Moms and Daughters: Understanding Female Same-Sex Attraction

I am a mom of two children: a beautiful girl who will be two in September and a handsome little man who is almost three months old. Becoming a mom is by far one of the best, most fulfilling things I have ever done with my life. I had no idea how intense a mother’s love could be until I had children of my own.

Motherhood is also one of the hardest things I have ever done and I realize I am just beginning this journey; the hardest parts are most likely still ahead. So as I write this post I would like to offer thanksgiving for God’s grace; the grace I know he will give me for the ways I will fail, and the grace that will be responsible for any success I may have as a parent. I am thankful for the grace God offers that restores relationships—our relationship with God and then with others. In this truth I find much hope.

My prayer is that this post would help equip some to skillfully shine truth and pour grace into many broken relationships.

 The Two Extremes

Women with SSA often describe their relationships with their mother in extremes of either connectedness or separateness (p. 61).


In cases of extreme connectedness women with SSA “describe the mother-daughter bond as more of a mutual absorption than a healthy attachment. They were undifferentiated from and emotionally enmeshed with their moms, often feeling what their mothers felt” (p. 62).

One woman shares about becoming her mother’s confidant at the tender age of 10 after her parents split up.

[my mother] would creep into my bedroom at night, and pour out her heart to   me…” (Howard, 1991, p. 84).

 She recalls other similar incidents,

“My friends arrived at the house to take me roller skating. As I kissed my     mother ‘goodbye’ she leaned back on the sofa and moaned softly, ‘Don’t go, dear,’ she whispered. ‘Mummy needs you here.’ I glanced at my friends, who were impatiently waiting by the front door. ‘But, Mum,’ I began, trying to loosen her grip of my arm. It was no good. She looked at me with those mournful eyes and I knew there would be no roller skating that afternoon…the birthday party I had to excuse myself from; the disappointment at missing summer camp; the cocktail party I had to attend as a twelve-year-old; comforting Mum several times when I found her sobbing in the bathroom. My childhood disappeared with her divorce. I lost all my friends because of her. Where was she when I needed her? I wanted a mother, not a friend!”

(Howard, 1991, p. 84-85)

Other women report their excessively close relationships with their mothers, included excessive worry about mother’s sadness and difficulty differentiating between their own feelings and their mothers feelings often leading to a dismissal or denial of their own feelings. These women perceive their mothers as being “dependent, weak, needy or childlike” (p. 62).


In cases of actual or perceived maternal detachment women describe their relationships with their mothers in one or more of the following ways:

  • “Total absence of warm emotional connection” (McDougall, 1970)
  • They perceived their mothers as being “dutiful but detached”; there but never truly “present”
  • They questioned their mother’s engagement with their inner thoughts and feelings
  • They perceived their mother as “a shell of a woman” and emotionally unavailable
  • Many women reported that their mother’s depression made it emotionally difficult for her to connect with their daughters (p. 63).
  • Some women report feeling “that they were a burden” to their mothers (pp. 62-63)

The Possible Affects:

“Regardless of how or why a girl’s attachment with mom is threatened or malformed, her future development will be affected” (p. 63).

Developmental Affects:

“A mother…is a little girl’s primal enduring home. It is through this warm, secure, ongoing attachment with mother…that a girl will form her basic sense of self; mirror, model and identify with mother; understand herself as a female; differentiate and discover her unique and individual identity; and learn how to do relationship. A girl’s primal attachment with her mother will act as a model for all future emotional relationships (Chodorow, 1978)” (p. 64).

Due to the insecurity and anxiety women with SSA felt in their relationships with their mothers, many developed a sense of mistrust and disrespect for their mothers and essentially “did not internalize a sense of mother as the home base from which they could develop an autonomous self” (pp. 64-65).

One woman recounts the lack of nurture she felt from her mother and how it affected how she related to other woman.

            “Through tears, I continued. ‘I forgive you, Mum, for not being the mother I wanted you to be. I forgive you that alcohol consumed your life and you weren’t able to see much beyond that. I forgive you for…for never holding me in love.’

 I was startled at the words that had just come out of my mouth. I sat silently while the reality sank in. Then came more tears. That’s it, isn’t it Jesus? That’s why I’m grieving. My mother never held me.

 No, she’d never nurtured me—at least, that’s the way I’d seen it. Now it made sense! That’s why I eventually turned to lesbianism. I was always looking to other women to satisfy my need for my mother’s love.

 A new reality struck me. I had withdrawn from any affection Mum may actually have tried to show me because I feared subsequent rejection. She may have tried, but I wouldn’t receive because I was in rebellion. No wonder lesbianism was a frustratingly hopeless lifestyle, I thought. It was built on rejection and rebellion.” (Howard, 1991, p. 87)

Two Responses:

In order to deal with the feelings of insecurity and abandonment and to avoid the pain of disappointment when their desire for affection or nurturing went unmet, many women with SSA consciously or unconsciously withdrew emotionally and/or refused to “emotionally connect” with their same-sex parent. Often this decision also included the “refusal to ever reconnect (Moberly, 1983)” (p. 65). This response is called defensive detachment.

            “I remember when I was 5 or so my parents had gotten into a fight. My          mother got into the car and just drove off. I was crying, asking, “Where is she going?   What’s going on?” My dad seemed helpless. I think that was when I checked out   with mom. I was devastated and remembered the feeling was just unbearable. So I checked out….I had this deep feeling of pain, realizing I can’t control this. Mom would leave and I don’t matter. It doesn’t matter. She will leave me. So it was sort of my way of making a resolve, Yes, mother will leave—she’s gone, she didn’t want you—now get over it. I had to detach to stop that feeling of abandonment.” (pp. 65-66)

Similar to attachment, defensive detachment is not a single event but rather “it is a progressive, patterned response within a girl to her ongoing dissatisfaction in her relationship with her mom” (p. 66). Sustaining this defensive detachment often required these girls to actively “detach from their natural longing and need for connection to and intimacy from mother (and others)” (p. 66). Unfortunately this defensive detachment further hindered possible opportunity for “a loving or warm exchange” and often resulted in “profound deficits in their own relational capacities” (p. 66).

In addition to defensive detachment many women with SSA did not identify with their mothers, feeling very dissimilar from them and reported a lack of desire to be like them (more so than other girls did). This behavior is called disidentification. The following is a list of ways in which disidentification can manifest itself:

  • Rejecting “behaviors, physical appearance, or fashion styles” that are similar to their mothers (p. 67).
  • Making a vow against appearing weak or needy or dependent on a man.
  • Showing “disgust toward anything even closely resembling femininity or female roles” (p. 67).
  • Rejecting “their own personhood associated with femaleness, including their female body parts and their tender and sensitive attributes (McDougall, 1980) (p. 67).


Helping a woman speak about, understand, and biblically handle her relationship with her mother is going to be an important step towards repentance, healing, forgiveness, and if possible reconciliation. I pray that some of this information will come in handy as you walk with women through this important part of their lives.

Image courtesy of David Castillo Dominici at otherwise indicated, all of the page references are from Hallman, 2008)

Hallman, Janelle. (2008). The heart of female same-sex attraction: A comprehensive counseling resource. Downers Grove, IL: Intervarsity Press.

Howard, Jeanette. (1991). Out of Egypt: One woman’s journey out of lesbianism. Grand Rapids, MI: Monarch Books.

McDougall, J. (1970). Homosexuality in women. In Chasseguet-Smirgel (Ed.), Female sexuality: New psychoanalytic views (pp. 171-212). Ann Arbor: University of Michigan Press.

McDougall, J. (1980). Plea for a measure of abnormality. New York: International Universities Press.

Moberly, E. (1983). Homosexuality: A new Christian ethic. Greenwood, SC: Attic Press.

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