Constructing Motherhood and Daughterhood Across the Lifespan

by Allison M. Alford (Volume editor) Michelle Miller-Day (Volume editor)
©2019 Textbook XVIII, 374 Pages
Series: Lifespan Communication, Volume 14


Constructing Motherhood and Daughterhood Across the Lifespan explores the complex dynamics between mother and daughter over the lifespan. The editors believe that these vital family roles are socially and communicatively constructed, shaped, and molded as mothers and daughters navigate, respond to, and negotiate cultural and familial discourses. Aimed at undergraduate students, this timely book includes course activities and discussion questions in every chapter and a complete term syllabus to enhance a professor’s teaching, providing a smooth route for adoption as a course text. The book also builds on and contributes to the critical and theoretical research in family communication, media studies, and gender studies, delving into the nuanced communication surrounding motherhood and daughterhood in the United States.

Table Of Contents

  • Cover
  • Title
  • Copyright
  • About the author(s)/editor(s)
  • About the book
  • Advance Praise for Constructing Motherhood and Daughterhood Across the Lifespan
  • This eBook can be cited
  • Table of Contents
  • Tables and Figure
  • Preface from the Series Editor (Thomas J. Socha)
  • Acknowledgments
  • Part One: The Social Construction of Motherhood and Daughterhood
  • Chapter One: Introduction (Allison M. Alford / Michelle Miller-Day)
  • Chapter Two: Daughtering and Daughterhood: Adult Daughters in Communication with Their Mothers (Allison M. Alford)
  • Chapter Three: Mothering and Motherhood: Socially Constructing the Role of Mothers (Allison M. Alford)
  • Chapter Four: Reel Mothers and Daughters (Michelle Miller-Day / Riva Tukachinsky / Sydney Jacobs)
  • Chapter Five: Memorable Moments: Turning Points in the Mother-Daughter Relationship from Childhood to Mid-Life (Michelle Miller-Day)
  • Part Two: Enacting the Mother-Daughter Relationship Across the Lifespan
  • Chapter Six: Pregnancy and Disability (Denise Lawler)
  • Chapter Seven: Sustaining and Draining? Adoptive Mothers’ Enactment of Rituals in Open Adoption Relationships (Colleen Warner Colaner / Haley Kranstuber Horstman / Maria Butauski)
  • Chapter Eight: Mother-Daughter Communication About Sex and Sexuality Across the Life Course (Wendy K. Watson / Sandra L. Faulkner)
  • Chapter Nine: Mother-Daughter Communication About HPV Vaccination (Suellen Hopfer / Huong Duong / Samantha Garcia)
  • Chapter Ten: “A Different Closeness”: Emerging Adult Daughters’ Depictions of Their Relational Changes with Their Mothers (Megan Meadows / Meredith Marko Harrigan)
  • Chapter Eleven: “We Talk Like Friends”: Openness and Closedness in the Mother/Married Daughter Relationship (Aimee E. Miller-Ott)
  • Chapter Twelve: Connection or Intrusion? Mother-Daughter Communication Through Technology (Aimee E. Miller-Ott / Lynne Kelly)
  • Chapter Thirteen: Storying Love: Retrospective Storytelling Between Mothers and Daughters (Jody Koenig Kellas / Amanda Holman / Elizabeth Flood-Grady)
  • Chapter Fourteen: Busy Squirrels, Well-Oiled Machines, and Warm Bread: Adult Daughters’ Discursive Constructions of Their Full-Time Working Mothers (Meredith Marko Harrigan / Angela M. Hosek / Seungji Yang)
  • Chapter Fifteen: It’s Not that Easy: Challenges of Motherhood (Christine E. Rittenour / Kelly G. Odenweller)
  • Chapter Sixteen: Understanding Mother-Daughter Communication and Health Through a Discourse of “Responsible Womanhood” (Carla L. Fisher / Bianca M. Wolf)
  • Chapter Seventeen: Communicating About Mental Health in the Mother-Daughter Dyad (Leah M. Seurer)
  • Chapter Eighteen: Motherless Daughters and the Communication of Grief and Comfort (Michelle Miller-Day / Danielle Grainger)
  • Chapter Nineteen: Making Difficult Conversations Normal in Later Life: Mother-Daughter Communication, Narrative Inheritance, and Planning for Death (Melissa W. Alemán / Katherine W. Helfrich)
  • Chapter Twenty: Mothers’ and Daughters’ End-of-Life Communication (Maureen P. Keeley / Lauren Lee / Mark A. Generous)
  • Part Three: Moving Forward to Develop Mother-Daughter Communication Courses
  • Chapter Twenty-One: A Mother-Daughter Communication Course Guide (Michelle Miller-Day)
  • Contributors
  • Subject Index
  • Series index

| xi →

Tables AND Figure


Table 5.1. Daughters’ Perceptions of Types of Turning Points in the Mother-Daughter Relationship.

Table 7.1. Ritual Type and Frequency.

Table 7.2. Frequency of Birth Family Member in Ritual.

Table 11.1. Descriptive Statistics for Predictors of Married Daughters’ Openness with Mothers.

Table 21.1. Sample Semester Schedule—15 Weeks.

Table 21.2. Sample Quarter Schedule—10 Weks.


Figure 19.1. Major Characters in the Narratives.

| xiii →

Preface from THE Series Editor


Old Dominion University

In Constructing Motherhood and Daughterhood Across the Lifespan, Allison M. Alford and Michelle Miller-Day elegantly remind us that all communication is developmental and unfolds across the entire human lifespan. As a developmental and lifespan phenomenon, each and every communication transaction builds upon what has come before in order to create what is to come. In the unfolding narratives of mothers and daughters, like all family relationships, the heart and soul of “family” lives, literally, in the stories of our lives. In particular, Alford and Miller-Day’s volume sends a clarion call that in the course of human history mother-daughter narratives are a primary, central, and powerful force in human development. They and their team of accomplished authors have assembled a most excellent overview of the various aspects of this important genre of family discourse. Peter Lang’s Lifespan Communication: Children, Families and Aging series seeks to illuminate significant aspects of human communication development, and certainly mother-daughter communication is among life’s most significant aspects of communication. To understand human development and to empower families, the discourses of all of society’s primary forces is needed. The volume is a must-read for those in family communication, family studies, women’s studies, gender studies, as well as human psychological, sociological, and communicative development. Like all volumes in this series, and indeed all the volumes published by Peter Lang Publishing, this volume showcases world-class scholars sharing cutting-edge scholarly work for the benefit of us all.

| xv →


We would like to acknowledge the carefully cultivated contributions from our many authors and the participants in their research that made this manuscript possible.

Thanks to our respective departments for generously supporting the time and travel allocated to this project.

Thank you to Tom Socha for believing in this work and graciously allowing us to join his growing anthology. We are honored that our work is available alongside the many terrific texts in the Lifespan series which highlight the essential features of communication in families.

Thank you to our reviewers who gave critical feedback that surely made this manuscript better.

And thank you to our partners, whose unconditional support provides the platform from which we take big leaps.

| 1 →

The Social Construction OF Motherhood AND Daughterhood

Clever men create themselves, but clever women are created by their mothers. Women can never quite escape their mothers’ cosmic pull, not their lip-biting expectations or their faulty love. We want to please our mothers, emulate them, disgrace them, outrage them, and bury ourselves in the mysteries and consolations of their presence. When my mother and I are in the same room we work magic on each other … It’s my belief that between mothers and daughters there is a kind of blood-hyphen that is, finally, indissoluble.

—SHIELDS (1987, P. 127)


Shields, C. (1987). Swann. New York, NY: Viking Press.

| 3 →




The social construction of motherhood has been well-documented for years (e.g., Heisler & Ellis, 2008; Ruddick & Daniels, 1977; Tardy, 2000). Media representations of maternal relationships have constructed an array of complex and contradictory messages about mothering girls, promoting archetypes of “best friends” or “sacrificial mothers” while creating social norms and expectations for how women should enact these roles and perform their relationships (Walters, 1992). Tardy (2000) argues that over time, the construction of motherhood in public and private spheres has led women to feel an exorbitant amount of guilt and blame that can ultimately affect their opportunities and choices. The ideology of motherhood is powerful in shaping the lives of women over the lifespan (Cowdery & Knudson-Martin, 2005).

In contrast to motherhood, there is less research on the social construction of daughterhood (Baruch & Barnett, 1983; Hampton, 1997; Korolczuk, 2010). Daughters are often relegated to a passive, backseat role, while mothers are “semantically overburdened” in their role (Walters, 1992, p. 10), or as van Mens-Verhulst ← 3 | 4 → (1995) describes it, our language is missing a verb: “to daughter” (p. 531). What it means to be a mother or daughter is cobbled together “not only through the exigencies of family life, economic survival, and social policies, but through the systems of representation and cultural production that help give shape and meaning to that relationship” (Walters, 1992, p. 10).

As communication scholars, we believe that mother and daughter identities and roles are socially and communicatively constructed over the life course (Braithwaite, Foster, & Bergen, 2017). Relational connection between mothers and daughters is characterized, above all, by communication (Jordan, 1993). Women describe communication as the prime source of establishing their relational identity with their mother or daughter (Mann, 1998) and it is through “mutually responsive communication that mothers and daughters establish patterns of relational communication that link them to one another, shaping each woman’s sense of self” (Miller-Day, 2004, p. 10). Indeed, mothers, daughters, daughters who become mothers, and mothers who become grandmothers are women co-authoring their lives across the life course, co-authoring personal stories within the context of the mother-daughter relationship.

This book will explore what it means to be a mother and daughter across the lifespan in Western society and how both parties navigate, respond to, and negotiate cultural and familial discourses defining motherhood and daughterhood. The book will address the following questions:


The idea for this book was born out of discussions with a group of mother-daughter communication scholars who recognized the need to answer the above questions. In early 2015, on a whim, Allison reached out to the very best mother-daughter communication scholars whose work she admired, and the group agreed to present a panel on mother-daughter communication scholarship at the 2015 National Communication Association conference in Las Vegas, Nevada. That is where Allison and Michelle finally met in person. We both agreed that the best way to promote this important work and to encourage other educators to lead courses on mother-daughter communication would be to create a compilation of the emerging mother-daughter communication scholarship. Our backgrounds, though different, have led us both to pursue this area of study.

I (Allison) was raised by a mother who became a marriage and family therapist during my adolescence. I like to say that I was raised talking about talking. Indeed, my conversations with my mother have always been about more than facts; we discuss the tone of what was said, the intentions of saying it, and the ramifications of the communication. It took well into my adult years to realize that other mothers and daughters don’t dissect their talk in this way. And while my mother and I have an undeniable connection, and in general I tend to focus on the positives, I cannot help but notice that there are days (sometimes months) where we have a B+ relationship at best. That garden won’t tend itself; I must work diligently to keep it growing. As a mother of a son and daughter, my studies on relationships have transformed the way I raise my little people. Learning more about social construction, I quickly realized that I must plant messages before the world does, and I must carefully tend to the ideas that I want to take root. Spurred by my love of talk and fascination with relationships, I returned to graduate school with the goal of learning more about these complexities and the desire to share that knowledge in an accessible way. The result is this book.

I (Michelle) am both a mother and a daughter; I have been a stepmother to a stepdaughter; and I am currently the mother of two biological sons. These multiple roles have colored how I view the world and have influenced my scholarship. I first became interested in studying mother-daughter communication when I wrote a play on the topic. To write the play I interviewed more than 100 women about their mother-daughter relationships and the stories that emerged from those interviews provided insight into broader relational processes, highlighting the centrality of communication in managing, maintaining, and repairing relationships across the lifespan. In 2004, I published a book titled Communication among Grandmothers, Mothers and Adult Daughters: A Qualitative Study of Maternal Relationships (Miller-Day). I soon discovered that people were hungry for this information. While research on mother-daughter relationships existed in the disciplines of ← 5 | 6 → psychology and women’s studies, it was virtually non-existent in the discipline of communication. Since that time, I have continued my scholarly interest in the topic of mother-daughter communication; but, it was not until recently that felt—in a visceral way—the importance of the topic. In 2017 my mother passed away and I am now a motherless daughter. I look at what I have written in the past and what I write in this current volume and I can see clearly how much my communication with my mother over the years has created who I am as a person now.

These backgrounds are part of what shaped and molded us into the mothers, daughters, and researchers we are today. The topic is important to mothers, daughters, and anyone who has a female in their life. We are excited to bring you a book that provides insights for readers into salient topics central to understanding mother-daughter communication across the lifespan.


For ease of reading, you will find that all chapters in the book have been organized similarly. Toward the end of every chapter you will find the heading What does all this mean? Here the authors have synthesized the materials from the chapter into reader-friendly concepts. Following this, you will see a bulleted list labeled What do we still need to know? This section describes future directions that scholars indicate we need to explore. You will also see the bulleted list How does this work in real life? which describes application of the ideas in the chapter to relationships in real life. Each chapter ends with a section recommending ideas for Classroom Activities, suggesting discussion questions, class activities, and projects to reinforce learning from the chapter. The intention of this volume is to make information accessible and allow readers to put results of scientific research into practice in their everyday lives.


This book is organized into three parts. The first part, introduces readers to the concept of social constructionism and the social construction of social roles, reviewing literature on the social construction of motherhood, daughterhood, and cultural constructions through media. The second part is the majority of the book and it addresses a number of topics that scholars are currently studying in the area of mother-daughter communication, from pregnancy and maternal identity to end-of-life communication. Finally, the third part of the book is comprised of a single chapter that is intended to equip a course instructor to design and teach a course focusing on mother-daughter communication. ← 6 | 7 →

Part One: The Social Construction of Motherhood and Daughterhood

Chapter 2 explores the role of adult daughters in relationship with their mothers. Alford looks at social construction as daughter’s work and asks us to think about the value of daughtering to a mother and to society. While motherhood has received the lion’s share of attention in our scholarly literature, she asks us to consider where ideas about daughtering come from and explores the nature of daughterhood, or shared daughtering experience. Of note is a discussion of role performance as labor; for example, the emotional, love, mental, and kinkeeping effort that goes into daughter work.

In Chapter 3 motherhood and mothering are discussed from a social constructionist perspective. Frameworks and definitions are provided for motherhood and mothering, questioning the origins of these concepts. Alford describes how roles are communicatively constructed and points us to consider our views on birth mothers, social mothers, and caregiving mothers. In addition, she calls attention to the concept of mothering as valuable work product (labor) and explores how our valuation of mothers’ work lays a foundation for the labels we use to discuss it. Mothering styles such as tiger mother, bad mom, and free-range parent are explored, along with a discussion of good enough mothering. As you read, consider if daughtering is parallel to mothering? Can we distinguish between the characteristics of each and is it necessary to do so?

In Chapter 4, you will find a discussion of media representations of mothers and daughters from the 1950’s to 2017. Miller-Day, Tukachinsky, and Jacobs explore how media representations help give shape and meaning to the mother-daughter relationship. Media such as television and film provide societal cues for performing the roles of mother and daughter, while also socially constructing ideals. The authors point out that motherhood, daughterhood, mothering, daughtering and their meanings are not fixed nor inevitable. They convince us that seeing a woman outside her role of mother is an important stepping stone in making progress for women who may embrace several identities in their lifetime.

Chapter 5 is the final chapter in this section and it uncovers a variety of relational turning points in the mother-daughter relationship. Miller-Day discusses how memorable events between mothers and daughters over the life course can trigger an increase or decrease of intimacy in the relationship. These memorable moments, or turning points, signal a change in the status quo of the mother-daughter relationship. This chapter takes us through the most common types of relational turning points and provides an in-depth discussion of the role of social support as a turning point. Miller-Day found that both emotional and tangible forms of social support were most likely to serve as a relational turning point for daughters. It is important for both mothers and daughters to remember that social support communication is key to maintaining strong bonds. Daughters feel closer ← 7 | 8 → to their mothers when mothers talk with them, listen to them, and are present for them during hardship. Equally, daughters feel closer to mothers when they can reciprocate and provide emotional and tangible support to their mothers.

Part Two: Enacting the Mother-Daughter Relationship over the Lifespan

In Chapter 6, Lawler describes the intersection of pregnancy and disability. She reveals how women with disabilities have constructed a view of self since childhood, particularly incorporating messages from their mothers. Through their support, women with disabilities may create positive disability identities, which incorporate their disability but do not view it as a hinderance to a good life. Later, when she becomes a mother, a woman’s view of self can enhance her experience of pregnancy. Though there are many hurdles and communication challenges from those who see her as incapable, a woman with a disability can advocate for herself to be seen as independent and capable, rather than being seen as secondary to her disability. Lawler calls for us to question how we see ourselves and others related to our abilities, especially in relation to mothering.


XVIII, 374
ISBN (Softcover)
ISBN (Softcover)
Publication date
2019 (September)
New York, Bern, Berlin, Bruxelles, Vienna, Oxford, Wien, 2019. XVIII, 374 pp., 6 tbl., 1 b/w ill.

Biographical notes

Allison M. Alford (Volume editor) Michelle Miller-Day (Volume editor)

Allison M. Alford (Ph.D., The University of Texas at Austin) is Clinical Assistant Professor of Business Communication at Baylor University. She has been teaching communication courses at the post-secondary level since 2005. Michelle Miller-Day (Ph.D., Arizona State University) is Professor of Communication Studies at Chapman University. She is the recipient of the 2015 Bernard J. Brommel Career Award for Outstanding Scholarship and Distinguished Service in Family Communication by the National Communication Association.


Title: Constructing Motherhood and Daughterhood Across the Lifespan
book preview page numper 1
book preview page numper 2
book preview page numper 3
book preview page numper 4
book preview page numper 5
book preview page numper 6
book preview page numper 7
book preview page numper 8
book preview page numper 9
book preview page numper 10
book preview page numper 11
book preview page numper 12
book preview page numper 13
book preview page numper 14
book preview page numper 15
book preview page numper 16
book preview page numper 17
book preview page numper 18
book preview page numper 19
book preview page numper 20
book preview page numper 21
book preview page numper 22
book preview page numper 23
book preview page numper 24
book preview page numper 25
book preview page numper 26
book preview page numper 27
book preview page numper 28
book preview page numper 29
book preview page numper 30
book preview page numper 31
book preview page numper 32
book preview page numper 33
book preview page numper 34
book preview page numper 35
book preview page numper 36
book preview page numper 37
book preview page numper 38
book preview page numper 39
book preview page numper 40
394 pages