Book Discussion: “You’re Wearing That? Understanding Mothers and Daughters in Conversation” by Deborah Tannen

Whether you are a mother or a daughter I would suggest reading this book! I guess that means just about anyone who is female then. The author, Deborah Tannen, explains the reasons why mothers and daughters have such trouble communicating and why so often we seem to get our wires crossed…like when your mom says something that she thinks isn’t a criticism but you take it so completely as one!

The author says that improving communication between mothers and daughters requires, above all else, understanding and seeing the situation from the other’s point of view. Well, that’s something that doesn’t always come so easily, is it? But she also gives some pointers and strategies that may help.

One note: despite the wealth of interesting, insightful, and helpful information in this book, I struggled to get through it. It wasn’t as organized as I would have liked and I wasn’t always sure what each section was really all about. Sometimes ideas and points were repeated, but I was anxious to get to the strategies at the end so I kept reading. Despite this personal challenge, I found the book to be chockfull of information and I can say it is well worth the read.

Here are some major points I took away from the book:

  • The key to improving any mother-daughter relationship is the desire to do so…it doesn’t even really matter if it is the daughter or mother or both with the desire. As long as one of them works to change their behaviors, reactions and attitudes toward the other, the relationship can improve. It really can!
  • Everything we say has meaning on two levels: the message or dictionary definition of your words on which everyone agrees; and the metamessage or the personal interpretation of the words which often triggers an emotional response.
  • The main topics about which mothers tend to criticize (although, they see it as “advising” or “making a suggestion”) are hair, clothes, weight and how to raise your children.
  • Mothers and daughters tend to expect more from each other than from anyone else.
  • There is a constant struggle between mothers and daughters to balance closeness vs. distance and being the same vs. being different from each other.

Deborah Tannen told several personal accounts and stories in the book about her relationship with her own mother. While mothers can certainly be critical of their daughters, she mentioned that daughters often place the same critical eyes on their mothers (oh, just think of those teenage years!). In fact, when roles start to reverse as our mothers age, we actually can end up doing some of the same things to them that they always did to us. One case in point:

The author said that her mother had always been very critical of her hair; however, her mother’s never looked good either. Ms. Tannen says that she would tell her elderly mother that her hair didn’t look good, and would actually find herself fixing it whenever she would see her. She then realized, though, that she treasured those times with her mother. “I could feel my affection for my mother swell as I combed her hair and smoothed it down. There was something so intimate about handling her hair, so moving about the way she trusted me to do it.”

The mother-daughter relationship is certainly an extremely complicated one that is filled with expectations, conflicts, and history. As Deborah Tannen states, if mothers and daughters can “step outside the loop and watch the process unfold, they could see clearly what’s happening and also see ways to change the script.” We often end up playing out previous hurtful conversations with our mothers.The key is to break out of this pattern…listen to the ways we talk to each other and learn to talk to each other in new ways.

Here are just a few of the many suggestions offered in this book for improving mother-daughter relationships:

  • Understanding the motives behind criticism may help (that it comes from a place of caring and concern).
  • Realizing you have the power to respond differently is significant.
  • Mothers should try to resist the temptation to give advice, offer help or make suggestions to grown daughters and should, instead, look for other ways to exercise their influence.
  • Mothers need to feel needed – daughters might find ways to involve their mothers in their lives without compromising their independence.
  • Keep a sense of humor.
  • Sometimes it’s best to keep your mouth shut – saying, “I’m not going to say anything about…” is NOT keeping quiet!

The information and suggestions in this book, while certainly specific to the mother-daughter dynamic can also be helpful in other relationships as well. The key is to try to “rewrite” history between the two people. Just trying to understand where the other person’s comment comes from, reframing it, and finding new ways to react, can go a long way in improving our relationships. It may not always work, but it’s certainly worth a try…whether you’re a mother or a daughter! Homepage

What do you think:

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *