Opening the Door to the Mother-Daughter Relationship

by Reyna Eisenstark

The first time my older daughter, at around age 12, slammed her bedroom door during a fight about something I can no longer recall, I found myself actually smiling. I was astonished, but also amused in a way. It was happening. Just like clockwork.

As time went on, I no longer found slammed doors and other expressions of teenage fury particularly funny. In fact, when my younger daughter reached the same age three years later and rolled her eyes at me in disgust, I actually burst into tears. It was happening again.

But there was something else, something that I hadn’t been expecting. These very same teens, in the midst of their stress and frustration and slammed doors, eventually found their way to my bedroom door, wanting to come in and talk. This was a bit of a revelation to me. 

Kripalu presenter Cindy L. Parrish, writer, filmmaker, and educator, says that mothers are often taught that, during adolescence, their daughters don’t want to have anything to do with them anymore. But she and her co-presenters Meg Agnew and SuEllen Hamkins believe just the opposite: “Daughters want closeness with their mothers. They want to be able to explore what’s out in the wider world, but they want to be able to come back to the ‘mothership.’”

Cindy points out that, if we see life as a series of journeys, the first important one is the journey of adolescence—in the case of girls, the journey of girlhood into womanhood. Throughout history, numerous cultures have had rites of passage to help girls on this journey, but these are almost entirely absent in most Western cultures today. However, if groups of mothers and daughters regularly get together, Cindy believes, female mentors will emerge for the daughters, and mothers and daughters will find greater connection.

As girls approach adolescence, the tendency is to push against what they assumed was just an extension of themselves, namely, their mothers. In fact, as girls begin to look to their friends and to the wider world for who or what they should be, they get lots of mixed messages, which can be troubling and even dangerous. Cindy wants mothers to understand that it is normal for mothers and daughters to foster closeness even through adolescence; her message to mothers is “Prepare not to be hated!” She believes that there is value in the time we spend away from each other and in the time we spend together. Cindy sees this repeated going away and coming back as “a kind of dance that’s quite beautiful”—and one we will be doing our whole lives. In her programs, this is expressed as an actual dance that mothers and daughters take part in.

Kripalu presenter Sil Reynolds, who writes and teaches with her daughter, Eliza Reynolds, also believes that mothers should question the cultural narrative that most of us take to heart: that our daughters’ teen years will be difficult, and we should just expect it. She is frustrated that so many of us are told, the moment we have daughters: “Just wait till she’s a teenager.” Sil teaches that actually “you can get closer to your daughter during the preteen and teen years; the bond can actually get stronger.

Sil counsels mothers to avoid taking it personally when daughters create separation in adolescence. She refers to the “rupture and repair cycle”—there’s a fight, a door gets slammed, you take it personally. But you go can back later and say, “I really took that personally, but I want to talk about what happened.” In every relationship, there will be ruptures. Yet, if you teach your daughters the repair part, too, the ruptures will heal, and the bond will strengthen.  

Sarahjoy Marsh, yoga teacher and author, believes that shared physical activities can also help renew a mother/daughter relationship—including yoga, which she describes as a “nonverbal rhythmic body-centered experience.” Life starts with rhythm and reciprocity, she says, but we can get out of rhythm when we become teenagers, especially when our rhythm and our mother’s rhythm become different. Yoga is a way to find a rhythm together and to become more aligned, in every sense of the word.

“Yoga has the capacity to bring us back to that fundamental state of love and belonging,” she says. “It’s a way to bring us back home. We crave that because it’s part of our species. We must feel a sense of belonging in order to keep going.” When mothers and daughters practice together, they can see “the body intelligence in each other,” she says.

Erin Maile O’Keefe, co-creator of CircusYoga®, also believes that parents and children can find connection through physical activity. Her programs with her husband, Kevin O’Keefe, combine circus arts and yoga—an exuberant activity and a much more internal practice—to create balance (both metaphorically and physically). She explains that, in CircusYoga classes for parents and children, the parents don’t help the kids, and the kids don’t entertain the parents. Instead, they get to really watch each other, outside of their usual roles. Children are delighted to see their parents acting like children, and adults are “given an opportunity to deeply play and be spontaneous, to try on things that are wildly far from their roles in life,” Erin says. Often, parents learn a profound lesson—that there are ways to parent that are fun, creative, and foster connection.

About 20 years ago, Erin and Kevin invented an activity they call “push sticks,” a simple but powerful game about communication. Parent and child face each other with a dowel between their index fingers. Each person pushes the end of the dowel to find just the right balance; if one person pushes hard, the other pushes a little less hard.

“You are talking and listening with your fingers,” Erin explains. “You’re meeting each other, and it’s a give and take. You start to get risky. You both lean in with your curiosity and find a way through.” That sounds a lot like my own experience as a mother who’s still figuring things out.

Find out about mother-daughter programs at Kripalu.

Reyna Eisenstark is a freelance writer living in Chatham, New York. You can read her blog, inspired by stories from her life,

© Kripalu Center for Yoga & Health. All rights reserved. To request permission to reprint, please email