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Mothers vs. Daughters: Why Can't We Just Get Along?


Is it ever right for a mother to refuse to back off?
DT: Sometimes, when it comes to issues of safety, it's worth risking offense. One mother felt her daughter was ignoring a health issue. The mother wouldn't let up, and it turned out there was something life-threatening going on. She felt she'd saved her daughter's life.

What's the worst mistake mothers can make when talking to their daughters?
DT: Sniper attacks. Your daughter thinks you're talking about one thing, and then suddenly-zing-you switch to an entirely different issue. If you really feel you need to talk about a difficult subject, identify it. You might think, This was the time to bring it up because things were going well. But it might actually be the worst time-you're changing the tone, and your daughter's defenses are down. She's going to feel, I never know when she's going to hit me. Then there's the spiral, where mother and daughter drive each other to ever more annoying behavior. For example, a mother calls her adult daughter to talk about how lonely she is, which makes the daughter feel guilty. The mother thinks that talking about being lonely will encourage her daughter to call more frequently, but it does the opposite. So the mother calls more often, which makes her seem even more intrusive to her daughter, who pulls back further.

So how do you stop that spiral?
DT: The mother could call less frequently, and instead of saying she's lonely, she could emphasize things she's enjoyed. For her part, the daughter could help change the conversation by volunteering more information or inviting her mother into her life in ways that aren't sensitive-such as asking advice about what gift to buy for a friend's wedding. Who knows, she might find one of her mother's suggestions helpful!

Any other ideas for improving mother-daughter communication?
DT: Try spending less time talking and more time doing things. Go to a butterfly sanctuary or to a local festival or crafts fair. Almost any shared activity can be a source of pleasure. For more than one mother-daughter pair I talked to, it was attending Weight Watchers together. For others, it was getting their nails done.

What can a daughter do to make her mom feel appreciated...even if their lives are very different?
DT: Let's say you have a mother who's not crazy about your choice to work outside the home and raise kids at the same time. You might say "Mom, I couldn't do what I do if you hadn't shown me how to gracefully handle lots of things at once." You can reassure your mother that she's done a good job. Mothers crave this stamp of approval from their daughters.

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