Maternal constellation re-visited in the wake of parenting

Eileen T Suhrhoff (1997)

The central aim of this study was to explore aspects of mid-life women's subjective experience of mothering adolescent daughters. The major hypothesis explored whether mother's perception of the quality of her relationship with her daughter, maternal competence and satisfaction were related to her attachment history, and to her internalized representations of self and her mother. Sixty-four mid-life women whose oldest daughters were between the ages of 15-18 completed 8 questionnaires including written narratives of self, mother, and daughter which served as measures of coherence. The main data analyses were univariate analyses of variance, multiple regression analyses, and T-test procedures. In response to the study's question of whether coherence mediates for childhood attachment experience or is protective of quality of relationships with daughters the findings are complex. Confidence in relationships was strongly predicted by perceived maternal acceptance as children and supported by maternal coherence and mutual communication. Although confidence related to maternal and life satisfaction as well as maternal competence in expressing love and communicating, neither confidence or coherence predicted quality of relationships with daughters. Surprisingly, women who were preoccupied with relationships and perceived rejection by mothers as children were high on self coherence as well as avoidance and withdrawal in relationship. A group of women who perceived maternal rejection as children yet had developed the capacity to view and describe themselves and others with a good deal of complexity, integration, and coherence emerged from the study, suggesting that acknowledgment of or working through painful experience encourages introspection and enhances development of coherence in mid-life. When compared to confident women who had felt accepted by their mothers as children, these rejected yet coherent women were no less capable in communicating or dealing with conflict with their daughters although they were less satisfied with their lives. Maternal competence was most strongly predicted by the capacity to communicate constructively, even through conflict, and was influenced by social desirability, comfort in parenting a teen and maternal satisfaction. Similarly, quality of relationship with daughters was strongly related to mothers' feelings of competence suggesting an interactive and reinforcing effect between felt efficacy and quality of relationship. Findings strongly indicate that withholding communication or mutually avoiding problems in relationships bears poorly for maternal satisfaction, feelings of efficacy, and quality of relationship between mothers and daughters. Anecdotal data suggested that moderate conflict between mothers and daughters appears to modulate processes of intimacy and differentiation during adolescence. These mid-life women valued their roles as mothers and acknowledged a parallel process of self definition with their daughters, the influence of their daughters on their development, the intensification of the maternal constellation during adolescence, and their struggles with modulating the degree of self disclosure with their daughters. Additional findings, clinical and research implications were discussed.