Thursday, November 12, 2009

Book Review: You're Wearing That? by Deborah Tannen

You're Wearing That? Understanding Mothers and Daughters in Conversation
by Deborah Tannen

When my oldest daughter was entering her tweens, after a year of hearing she and I argue relentlessly, my husband ordered You're Wearing That? by Deborah Tannen and gave it to me for light reading. He hoped something in the book would help us girls work out our conflicts. I've been a daughter for almost four decades and a mother for almost 16 years. I've got two sisters (no brothers) and two daughters (no sons). Suffice it to say, I've spent my lifetime thinking about how mothers and daughters converse. I started a blog in order to work out my ideas. I have spent God-only-know-how-many dollars on long distance phone calls with friends and family discussing my angst. When the book was in my hands, I read it cover to cover in three days. I found out I'm not the only one who feels this way.

Chances are that you are... adult daughter and that you have something to work out with your mother, or...

...the mother of a grown daughter, wondering why she's so angry or depressed or distant or riled whenever you talk to her, or...

...the mother of a daughter and you wonder what your relationship will be like with her once she is grown. You might even wonder what it will be like once she's past childhood and into her tweens and (gasp!) her teen years. Or...

...the husband or brother or son of a woman you KNOW needs to improve her communication with her mother or daughter.
If any of these apply, buy the book and read it. Or buy it secondhand. Or check it out from the library. Or go in together with five friends, read it one by one and passing it to the next when you are finished. Then talk about it together. It'll be worth your while, your effort and your pennies.

Tannen focuses on the relationships mothers and daughters have once the daughter is grown. It seems like the relationship should be easy enough to navigate, right? A mother nurtures her daughter through infancy and childhood, loves her, and wants the best for her. The daughter looks up to her mother, feels supported and loved, seeks her advice and approval in her times of need, and feels physical pain if her mother hurts. Sounds like the makings of a perfect symbiotic relationship. Perhaps that's why it's such a mystery to women around the world why they say the nastiest things to their mothers and why mothers are so quick to push all the wrong buttons with their daughters.

There is a dynamic push and pull of the mother-daughter relationship, one which Tannen explains is different from all other familial relationships. A daughter seeks her own identity and to define herself as an individual. Weighed against that is her mother's perspective, a woman who sees her daughter as an extension of herself. The two ideals work against each other, sometimes in ways the two women cannot even verbalize consciously.

As I read the book, I found myself realizing that I had to start changing the way I mothered NOW. My daughter was 12 at the time, but the push and pull was already there. This young woman, barely starting her adolescence, would (God-willing) be in a relationship with me for the next 50-60 years. We could continue down the rocky path I had set us on or I could make the choice to repave the path, a path we could walk down together and enjoy the beauty of the view instead of constantly criticizing each other's make-up, hair cut and choice of clothing.

The book is such an easy read, so enjoyable, and so enlightening. Tannen is a linguist (so am I), but I don't recommend the book because of our common research interest. For me, I was delightfully surprised to find that the book wasn't just another volume in my library of linguistics books, but instead it was a book that, when I was deeply engrossed in, I didn't even remember was written by a colleague at all.

So pick it up and treat yourself to a new perspective. I'm glad I did.


Hip Mom's Guide said...

Wow, Heather--great review! I haven't heard of this one, but you've got me interested...I'll look for it.

Heather said...

I'm writing this one down to check out too! Thanks!

Nina Baker said...

Thanks for the great idea. My sister would get a lot out of this and her birthday is just days away. We had a very challenging mother!!