Mommy dearest

Linguist Deborah Tannen offers new insight into how mothers and daughters communicate.

Published February 14, 2006 10:24PM (EST)

Today's New York Times offers a good interview to e-mail your mom for Valentine's Day. Discussing her new book, "You're Wearing That? Understanding Mothers and Daughters in Conversation," linguist Deborah Tannen examines why mother-daughter relationships are often much more fraught than fathers' and daughters', or even mothers' and sons'. Avoiding generalizations (like that women are more sensitive or emotional), Tannen examines the way we communicate with our mothers to reveal how certain conflicts arise and how a simple word or phrase can drive us crazy.

Particularly in intimate relationships where we know a lot about each other, "mothers and daughters [can be] like lovers," Tannen says, each expecting the other to know exactly how she is feeling and to respond perfectly to her needs. Tannen points out that the way mothers express concern is often perceived as criticism by daughters, who feel that their every move is being questioned. It's an insightful conversation about family and how we communicate (or miscommunicate) our love.

By Sarah Goldstein

Sarah Goldstein is an editorial fellow at Salon.

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