For many women, the mother-daughter relationship can be pretty intense. A mom's casual comment has the power to make even a grown woman feel wonderful or terrible. Author Deborah Tannen has listened to the conversations between mothers and daughters and offers some insights in her new book, "You're Wearing That?" Tannen joined The Early Show Monday to talk about her findings.
She told co-anchor Hannah Storm that the relationship between mothers and daughters becomes complicated mostly because they love each other so much.
"A mother's job is to help her daughter improve. So often that means comments on our hair, clothes, weight," Tannen said. "My mother will notice if I gain a pound. But that's because it's her job. On the other hand, we want our mothers to think we're perfect. So a comment from someone else might roll off our backs — but from our mother, it might just be something like a question. My mother would always ask me, 'Do you like your hair that long?' And I would know she thinks it's too long. So the very person you most want to think you are perfect is the one most likely to see how you can be improved and tell you so. "
Tannen says the complaints she hears from mothers and daughters are like two sides of the same coin. "From daughters, it is, 'My mother is critical.' From mothers it is, 'I can't open my mouth. She takes everything as criticism,' she said, adding that "the daughter thinks it's criticism because anytime you offer help, advice, a way to improve, it implies criticism."
For all the prickly moments, though, Tannen says it's important for daughters to remember the true, irreplaceable value of having someone in your life who is interested in every detail, no matter how small. A mother "cares about everything. You can just tell her what you ate for lunch and who you met. It's the feeling that someone is looking at you with the same level of attention that you look at yourself. That has built into it the risk because one woman says, you know, my mother is losing her eyesight but she can still spot a pimple across the room."
The three subjects that create the worst friction, according to Tannen are hair, clothing and weight. "Women are judged by appearance," she explained, "And if a daughter doesn't look good, her mother is blamed. Mothers are blamed for everything.
"When you think of the range women have to choose our hair and clothes from, the chances we'll make the perfect decision are not that great. Most women won't say anything about it but our mothers feel it's their responsibility, maybe their obligation, to call it to our attention."
Tannen has advice for both sides, reminding daughters to keep in mind that their mothers are really showing how much they care, and reminding mothers that praise can be just as powerful as criticism. "Sometimes [your daughter] doesn't want your advice. She wants your blessing. So you can say, 'I know you'll handle it well.' And that confidence can make the daughter feel confident. If we think our mothers don't trust us, that's like a life sentence. Her opinion carries so much weight."
To read an excerpt from "You're Wearing That?" click here.
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