"You're Wearing That?" Book Excerpt
Author Deborah Tannen walks a mother and daughter through the minefields of their complex relationship. Here is an excerpt from her book, You're Wearing That?: Understanding Mothers and Daughters in Conversation.
Not all women are expert seamstresses, nor do they all have time to sew Halloween costumes or curtains and sheets. But these are gifts that mothers can offer daughters which take no time at all, such as understanding, acceptance, and approval. Recognizing this can dispel the frustration that results when the help or advice you offer is rejected.
Bea Lewis writes a column entitled "Day and Age" that appears weekly in the Palm Beach Post. One of her columns featured a letter from a frustrated reader whose daughter had recently bought her first home. The mother had offered advice about insurance, mortgages and other matters of concern to a first-time property owner. Her daughter took offense and assured her mother that she knew what she was doing. But shortly thereafter her daughter told her how helpful a friend had been in making recommendations--the very same ones that she had rejected when they came from her mother. The mother commented, "I would expect this kind of response from a sixteen-year-old, but why at age thirty-five? I am perplexed."
It is easy to see why this mother feels perplexed. But she can take heart that advice on insurance and mortgages is, after all, something her daughter can get elsewhere, as in fact she did. What only a mother can give is reassurance that she is proud of her daughter for having attained this rite of passage to adulthood and that she trusts her to handle the responsibility that comes with it. From this point of view, it should be comforting for the mother to know that her approval continues to be important to her daughter--not only at age thirty-five but as long as they both shall live.
Another woman found that this insight helped improve her relationship with her two daughters. In the past, if she took literally their requests for advice--especially if it differed from what they had already done or said--she might hear a withering response like "I did call you to get critiqued!" She realized that what they really wanted--even if they seem dot be asking for advice--was her stamp of approval on what they had done. Her relationships with her daughters improved immeasurably when she adopted a policy of withholding her opinion when she disagreed (except in matters of health and safety).
Sometimes it is tempting to add advice to an expression of praise. One woman, Toby, told me that learning to resist such temptation helped her relationship with her daughter. For example, if her daughter said, "I went to Weight Watchers and lost three pounds that first week," Toby would previously have replied, "That's great," then gone on to offer encouragement: "You have to keep it up." And she'd be surprised that her daughter was annoyed. Eventually she realized that the second part undercut the first: Rather than offering encouragement, it seemed to diminish the praise, as if to imply, "What you've done so far is meaningless." So now when her daughter makes an announcement like that, Toby says, "That's great"--and stops there.
A woman I spoke to shortly after her mother passed away commented, "I wrote a eulogy for my father when he died, but when my mother died I didn't write a eulogy for her, because she wasn't there to hear it, to say 'You did a good job.'" This comment reflects what many of us seek from our mothers--and as daughters get older, what mothers seek from their daughters: a stamp of approval.
Copyright(C) 2006 by Deborah Tannen
Published with permission from Random House, Inc.
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