Gayle King
How is it that mothers and daughters can grate on each other's nerves, yet be best friends at the same time? Best-selling author Deborah Tannen looks for answers in her new book, You're Wearing That? Understanding Mothers and Daughters in Conversation. Deborah talks to Gayle about her book and shares insights about the tender and trying relationships that exist between mothers and daughters.

Generally speaking, Deborah says that mothers and daughters are very close to one another—and this tight bond can lead to both great tension and great friendship. In many ways, Deborah says the mother-daughter relationship runs parallel to romantic love relationships. "It is very intense and you experience it as extremely intense," she says. "Some couples fight all the time, some couples don't fight much; but for everybody, it is intense and it's one that you care about so much."

Deborah says one of the more sensitive issues between mothers and daughters is giving and receiving criticism. Comments about the other's hair, clothes and weight can often lead to conflict. Not surprisingly, Deborah says the most common complaint she hears from daughters is "my mother is too critical." At the same time, the most common complaint she hears from mothers is "my daughter takes everything as criticism."

So who's right? "It's like looking at two sides of the same coin," Deborah says. Mothers feel obligated to make suggestions and improve their daughters; daughters crave the approval and validation of their mothers, she says.

When mothers give their daughters criticism—or vice versa—it's to show how much they care and love them. "It's a level of attention and focus on detail," Deborah says. "It's a level of scrutiny that you normally reserve for yourself and it can be frustrating when you feel that you're being criticized, but it can be precious when you realize that you could lose it."

The key to mother-daughter relationships is understanding that there will be mixed feelings and layers of emotions, Deborah says. For example, as daughters grow up and leave the nest, their mothers often feel both happiness for their success and sadness that they're leaving. "A mother wants her daughter to soar and she's watching her as she soars, but that also means she's receding in the sky," she says. "And so there's that level of feeling loss and left behind at the same time that you feel that pride."


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