I’m getting married in 12 days and while I’m excited that my mother will be there, I’m also nervous. I love my mom but there is literally no one in the wide world that can make me crazier — with just a few words — than her. But after reading advice from a Georgetown linguistics professor, I am going into my nuptials with a battle plan: chill the fuck out.
Dr. Deborah Tannen told Vox that after analyzing bunches of mother-daughter conversations for her book, You're Wearing That?: Understanding Mothers and Daughters in Conversation, most of the friction comes from misunderstandings. Daughters want approval from their mothers and mothers want to help us so they’re always offering advice about our clothes or hair, among other things, which they think will do just that. Instead, daughters feel like they’re being criticized when mothers see themselves as just lending useful advice. And then there’s an argument.
"Here's the person you most want to think you're perfect. Because her opinion matters so much," Tannen says. "So if she thinks you're doing things wrong then you must be fatally flawed. And underneath we all worry that we're fatally flawed."
Tannen says that unlike previous generations who just wanted to get away from their parents, millennials are running toward their parents and moving in with them. Many call their parents their best friends.
I’m not sure if I’m a millennial — that’s up for debate — but my grandmother always told me to keep my relationship with my mother strong because “she’s the best friend you’ll ever have.” And while I’d never call my mom to tell her about that string of drunken nights out, I do tell her a bunch of other things. We’re mom-kid best friends, which means she knows all of my friends, their backstories, the ins and outs (for the most part) of my job and my romantic relationships (worth mentioning). Do I go out drinking with moms? No. Can she accompany me to a Brooklyn hipster picnic in Prospect Park without awkwardness? Yes.
With that type of closeness, it’s easy to get on one another’s nerves. The line between roles can get blurry and when I’m just kidding around, she might take a joke to mean that my life is veering off the deep end.
Ultimately, Tannen says moms and daughters fight primarily about three things: hair, clothes and weight.
"Women in our culture are judged by appearance far more than men are," Tannen says. Men, Tannen argues, are able to choose clothing and hairstyles without drawing attention to themselves: if they wear their hair short and put on a suit, that's considered pretty neutral in our society, and no one will comment one way or another. But there's no equivalent of a short haircut and a suit for women. Women have so many choices for how to dress and do their hair that it's impossible not to make a statement.
In addition, sometimes moms can see what they’re afraid of in themselves reflected in their daughters and try to fix it. For example, Tannen offers that a daughter might have plain brown hair so her mom suggests that she dye it a brighter color because she’s ashamed of her own plain brown hair and wants better for her child.
So how will I take these notes and roll them into a survival plan for my wedding? When my mother makes a suggestion, I will try my best not to envision her as a RHOA cast member attempting to read me. I will look for her good intention, strip away the insecurity I bring to the conversation and take her words for what they are, advice that I can take or leave. As for mothers, Tannen suggests that when they want to dole out advice they know their daughter won’t appreciate, they should hold their tongue. “It’s hard,” says Tannen. “But it improves the relationship.”
Pray for me y’all.
Image by Jim Cooke.