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Archive for the ‘Nonfiction–General’ Category

c75f81b0c8a08b3994bf8110lIt started out to be a typical exasperating scene between a mother and a would-be tween-ager.  The mother (me) and the daughter (Dd1) were having a difference of opinion over the consequences of failed tests.  I was speaking calmly (for once) and trying to rationally explain that she needn’t try to hide her latest marks from her daddy, that he loved her, etc.  Dd1, however, was becoming increasingly irrational and began, through tears, a long defense of her performance on said exam.  After awhile, it became impossible to make out any words, because of the hysterical cries and intermittent gasps for breath that came from her as she pleaded for my assistance in not telling her dad.  That’s when it came to me.  Not a scripture, not wise counsel from other veteran parents, but a piece of information from a linguist who was patient and methodical enough to listen to and interview hundreds of mothers and daughters about their own conversations, was my heroine this day.  Deborah Tannin had said, what daughters want most from their mothers is approval, not criticism.  Using this information, I grabbed my daughter’s hands, looked her in the eyes, and said, “Sweetheart, we are soooo proud of you.  We think you are a smart girl.”  She stopped sobbing and listened intently to what I had to say.  “Taking away your computer and TV time isn’t intended to be a punishment.  We just feel that these things are taking away from the time you could be studying.  Part of this is my fault, because I haven’t taken the time to study with you the way I should.”  I said a few more things, but suffice to say, the end result was my daughter clutching me close to her and with relief in her voice saying “Oh, mommy.”  Instantly, there was peace.

What Deborah Tannin has done with her book You’re Wearing That?:  Understanding Mothers and Daughters in Conversation is not give a list of do’s and don’ts of conversations, but rather to just report the reality of how mothers and daughters communicate.  Though intended to reflect the relationships of mothers and their adult daughters, the history that these adult women share begins much earlier and their verbal and non-verbal conversations begin almost from the point of birth.  In fact, it is these non-verbalized “meta-messages” that Ms. Tannin focuses on primarily.  This separates what is perceived from what is actually said by the two parties.  See, mothers and daughters have a history that informs their conversation.  If a mother has always been critical/caring about a daughter’s choice of clothing.  A simple question such as, “are you wearing that” is frought with implications that the casual observer might not pick up on.  According to Ms. Tannin, and based on her hundreds of interviews, the main culprits in conversation between mothers and daughters are:  clothing, hairstyle, weight, and in some cases child-rearing.  Mothers who are preoccupied with these issues in their own lives are going to be just as preoccupied about it in  the lives of their grown daughters.  Where mothers, however, perceive the subtle or not so subtle attempts to inform their daughters of how to improve themselves as caring for her, the daughter of course views it as criticism and intrusion on her independence.  Mothers, who at one time had authority to shape, and to care for their daughters physical and emotional well-being without hindrance, have trouble adjusting to this new role of observer that their daughters have relegated them to; and daughters only want one thing–approval.

I really enjoyed the insights that Ms. Tannin shared, mainly because she did it in such an entertaining way.  Being on the outside looking in on each conversation puts us in a position to evaluate our own relationships and motives, and hopefully make changes where they are needed.  Words become important (as they always were), and poor relationships can be mended as we simply reframe our way of speaking and consider what the other person “hears” (those metamessages) before we speak.  

This has become an important book in my relationship arsenal, and I’m ready to buy a copy for every mother and daughter I know, because I feel it helps us understand one of life’s most complicated relationship–the mother/daughter one.  And you thought it was the male/female one that had you confused.  Hah!

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