You Don’t Really Know Me
By Terri Apter
Few other family pairings are quite as combustible as a teenage daughter and her mother. In fact, they argue, on average, every two-and-a-half days. These quarrels are actually attempts to negotiate changes in a relationship that is valued by both mothers and daughters, as psychologist, Terri Apter, discusses in her book, You Don’t Really Know Me: Why Mothers and Daughters Fight, and How Both Can Win.
In fact, even fights that seem to be about nothing are a teenager’s attempt to navigate perilous emotional terrain. Handled well, these battles can help both mother and daughter emerge with a renewed closeness, says Apter. It’s not the frequency or intensity of the battles, but, instead, what happens during them that can strengthen or damage the relationship.
“Fighting well with a mother is an important skill,” Apter states. Mothers who ridicule, shame, silence or issue an ultimatum may undermine their ties to daughters who are seeking to recast their relationship, not destroy it.
A teenage girl, she writes, wants her mother to see her as she is, or as she aspires to be, and not as the little girl she once was — or whom her mother hoped she would become.
A daughter often feels her mother doesn’t know or understand her, and by fighting hopes to force her mother into a new awareness of who she really is, how she has changed, and what she is now capable of doing and understanding. But mothers often misinterpret their daughter’s outbursts as signs of rejection, and they may pull back feeling hurt and confused.
Through case studies and conversations between mothers and daughters, Apter shows mothers how to interpret the meanings behind a daughter’s angry words and how to emerge from arguments with a new closeness.
Excerpt from Book: You Don’t Really Know Me by Terri Apter
Introduction: Love, Conflict and Growth
“There’s no point in trying to explain.
“You won’t understand.
“You don’t know me.
“You don’t have a clue who I really am.”
A teenage girl spits these words through her tears and slams the door. The mother is hurt and outraged; How can her daughter say such things? Not know her! She’s known her since the day she was born. She learned to read her feelings from the tiniest movements of her face and body. She interpreted her early half-formed words. She grew expert at identifying, and then anticipating her daughter’s wishes and needs. Who dares now to cast that rich history aside? Where’s the love that they both, so recently, took for granted?
What an ungrateful, spiteful daughter she has!
At the same time, she knows her daughter has a good heart, and she asks herself; “What have I done wrong? What have I done to make my daughter hate me?”
The woman’s best friend, to whom she confides, explains; “It’s not you. It’s just a phase. She’s being a typical teenager.”
This reminder is reassuring, but only temporarily. Day to day, face-to-face, her daughter speaks to her in a strange language. Whatever teen tribe her daughter now belongs to, her mother longs to understand the particular meanings this particular girl utters, but her attempts at interpretation are met with sneers.
Nothing shakes a woman’s confidence in her mothering skills as does the onset of her children’s – and in particular her daughter’s – adolescence. The love that once was bedrock now seems fragile. The communication that once flowed easily, with words, glances, and touch, now is diverted through rough channels…