Daughters are more willing to sacrifice for their mothers than for their romantic partners

Mother’s Day is just around the corner. It’s a good time to reflect on the types of relationships mothers have with children and vice versa.

In 2006, the journal Social Perspectives released an article that began with: “Over the course of western history, mother-daughter relationships have been considered the strongest human ties.”

Researchers found that mothers were reluctant to give one child a higher rating than another when asked to rate their relationship with their children. Researchers asked mothers forced-choice questions such as: “With which child are most likely you to discuss a problem with you?” and “Which child would you pick to help you in the event of an illness or disability?”

The study found that the majority of mothers prefer daughters to sons. Eighty percent (80%) chose to discuss a problem with a child, while just twenty percent liked a boy. If a woman became sick or disabled, 87% would turn to her daughter. Two-thirds chose a girl when asked which child they felt the closest to.

The declaration that mother-daughter relationships are the strongest human bonds surprised me as a social scientist who has researched dating, marriage, and friendships.

These findings are not the only ones. Researchers found that mother-daughter pairs had a more harmonious relationship and fewer conflicts than mother-son pairs.

Even for younger children, it is evident that while fathers are increasingly involved in child care, mothers still provide primary care to infants and young children.

Parents care for their children.

I conducted a series of studies on family relationships with a particular focus on mother-daughter relations. I evaluated compassionate love, which is generally defined as giving yourself for the benefit of another. Also, I measured various measures of caring for others, including sacrifices and caregiving.

In the context of their relationship with their young child, I found that both mothers and dads expressed very strong levels of compassion for their children. Also, they were willing to sacrifice and provide competent care for their child. Fathers, however, reported feeling more obligation than mothers.

I studied the relationship between parents and adult children. The results were similar to those of the first study. The mothers’ and fathers’ ratings of compassion for their adult children were high but slightly lower than the findings from the first study. Both parents were ready to offer emotional and practical support to the child. In this study, fathers were more willing to sacrifice than mothers for their adult children.

Fathers, however, reported that they were more motivated to provide care by duty than mothers. The fathers also scored higher on the exploitable dependency score than the mothers, which measures things like excessive apologizing and worrying that they have offended their child. The results were similar whether parents reported on their sons or daughters.

Children and their parents

The relationship between adult children and their parents was also examined. I found that all adult daughters reported high levels of compassion for their mothers. The more compassion they feel for their mothers, the more willing they are to sacrifice and support her emotionally and physically. Compassionate love was also associated with a strong attachment to their mother.

I also compared the compassion of young adults towards their mothers and romantic partners. Sons expressed a greater level of empathy and willingness to sacrifice for their romantic partner than their mother. The daughters’ compassion and willingness to sacrifice were not significantly different when they reported on their mothers or their partners.

When it comes to caregiving motivated by a sense of obligation, the daughters felt more obliged to care for their mothers compared to their partners. However, sons did not feel any different depending on whether their response was directed at their partner or mother.

In my final study, I looked at the compassion and goodwill of adult sons and daughters toward their parents and mothers. Both sons and daughters reported higher levels of compassionate love – a kind of selfless love – for their mothers than their fathers.

Daughters are more willing to sacrifice than sons for their parents. Daughters felt a greater obligation to take care of their mothers than fathers. Both daughters and sons reported that they provided more emotional and practical assistance to their mothers than their fathers.

Both sons and girls reported that their mothers provided more emotional and practical support than their fathers when asked to rate their support.

There is not enough evidence.

Is the mother-daughter bond the strongest human connection? There were no differences in the reports of mothers and fathers about their love for their children.

There was very little evidence to support the superiority of mother-daughter bonds.

The picture was quite different when participants were children rather than parents. In terms of compassion, emotional and practical support, and providing and receiving it, the relationship between adult sons or daughters and their mothers was more important than that with their father.

In terms of compassion and willingness to sacrifice, the partners of daughters, unlike their sons, did not prioritize their mothers in romantic relationships. Daughters reported a greater obligation to take care of their mother compared to their partner and a slightly higher obligation for them to take care of their father.

While there are some indications that the bond between mother and daughter is superior, this evidence is not enough to make sweeping statements about this relationship.