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Mutuality in mother-daughter relationships

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Research on women's psychological development emphasizes the importance of the mother-daughter dyad. Mutuality is a key concept in discussions of this relationship and the development of young women's self-esteem (Survey, 1987; Rich, 1990). An ex post facto exploratory study using a sample of 239 college-age women examined mutuality in the mother-daughter relationship and its effect on the self-esteem and social adjustment of the adolescent daughter. This article presents some of the findings gathered in this study and their implications for social work practice with women and their families.


Newer theories of women's development emphasize connections with others as the foundation for healthy development and propose that men and women may develop along different psychological paths. Chodorow (1989) viewed the mother-daughter relationship as the foundation for female development. According to her, the infant's early relationship with the caretaker, who in American culture is usually a woman, is initially important. Chodorow states that the girl does not separate from her mother, as more traditional theories have assumed, but remains attached and "through relation to the mother, women develop a self-in-relation" (p. 15). A sense of sameness exists between a mother and daughter, which distinguishes the mother-daughter relationship from the mother-son relationship. This sense of sameness between mother and daughter also contributes to the development of a mutually satisfying relationship for both women.

Other researchers on the psychological development of women support the "self-in-relation" theory, which refers to women's sense of self as it develops in relationship with others. This theory suggests that for women the "primary experience of self is relational" (Surrey, 1987, p. 52); that is, the self develops through connection with others, beginning with the relationship each woman has with her mother. The mother-daughter relationship serves as a model for the "foundation of the core self structure" as well...