New Study Identifies ‘Daughtering’ as the Other Type of ‘Mental Load’ Women Have to Deal With

According to a new study, women don’t just carry a “mental load” as mothers. There’s another type of invisible work women do called “daughtering”—as adult daughters to their mothers—and those efforts go unappreciated too.

Researchers at Baylor University interviewed 33 women between the ages of 25 to 45 who had living mothers under the age of 70. The goal was to examine how daughters perceive and define their role in mother-daughter relationships.

After analyzing the interviews, researchers uncovered four themes or role expectations that would make for an “ideal daughter.” These include:

  1. Showing respect (avoiding conflict and reacting positively to their mom’s messages)
  2. Providing protection (shielding mom from being taken advantage of, protecting her well-being)
  3. Eliciting mothering (going to mom for guidance and approval as a sense of pride)
  4. Making time for connection (calling mom, meeting face-to-face)

If you’re thinking to yourself, “Oh, I do some or all of these things for my mom and I’ve never really thought about it,” well, that’s the point.

According to Alison Alford, Ph.D., a clinical assistant professor of business communication at Baylor University and lead author of the study, all four efforts require work, but often go unnoticed or undervalued—even by the adult daughters themselves.

Dr. Alford said the findings, which are published in the Journal of Family Communication, are noteworthy because the language of daughtering pretty much doesn’t exist in social discourse or scholarly or popular works.

She hopes her research will get it included so daughters will get their voices heard and receive the credit the deserve.

“We want to think of daughtering as its own form of work and responsibility and put a value on that, so that we can see the value that we’re putting into our own family relationships and family systems,” she wrote. In addition, “the more we talk about it and bring it to light, the more we will understand what daughters can bring to the relationship and improve the mother-daughter relationship.”

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