Baylor Study: Work of Daughters in Mother-Daughter Relationships Often Goes Unnoticed

Allison Alford, Ph.D., clinical assistant professor of business communication in Baylor University’s Hankamer School of Business.
Aug. 27, 2021

Media Contact: Eric Eckert, Baylor University Media and Public Relations, 254-710-1964
Follow us on Twitter: @BaylorUMedia

WACO, Texas (Aug. 27, 2021) – With her latest research, Allison Alford, Ph.D., clinical assistant professor in Baylor University’s Hankamer School of Business, continues to draw attention to what she describes as the underappreciated role of the daughter in American society.

Alford authored the study, “Doing daughtering: an exploration of adult daughters’ constructions of role portrayals in relation to mothers,” which is published in the journal Communication Quarterly. The research centers on interviews conducted with 33 adult daughters in the United States, ranging in age from 25-44, who each have a healthy, living mother.

An active – but muted – societal role

Alford said thematic analysis of the many hours of interviews revealed four prominent “role constructions” that daughters explained about their relationships with their mothers:

  • We connect like friends.
  • I am mothering my mother.
  • I take care of her needs.
  • I spend time planning for the future.

Those themes reenforce the fact that daughtering is an active role, Alford said.

“Daughtering requires effort on the part of the daughter to carry out that role,” she said. “This is in contrast to a passive notion of daughters as vessels waiting to be filled up with mothering. Daughters are active in their role performance. They daughter on purpose.”

It’s that purposeful work that often goes unnoticed (or is muted) – even by daughters themselves – in part because the efforts are wrapped in misleading language and society hasn’t adopted a lexicon specifically for daughtering, Alford said.

“Terms such as ‘friendship’ or phrases like ‘mothering my mother’ are common to our cultural lexicon but fall short of describing what goes on between a mother and adult daughter in relationship,” the researcher said.

The challenge (and opportunities) of language

In the case of adult daughters in this study, Alford said it appears they are performing daughtering behaviors and depicting the role of an adult daughter through habit, a lifetime of practice that lives in their bodies more than their minds.

“A disconnect between performing the action and crediting that action as daughtering may explain why there is limited language to describe daughtering,” she said.

From a practical standpoint, Alford said people might try being more intentional with their consideration and acknowledgement of daughters’ work.

“When framing interactions between mothers and daughters, practitioners’ inclusion of the daughter’s perspective as a powerful, contributing force may reveal new ways to improve communication in relationships that are important for both parties over many years,” Alford said. “Our new understanding of the adult daughter role as an agentic work performance allows us to reframe what daughtering means for mothers and daughters today.” 

ABOUT THE STUDY

The study, “Doing daughtering: an exploration of adult daughters’ constructions of role portrayals in relation to mothers,” is published in the journal Communication Quarterly. Author Allison Alford, Ph.D., serves as clinical assistant professor of business communication in Baylor University’s Hankamer School of Business.

ABOUT BAYLOR UNIVERSITY

Baylor University is a private Christian University and a nationally ranked research institution. The University provides a vibrant campus community for more than 19,000 students by blending interdisciplinary research with an international reputation for educational excellence and a faculty commitment to teaching and scholarship. Chartered in 1845 by the Republic of Texas through the efforts of Baptist pioneers, Baylor is the oldest continually operating University in Texas. Located in Waco, Baylor welcomes students from all 50 states and more than 90 countries to study a broad range of degrees among its 12 nationally recognized academic divisions.

ABOUT HANKAMER SCHOOL OF BUSINESS AT BAYLOR UNIVERSITY

At Baylor University’s Hankamer School of Business, top-ranked programs combine rigorous classroom learning, hands-on experience in the real world, a solid foundation in Christian values and a global outlook. Making up approximately 25 percent of the University’s total enrollment, undergraduate students choose from 16 major areas of study. Graduate students choose from full-time, executive or online MBA or other specialized master’s programs, and Ph.D. programs in Information Systems, Entrepreneurship or Health Services Research. The Business School also has campuses located in Austin and Dallas, Texas. Visit baylor.edu/business.

Looking for more news from Baylor University?