How To Communicate With Mom

Posted in self help by Steph Auteri on June 11, 2008
Tags: , ,

me and mom.

From the very beginning, the relationship with my mother has been complicated: close, conflicted, and somewhat interdependent.

Who knows the most about me? Mom.

Who drives me the craziest? Mom. (Though Michael’s closing in at second place…)

Who’s the one who — in my mind — knows it all, yet manages to disagree with most everything I throw out there?

Yup. Mom.

Which is why I knew beyond a doubt that Deborah Tannen’s You’re Wearing That?: Understanding Mothers and Daughters in Conversation was a must-read.

For the sake of this particular post, I passed the book along to my mother after I finished with it, and then “interviewed” her for her reactions.

First off, I quoted the following line from the book to my mother:

“From the daughter’s point of view, the person you most want to think you’re perfect is the one most likely to see your faults — and tell you about them.”

This line had resonated with me as — throughout my life — my beliefs, opinions, and tastes have wildly diverged from my mother’s. No one else has been able to inspire such self-doubt.

“…if your mother does not believe in you, it’s harder to believe in yourself,” writes Tannen. How true. I ask my mother if her mom held the same power over her.

“I felt she was trying to point out something I didn’t want to face myself,” my mom said, speaking specifically about the weight problem she had had as a child.

I found this response interesting, as I had always felt that mothers the world over had a special superpower that allowed them to hone in on their daughters’ greatest secret sources of self-consciousness.

My mother went on to say that, while her mother wasn’t shy about speaking her mind, she was able avoid letting an adverse maternal opinion cause her to second-guess herself. (Obviously, she has stronger character than I do.)

Lesson Learned: Mothers really do want what’s best for their children. All of their “nagging” stems from this desire. Whether they actually know what’s best is debatable.

They’re usually right, though.

I flipped to another marked passage in the book:

“We want to be seen as individuals, not as our mothers’ representatives. But how can mothers not be concerned with what they know will be the basis for judgments made about them?”

My mother affirmed that I was, indeed, a representative of her mothering capabilities. “Sometimes, I wondered that I hadn’t done a good job, and that you were a nut case,” she admitted.

(Thanks a lot.)

When pressed for specific sources of embarrassment, she mentioned my living with Michael pre-marriage. She brought up my alternative religious path. She actually used the words “those crazy sex-things” to describe the loft and porn parties I used to attend.

She threw in some generalities, as well, such as my open-minded, liberal mindset. By the time she got to this, though, she had to admit that there were aspects to my alleged craziness that she had to respect. “You went out and did things I would never do,” she said.

Lesson Learned: No matter what choices you make as a mother, you’re child will seem like an insane person to you. This is mostly a generational thing. In the end, you both have a lot to learn from each other.

I flipped through the book some more, and we discussed a number of things, all of them enlightening, but probably too personal and me-specific to go into on this blog.

In wrapping things up, I asked my mom about her general reaction to Tannen’s book, and the major lessons she had learned in reading it. She responded that what had stood out for her was the general theme of misinterpretation between mothers and daughters.

“I think mothers are getting the raw end of the deal,” she said. I hastened to point out that mothers were nosy and neurotic, and that they often took things too personally. Eye-rolling commenced.

Lesson Learned: We will all continue to misunderstand each other. There is nothing we can do. Noooooooo!!!

But my mom said there was something we could do:

Mothers and daughters are as different as men and women. If we could remember that, perhaps we wouldn’t be so apt to fly off the handle all the damn time. When your mother/daughter reacts in a way that seems especially perplexing, dig down deep in order to figure out how your words or actions may have been perceived by the alien being. Then kiss and make up.*

me and mom now.

*These were not my mother’s exact words. She would never use the word “damn,” and she would hate it if I used it. This is why I grew up using words such as “snot” and “booger” to insult others and express anger.


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