’s a perfect time to begin! Here are a few suggestions to get started…

Get clear on exactly what you want, and/or want more of. More fun? More one-on-one time? Recognize that complaints are requests in disguise, so shift your thinking and avoid the sabotaging energy of what you don’t like or want. This is about moving forward, so it’s not “you never listen to me,” it’s “I would love to feel really heard.” Then talk about what feeling heard would look and sound like for you. Don’t assume that she knows, or assume that you know what she wants.

Commit to doing something new or out of the ordinary together. Go someplace new, do something neither of you have done, (Groupon and are great resources!) Go bowling, kayaking, take a craft class together. It allows you to see each other anew, as two women, beyond your roles as mom and daughter. Take time to notice this interesting woman beside you, what excites her, puzzles her, what new things are seeing in her, does she see in herself?

Commit to listening, and speaking, differently. This is so critical that I put on my relationship coach hat and added it to the new PS section of the paperback, with concrete steps to achieving it. One of the most important elements is to listen neutrally, with no agenda other than to understand and tune in to the other’s experience. Repeating back what’s said is a good way to make your mom or daughter feel heard, and make clear you heard exactly what she said rather than your interpretation of it. And Moms, before going on autopilot, ask first if your daughter wants you to listen and give your opinion or to just listen? And then do it, (at first I had to literally sit on my hands while on the phone with Mia to remind myself to, umm, shut up while she vented!)

Create a list of your shared values. Values are the guiding principles of any relationship, the rudder when things get unpleasant or stuck. Talk about what matters most in your relationship, create an actual list. For Mia and I, it’s respect, love, adventure, honesty, communication, and laughter (we’re big on fun!) Most important to us, however, is vulnerability, being emotionally accessible. The only way to create deep connection, as well authenticity, with her and with yourself, is to be completely honest about who you really are, how you really feel and what you really want. Which ain’t always easy, or pretty, but it is always transformative. It wasn’t until I was willing to truly open my heart to Mia, even the messy shameful stuff, that we finally wove together the threads, some new, some long ago unraveled, that created the amazing tapestry of the relationship we have now. (More on vulnerability in another post!)

claire-mia-fontaineClaire Fontaine is a certified relationship and life coach. With her daughter Mia, she co-authored ComeBack: A Mother and Daughter’s Journey Through Hell and Back, HarperCollins, a national bestseller and Target Book Club Pick. Their newest memoir, Have Mother, Will Travel: A Mother and Daughter Discover Each Other, Themselves and The World, Wm Morrow, is out in paperback this month. Claire is currently at work on a novel, and gives workshops and individual coaching on relationship skills and self-transformation. Visit for more information, or connect with her on Facebook.


  1. says

    Great information when I am finished with my bible study I am going to look into the author more. I wish I had the magic wand when it comes to being the best mother ever. Or the best daughter ever. Maybe a good mothers day present :).

  2. Lorine says


    Wonderful story and happy ending-GREAT! However, what about parents who can’t afford to take their child around the World to find peace and harmony in our Mother/Daughter rekindling?

  3. says

    Hi Lorine – That’s a great question. Most of us can’t afford that (we certainly can’t at the moment!) However, it’s not about how far you travel, or even that you travel. It’s about creating growth and new possibilities in your relationship by experiencing something new together, seeing each apart from your roles as mom and daughter. Travel is just one way to do that. You can learn a new skill together (knitting, belly dancing, roller skating, watercolor), explore a new part of town together, start a novel project. Different things emerge from within us when we’re challenged, under pressure, surprised, being creative, intrigued, things not usually on view, often things we ourselves didn’t know we had within us, much less knew our mom or daughter did. It’s an amazing thing to witness in each other, allowing you to bond in new and different ways. It’s often a great way to mend a strained relationship – there’s no history in involved, you’re too busy to talk (or argue) about anything other than just what’s before you, you’re engaged and having fun together. Fun is highly underrated as a relationship-builder, yet it’s one of the best ways to create strong bonds. I hope this is helpful, Lorine! Claire

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