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Mothers and Daughters

Apparently, all those times my mother called my hair "a mop," it was out of love. And all the times she told me I was fat -- even though I was a competitive swimmer going to practice for four to seven hours per day -- that, too, was love. That's the theory behind Deborah Tannen's Mom's Unforgiving Mirror in The Post today:

"But here's another way to look at it: Your mother may assume it goes without saying that she is proud of you. Everyone knows that. And everyone probably also notices that your bangs are obscuring your vision -- and their view of your eyes. Because others won't say anything, your mother may feel it's her obligation to tell you."

Wow! Who knew?

Mother-child relationships certainly can be complicated. As a teenager, I often stayed awake till the wee morning hours talking to my mother. Boys. Friends. How she wanted to die. Her parents. Nothing was off limits. Before her dementia, I know that she was proud of me. But Tannen has a point. My mother wasn't the type to tell me of her pride in my accomplishments. (Do other mothers?) She simply expected them. She could, however, wield a mean shot about hair, weight, clothes. But if someone would threaten or insult one of her children -- look out -- she was a mother lion protecting her cubs. The teacher who wrote "Stupid" on one of my sister's school papers didn't last long as a teacher at that school.

So, moms, what truths and falsehoods do you see in Tannen's story? Do you tell your daughters things that you later wish you could take back? Does the same hold true for mothers and sons?

By Stacey Garfinkle |  April 10, 2007; 7:00 AM ET  | Category:  Relationships , Teens , Tweens
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I'm torn on this subject - mothers should be validating and unconditional but somebody needs to tell the overweight girl in the belly shirt and low rise jeans that it isn't working for her and save her the humiliation. However, coming from mom it may be seen as criticism as opposed to help.

Posted by: Anonymous | April 10, 2007 7:59 AM | Report abuse


Posted by: First Comment | April 10, 2007 7:59 AM | Report abuse

Preteens, teenagers, they're both so very sensitive. I think mothers can use the verbal/emotional equivalent of a sledgehammer when what is really needed is a small paring knife. For the overweight girl, praise her endlessly for good dress choices, point out when young men find her attractive in those same clothes, offer to buy her more of the same. But ignore the inappropriate. This is a good general rule: praise even the smallest movement from an adolescent towards your parental goal. But don't overdo it, just one or two sentences is more than enough. And ignore the bad. Mothers' comments are often heard 1000 times louder than they are ever said.

Karen Rayne

Posted by: Karen Rayne | April 10, 2007 8:07 AM | Report abuse

It seems like I never got much praise from my mother but maybe I am just forgetting?? I know I got encouragement, but not overtly, it was mostly by example.

Some parent are not very demonstrative, like mine. I don't think I suffered. The flip side is the constant encouragement/cheering/bragging where children rely on their parents too much for emotional support.

I am different with my kids, perhaps because of the way my parents raised me but mostly because of who I married.

Posted by: cmac | April 10, 2007 8:12 AM | Report abuse

I think we need to look at the psychology of mothers. Let us not buy into the 'unconditionality' of moms' love when they criticize their daughters. Why, because moms are different to sons and that fact throws out the stupid notion than moms are unconditional to their daughters. Moms use their daughters for their own self image. Period.

Posted by: Boston | April 10, 2007 8:15 AM | Report abuse

My wife's mom tried to cocoon her in bubble wrap while she was growing up, never criticized her, gave her whatever food she liked when she wouldn't eat what was in front of her, and never, ever let her actually get out and play because "she might get hurt". The criticisms were always in the form of "if you loved me you would (not) do that", which put a huge guilt trip on my wife; this was also what her grandmother had done to her mom, BTW, so she learned it from her.

Not until my wife was grown, married and out of her house for years did their relationship become more of a mother/daughter; before that, her mom treated her like a 6 year old every time we came over to visit, even though she was already married! It took years for my wife to recognize the subtle manipulation tactics her mom had learned from her mother, and then have the backbone to stand up to her about them. Once she did, their relationship improved greatly.

Posted by: John L | April 10, 2007 8:19 AM | Report abuse

I am struggling with this question lately as my 15-year-old daughter has ADHD and a less-than-stellar attitude to boot during these dog days of adolescence. To her credit, she can see right through insincere praise and I think that is good. But she also is making some decisions regarding school clothing that I find inappropriate (although worn by most of her contemporaries) as well as dumbing down herself in the classroom, although testing has shown that she has a high IQ.

So to praise or to question her choices: this is what I grapple with. As a 50-plus woman who has spent her career in a field where women are few and far between, I know firsthand what it takes to measure up--and it certainly takes more thant a pretty face, lithe body and attractive clothes. And yet I would be a fool to argue that these things don't matter at all in my competitive field, because they matter a lot. That's why I try to remain fit, put on wrinkle creams at night and try to wear clothes that don't make me seem matronly. The message to my daughter? You have to try to find your own balance between brains and looks and everything else in between. Some days I can articulate those lessons to her in a way that I believe is helpful to her. On some others I know that it comes out as criticism of her choices. By the time I finally figure out how to do it best, she will no doubt be long gone. Ouch.

Posted by: former journalist | April 10, 2007 8:54 AM | Report abuse

My mom was constantly critical of me with very little praise - she still is. My husband is shocked at some of what she says when she comes to visit. It was very clear to all that my brother was her favorite. I don't have any kids and probably won't - I am very afraid of doing the same. I have some serious self-esteem issues - really don't want to pass that along - but is it true that you do better as a parent because you know what was wrong with your upbringing or is it true that the pattern repeats itself? The funny thing is that I very much want a little girl. . .

Posted by: Anonymous | April 10, 2007 8:58 AM | Report abuse

My Mom was wonderful.

She gave me praise when I did well, comfort when I fell short of the mark, and endless love each and every day. She truly enjoyed my early attempts at "style" and took a harmless vicarious joy in my slender body (while I was a teen). I think she encouraged a healthy view of my body and my sexuality, while also transmitting a sense of morality. As it turned out, I developed into a conservative, both with respect to sexuality and clothing. She let me arrive at this myself. She had faith that I would make the correct choices for myself; she respected me. I think this must be hard to do. I am a mother now myself; my daughter is not two years old yet. I worry about whether I will be able to have the strength my Mom had, to let my daughter decide for herself.

She never fought my battles for me and when I had trouble with a teacher, she comforted and advised me, but I had to deal with it myself. Good preparation for life.

I knew other kids who's mothers meddled more in their lives and those kids were not ready to take charge of their own lives when they left home.

Posted by: jan | April 10, 2007 9:04 AM | Report abuse

To Anon at 8:58: Don't be afraid of having your own children. If physically abused children can overcome their abuse and not revisit it on their own children, so can the verbally abused. Get counseling, then go forth and multiply, if that's what you truly want. Don't deny yourself the joy of having children, just because of your mother. Living well is the best revenge!

Posted by: Sparks | April 10, 2007 9:08 AM | Report abuse

My job is to create daughters that are beautiful on the inside, so it's my wife that gets to nickpick the dress code and the outside stuff. Apparently my favorite daughter is fashionally challanged, but I have to say that the black shoes, white shoes, Labor Day and whatever doesn't make any sense to me either. As long as my daughters aren't in any danger of getting arrested, I let them wear what they want. So if my wife thinks my oldest is wearing her pants too low, correcting it is my wife's battle, is she decides to pick it.

My only beef about my daughters is that they have absolutely beautiful hair, and most of the time they put it up in one of those hair clips. Boooooo!

Interestingly enough, I'm the one who gets the criticism from my daughters on my appearance. I pretty much let them dress me and fix me up when we go out so I don't look too dorky if we come across one of their peers.

Posted by: Father of 4 | April 10, 2007 9:32 AM | Report abuse

My daughter, at 7, has already complained about my critical eye. I've explained to her that it is better to hear me say it, knowing that I think she is the most fabulous creature on the planet, then hear a stranger say the same thing. The truth sometimes hurts but knowledge can be power.
I think it is very important for parents to be critical of their kids; it helps children learn how to accept criticism. My husband's mother only ever told him how perfect he was, no matter how bad his behavior and grades were. As an adult, he had to learn the hard way that not everyone worships the ground he walks on. I want my daughter understand that while the world does not revolve around her MY world does.

Posted by: 21117 | April 10, 2007 9:35 AM | Report abuse

As the mom to a boy and a girl, I think there inherently different ways we treat our children, irregardless of gender, ours or theirs. I don't know that I am doing the right things with my kids, I can only hope my instincts are right and that they will turn out ok in spite of their parents. If we are really lucky, they will turn out all right because of us.

Posted by: LM in WI | April 10, 2007 9:37 AM | Report abuse

I have read some of Tannen's work and it is my recollection that sometimes the other part of this equation -- besides love -- is that the mother sees the daughter as a reflection of herself and so wants the daughter to improve/change to make the mother look better. From reading I have done on the birth order of children I also understand that where the child falls in the order of siblings can sometime make a difference in how sensitive the child is to these comments. I know that my sisters could often let my mother's comments roll off of their backs, while I internalized them and still remember the hurt decades later. Although my mother instilled a lot of good qualities in me I have also had to work to shed a lot of others. (E.g. It is hard to have a successful career when your mother always emphasized that it is important to blend into the background, not stand out, and always defer to others.)

Posted by: DC | April 10, 2007 9:40 AM | Report abuse

LM in WI I liked your comments. Regarding whether sons and daughters are treated differently I have never been able to answer that from personal experience. I grew up with only sisters and actually count my blessings. My parents grew up in households where the boys were at the top and the girls were expected to "serve" them. I think that learned behavior might have appeared if I had had brothers.

My husband has a neice and a nephew and it does bother me how differently my mother-in-law treats the children. Everything my nephew does is brilliant -- she can't stop talking about him. All too often when I hear my neice mentioned it is criticism of the way she looks. Thankfully her parents seem to do a good job of shielding her from this behavior.

Posted by: Daughter-in-law | April 10, 2007 9:53 AM | Report abuse

I do know my mother loves me, but wow, the constant criticism! At 47, my hair, cooking, child raising, husband, and worst of all, weight, will never be right. My husband, too is always amazed. I am trying to learn to let it roll off like my youngest brother does (the middle brother is apparently perfect). I have 2 teen girls, and feel that whatever my mom does, I have to do a balance between authority (no really low tops and pants) and acceptance of them as individuals. Yes, they ARE a reflection of this family and hopefully will learn that how they present themselves does matter. Balancing between helping with homework and pushing them through school - all these balances are hard, but I have to believe it will work out. So far, two happy daughters who are an enormous source of pride. 8:58, don't miss out!

Posted by: Kris | April 10, 2007 10:10 AM | Report abuse

I try not to be too critical or jump to conclusions because I remember how teenage life can be. Not that I am walking around on egg shells, either.
There are days when I remind my 15-year-old daughter about how my mother, now deceased and whom my daughter never knew,
was an advocate for all my battles in high school and college. I told her my mother made sure no one took advantage of me or gave me a raw deal, giving her the example of my mom coming to my high school with my paper that I left on the dining room table, but my honors English teacher didn't believe me. It still makes me angry but then I remember what my mom said, "Let your actions speak for you and leave the rest to the Lord." Enough said.

Posted by: lphill | April 10, 2007 10:23 AM | Report abuse

"sometimes the other part of this equation -- besides love -- is that the mother sees the daughter as a reflection of herself and so wants the daughter to improve/change to make the mother look better."

Yes, this can be deadly for a daughter's self-image. And the effects can last a lifetime.

Posted by: Anonymous | April 10, 2007 10:24 AM | Report abuse

When it comes to critcizing the kids for their appearance I think I'm an equal criticizing mom. Both my kids need to be nagged constantly about their hair, teeth and clothes. The difference is my DD has a ton of clothes and my son has three shirts. But honestly, my kids are very good looking and I'm not in a hurry for them to be dating so I don't mind it so much that they won't comb their hair.

When it comes to praising accomplishments I praise my DD much more than my son. That's because she has so many more accomplishments to praise. That is one area that I don't worry about with her. Sometimes she just amazes me with what she can and will do.

My son worries me that he won't focus on anything long enough to be good, let alone great, at. I'm still hoping that he'll find that something. I would love to heap praise on him but I won't do it without cause.

Posted by: soccermom | April 10, 2007 10:34 AM | Report abuse

I think moms do see their daughters as a reflection on themselves. I'm really overweight and a fashion nightmare - but I always try to volunteer in the community...that's where I derive a sense of pride in myself.

A few months ago I came down pretty hard on my 15 year old daughter because I was unhappy with her "me first" attitude. I told her that I always hoped she would become the kind of person who looked outside herself to see who needed help and was the first to volunteer her time. Wow! what a turn-around. She's now the first to volunteer inside or outside the house.

Yes, she could stand to lose a few pounds (and I really don't like her clothes), but I think she's absolutely beautiful.

Posted by: Vienna | April 10, 2007 10:44 AM | Report abuse

I had a horrible relationship with my mother when I was a teenager. It's only now that I'm married and have my own daughter that the relationship has changed and I can see why she behaved the way she did - though I still haven't completely forgiven her.

I was a slender (size 2) teenager who danced for years, played the piano, made great grades, got an academic scholarship to college, never got into trouble. I was the editor of the newspaper, debate team, honors society type. My mother was (and still is) very obese. I have no idea what her weight is but it has to be over 250 lbs (at 5'2") - she was always in a size 2X. The only thing my mother seemed to take an interest in was my academic performance and disciplining me. I had a very strict upbrining by her, as my father wasn't around much (he was a lawyer). If I backtalked, I got slapped across the face. And I'm not talking about cursing (I never did that around her), just things like not wanting to clean up my room at that point in time or not wanting to clean my parents' bathroom. She hit me if I dropped pans in the kitchen and startled her with the loud noise. She hit me when she came home late one night and I told her I was tired of being the adult. She hit me if I left something in the floor and she tripped over it. She never did this if my father was home, and I was so happy to have at least one positive parental relationship.

My father, on the other hand, would take me shopping and bring home little gifts for me if I did well in school. He and I would talk for hours on the weekend, walking around the neighborhood or sitting and listening to music. He was so proud of me -- and told me so.

My father was diagnosed with cancer and spent months in the hospital before he died, ten years ago this month. I was a senior in high school, and I absolutely thought my life was over. I repeatedly wondered why God had taken him and not my mother, and my relationship with her got even worse.

Years passed when I didn't go home from college that much, and I gradually saw that the reason why my mother treated me as she did was her own insecurity. Because I was slender and she wasn't, because my father paid lots of attention to me, because I would go on to have the career that she didn't have.

She and I have never really explicitly talked about our relationship and how it's changed over the years. Now, she's very deferential to me -- I think she realizes that I don't need her anymore and if she behaves towards me as she did then, I wouldn't see her or let my daughter see her. Her insecurity is still manifesting itself, just in a very different way.

And I think a lot of her insecurities stem from not just her weight, but also her relationship with her father, who was even more of an authoritarian than she was. So I can't really blame her for that.

But I can stop the cycle with my relationship with my daughter (who is 2) - and I will.

Posted by: Anon for this post | April 10, 2007 10:47 AM | Report abuse

I grew up in a small rural town in PA where it was the norm to favor the sons and expect the daughters to do the housework and pick up after everyone (including our brothers). The relationship with my mother was never warm and inviting, but her relationship with her mother was not warm and loving either. I received criticism for not wearing the right things (although she was the one who wouldn't buy me clothes - the clothes would be second generation hand-me-downs so I didn't exactly get to choose the fashion).
I did not want to have children becuase I didn't want my children, especially daughters, to feel like they were second class citizens. However, I met a wonderful man and I changed my mind and now have a beautiful daughter and one on the way. I chose to think of this as an opportunity to stop the repetitive nature of distance and criticism and instead, be loving, supporting and constructively critical when needed - but always making sure that my daughter knows that I love her with all of my heart, no matter what.
8:58, I think you should have children only if you want to and I guarantee you that things will be different and that you'll get great pride and satisfaction out of changing the future.

Posted by: BRM | April 10, 2007 11:11 AM | Report abuse

I'll weigh in on the father's side of this, motivated especially by the fact that oldest DD is 18 today. (4:07 am, April 10, 1989! YAHOOOO!)

Our oldest daughter has been very much impacted that her mother is also the oldest daughter. My wife had a very good relationship with her mother growing up, and they're still close today. My wife wanted her relationship with our oldest daughter to be the same. It hasn't been, because our daughter is different from her mother ("that's your father in you"; "you're your father's daughter"; etc. are common refrains). They get along okay, now, but there have been some rough spots - despite the fact that oldest DD has good (but not great) grades, played two sports in high school, was in the chorus and all the school plays, has never been in any trouble (that we know of :-). My wife has constantly been on DD about her weight, about her music choices, about her love of technology (IM, iPod, etc.), about her clothing, and about a lot of things, and I think that some of it has been unfair - and I also think that it's because she sees herself in oldest DD and wants to her to do all the things she wished that she could have done.

Interestingly enough, my wife's relationship with the other two daughters, and with our son, is very different. The other two daughters are rarely criticized; and the youngest is in danger of being spoiled rotten. The one son is worshipped and adored by his mother; she gives him whatever he wants - cooks whatever he wants, does all of his laundry, etc.

I try to watch those relationships, and my own with the four kids. I believe that for the past few years, our son has been much closer to his mother than with me, and I also believe that I've been much closer to the daughters than my wife. I'm not sure why; growing up my father and sister almost never spoke to each other and she says that he was not much of an influence on her. Maybe I've consciously tried to be more involved in the girls' lives because of that; I've coached them all in sports (softball, volleyball, basketball and soccer), go to their games, worked with them on their homework, taken the oldest on college visits, and just been around to talk. Our pediatrician told me that it's fairly common for girls to rebel first against their mothers, and for boys to rebel first against their fathers - I don't know if that's what I'm seeing or not.

FWIW, both my brother and my wife's brother went through ugly divorces. My brother has two daughters for whom he's been a single father for 10 years - the mother remarried and both girls wanted nothing to do with her nor the stepfather. My BIL has two sons and two daughters; the only one living with his mother is the youngest son. The oldest son is away at college and stays with his father on vacations; the two girls, both in high school, also live with their father because they believe their mother is more interested in her own happiness and in her new husband than in them. (As my 17 year old niece put it last week, "I've had it with Mom and her boob job, piercings, tattoos, drinking, drugs, and hot young husband. Give me a break!") A friend recently got divorced and his 15 year old daughter has requested to live with him rather than her mother. I'm trying to figure out what this means.

Posted by: Army Brat | April 10, 2007 11:25 AM | Report abuse

After reading this article, I realized that my 17 year old son and I have these very discussions about the fact that I never praise him when he does something well, and it IS because I EXPECT nothing less from him. I have a 6 year old daughter and I can see that I have different expectations for her. I am harder on him but I don't really know if it's because he's older or male. I feel that in her I'm nurturing myself as much as I am her. I do believe that when she gets older there will be more conflict with her than my son. Really, there already is.

Posted by: Paula | April 10, 2007 12:15 PM | Report abuse

I can remember when one child favoured wearing bright plaids with lurid florals. No one went blind, and I figured that as long as the kid was getting dressed SOLO, what did I care?

That same child dresses very nicely, even appropriately, now.

I praise them for sticking with things and succeeding. I thank them for finishing chores or whatever I've asked them to do. When they screw up, I let them tell me about it and let them figure out how to fix it/make amends. One child had to spend an entire week of holiday vacation at school, working. I doubt it will happen again.

They know I love them, and they know I'll tell them when I am less than enthused with their choices or attitudes. We muddle through.

They also know that if they want increasing freedom, they need to accept increasing responsibilities. I'm a bourgeois pig that way.

Posted by: MdMother | April 10, 2007 12:18 PM | Report abuse

My mother never talked to us. She was either bawling us out or giving us orders. She couldn't stand to be in the same room with her kids (2 girls, 2 boys). It still amazes me when I see parents actually speak to their children. Jeez, go figure. The only compliment she ever -- EVER -- paid me was when I was a bridesmaid at my brother's wedding. She actually said "Gee, you look beautiful." I was 22 at the time.

Posted by: Anonymous | April 10, 2007 12:22 PM | Report abuse

My mother comments about my weight almost every time I see her. It's complimentary, but with an edge directed at others--ie, "You're the only slim one in the family," or "You're so trim--I just wish your brother could be the same."

It drives me crazy because I know that if I gained a few pounds she'd be saying the same kind of thing about me to someone else. As if it's something we're all doing to make her look bad. She loves the overweight people in the family, too, but it's not unconditional--it never will be--and hearing her judge the others makes me all too aware that her love for me isn't unconditional either, I am just meeting her conditions at the moment.

She does this about things other than weight, too, that was just the example that came to mind. Forget Tannen's nice idea about a mother's pride being so obvious it doesn't need to be stated--my mother just cannot be completely proud of someone who's fat or oddly dressed or forgets to write thank-you letters or any number of other social graces. I don't think these things matter _more_ to her than our achievements or happiness--but she can't pretend they don't matter at all.

Posted by: worker bee | April 10, 2007 12:27 PM | Report abuse

I have always been close to my mother, well in most ways... I never truly confided my innermost thoughts and fears to her, almost felt protective of her... but loved her very much and always felt at home with her. When I was a teenager she was at me a lot over my hair and clothes, I was a tomboy and very careless about those things... but at the time I took it kind of philosophically, I thought that us kids all got the same amount of grief but in different ways. My brothers closest to me in age were indifferent, lazy students and got ridden for that, whereas I was an ace student so I thought to make up for not carping on my study habits and grades, she got after me for hair in the eyes or wearing the same clothes too much or whatever. I didn't take it personally. It was more my father who cut me to the quick, one time when I was 17 he looked at me critically, and told me I didn't have a pretty face, but that was OK I had a friendly face and that would be better in the long run. THAT hurt where the petty nagging over hair and clothes did not...

With my own daughter, I was not critical about clothes or hair, generally... one time she was going for a college interview and I gave her a bunch of pointers, basically to make her a bit more conservative-looking, and she bridled; and I told her, look, just think, some mothers do this every day! And she laughed, realizing it was true, that I let her go her own way. Of course I think she is beautiful and charming and brilliant and I think she knows that... hope so!

Posted by: catherine | April 10, 2007 12:40 PM | Report abuse

Hmmm. No daughters, only sons, so I can't speak to that part of the question.

With my mother, she never directly criticized my clothes, hair, etc. But I was very thin. What she did do was "disappear" clothes that she didn't approve of. Like a purple bikini that I got at 13. Clothes would go into the laundry basket (by the time we were teens, we were expected to also empty the laudry basket, and wash the clothes), then the laundry would get done during the day while we were at school, and the favorite clothing article would never bee seen again.

I've asked my sisters, and they don't remember this happening to them. Of course, my brother never had it happen either. Just me, the oldest daughter. And since my later 30's - I'm 47 now - I've been able to hear people tell me how much I look like my mother, and apparently I've always been the one who was most like her. So, maybe there was something about my "hotter" looking clothes not reflecting well on her self-image.

Posted by: Sue | April 10, 2007 12:55 PM | Report abuse

My siblings and I, after rehashing all of the mistakes our parents made rearing us, like to say that they put us where we are--ahead of the game. It wasn't like there was a ton of info--my parents were clueless, Dr. Phil wasn't on t.v, and self help books consisted of the Bible and Dr. Spock, not that my parents read the latter!

Anyway, my mother was very loving and affectionate, but had her bouts of guilt tripping. She is still very passive aggressive, but we know what that means now and how to address it. I think it is because of her that I learned how to be a loving mother. My own daughter is as sweet and loving and forgiving as I could hope. We are still very close, and I like to think that I have learned how to guide her gently to make good choices. She is kind, helpful at home, and makes good grades. Disclaimer: I don't care if she makes straight A's. My husband does, but he is unaware of the subjectivity of grades. I do understand the whole clothing issue, though. We were looking for Easter clothes and let me tell you, I think I am going to take up sewing, because most of the stuff out there is cut down to the navel. And who was the genius who thought up the shrug? It is impossible to dress well or with style if you are a 12 year old girl who hasn't hit her growth spurt yet! If there is, please tell me!

Posted by: another mdmother | April 10, 2007 12:57 PM | Report abuse

i think my mother did an amazing job raising me. she never made a comment about my weight, in fact she was a complete food pusher who always told me i was perfect even when i was overweight. though she struggled secretley with an eating disorder she always tried her best to make sure i never felt insecure about myself.

of course i did, and eventually after years of watching her, i picked up on her habits. the only thing that made me seek help was seeing how much pain my own eating disorder caused her. i could tell she felt responsible, like she had failed as a parent, and it killed her.

and yes it was partly her fault. i developed my own problem after years of watching hers. i wanted to be like my beautiful thin mother, and i followed in her footsteps.

but i think it's important to realize that mothers were not always mothers. they were once just people, with issues, and baggage, like the rest of us. no matter how hard they try, those issues can sometimes effect us. what's important is that they're trying to do the best they can by us, faults and all.

Posted by: mommy's girl | April 10, 2007 1:15 PM | Report abuse

"We were looking for Easter clothes and let me tell you, I think I am going to take up sewing, because most of the stuff out there is cut down to the navel."

Psst...Lands End & Kohl's.

Posted by: Anonymous | April 10, 2007 1:18 PM | Report abuse

I just wanted to say that for all the moms with daughters, I think criticizing your daughters over grades is always good. That's the one thing daughters feel good about their relationship with their parents later, because it makes them feel that they were not spared the concern for doing well in career b/c they were girls and not boys. It's the critisizing over looks such as beauty etc that is demeaning.

Posted by: Boston | April 10, 2007 1:21 PM | Report abuse

I think most parents do the best they can - learning along the way. Parents are responsible for raising their children to be decent adults.. their tactics to achieve this goal most definately influenced by their own upbringing, books, TV, friends, relatives, etc., or more likely a combination of all of above.

I have two sons and yep - made a lot of mistakes along the way. Followed the text book on some things.. and yep - that seemed to be the wrong way sometimes too. The biggest thing is to continue to work to be a good parent and always let your children know you unconditionally love them. And sometimes that means telling them NO.. or giving them constructive feed back on their appearance and/or behavior.. and eventually setting them free to live their own adult life.. and then when THEY have kids.. they will have 'AHA' moments and think.... "Now I know why mom did/thought/said that". And they'll appreciate you as a parent - just like I genuinely appreciate everything my mom and dad did - even though they were far from perfect.

Posted by: C.W. | April 10, 2007 2:06 PM | Report abuse

Most parents are doing the best they know how.

For most parents, the best they know how is barely self-aware enough to keep most of their children from being completely neurotic by the time they grow up.

Don't get me wrong- I'm not suggesting all parents all suck and are the sole cause of problems in children.

Simply that they all suck in SOME ways, and most suck in some fairly big ways. One just hopes it's not too much.

Oh and I don't get why you can't thank or praise someone for doing a job they are expected to do? Letting them know they did a good job is good feedback for the future and doesn't negate the understanding that it's expected.

Posted by: Liz D | April 10, 2007 2:31 PM | Report abuse

My mother was of the philosophy that "If I tell you when you do something bad, I'm also going to tell you when you do something good." This is not to say that she didn't do well at guilt trips when she wanted, though. However, she never once outright berated me.

My mother I don't think ever really had much of a problem with what I wore or the fact that I lept my hair very very long -- I can actually only remember 3x when she said something about what I was wearing and those, looking back, were a bit extreme...she had several pitfalls, but honestly this wasn't one of them.

Posted by: FWIW | April 10, 2007 2:41 PM | Report abuse

"Most parents are doing the best they know how."

Which may be garbage!!
Consider Britney Spears!!

Posted by: Anonymous | April 10, 2007 2:47 PM | Report abuse

Anon for this post, I'm sorry your mother treated you like that and that you lost your dad so early.

Posted by: Knows What It's Like | April 10, 2007 4:09 PM | Report abuse

To 8:58 - I had many of the same feelings you expressed in your posting. 5 years ago I became pregnant (unplanned) and now have an unbelievable gift -- my daughter. My old fears have now been replaced by an absolute love and a dedication to raising a loved, happy, and self confident child - and I love every minute of it!

Posted by: Anonymous | April 10, 2007 4:31 PM | Report abuse

It is interesting how we "mine" our own childhood for pitfalls and suggestions on how to help our children grow into responsible adults, as well.

My mom, on the one hand, was supportive of my academics (as was my dad) and career efforts. She was not critical of my looks at all. However, she was/is a controlling person who is completely un-self-reflective. So there's been good and bad.

I'm at a point where I appreciate how she and my father set me up so well to be successful in life.

However, one thing I remember as a child is that any time I tried to "show off" some stunt or the other (leaping over a wall, climbing a high tree, standing on a rickety chair, etc.), instead of praising me and my abilities, my parents worriedly asked me to be careful and acted either very disapproving and negative, or completely ignored what I was doing (I now understand why this is, of couse!). For some reason, however, their lack of interest or approval really affected me, and now, when my little 20-month-old climbs up to stand on a stool and turns to me, beaming with pride at what he is doing, I make sure to say "Look at you!" with equal pride, before making sure he is safe!

My husband was actually acting like my parents for a while; he would see only the danger, and not the pride my son took in his physical accomplishment. I explained my thinking to him and he was amazed.

Posted by: Rebecca | April 11, 2007 11:38 AM | Report abuse

I think Deborah Tannen may be right and wrong at the same time. Right, if the parent is normal. Wrong if the parent is constantly critical.

My mother conditioned me to believe I was fat when I was merely built differently than she was. (She was small boned and weighed 98 pounds when she married my father).

I was 5'7" and athletic. She told me I could stand to lose weight when I still weighed only 125-135 pounds. In looking at pictures of myself when I was in junior high and high school, I see only now that I was not indeed fat at all. I wasn't even overweight. I was normal.

She is very unkind and unforgiving about appearance, and as a 43 year old woman, I recently realized that I would be a much different person today if I hadn't heard any of this criticism.

I don't think I heard a compliment growing up, not about the straight A's, the athletic achievements, none of it.

About ten years ago, I realized I was never going to get the love and approval I so craved.

Fortunately, I had the opportunity to tell my own daughter that girls and women come in all shapes and sizes when she recently began discussing who weighs how much at school (fourth grade!)

I try to stress that living healthfully is about eating good foods and exercising, and getting enough sleep. It's not about weight.

Posted by: Kate | April 12, 2007 12:29 PM | Report abuse

Being a single mom I have to balance the nuturing loving mommy and the strict disciplinarian; thus I come off a bit unbalanced at times. Every child is different and I decided long ago that I needed to pick my battles with my daughter; mine are honesty and good grades. I can live with everything else. I also always remind myself of a Dennis Miller quote: "Don't worry that you might be doing permanent damage; you are doing permanent damage." Peace.

Posted by: Cindy Z. | April 12, 2007 3:04 PM | Report abuse

I make it a point to tell my mother how nice she looks, and for the most part she does. I ignore the weight, the wrinkles, the out-of-place hair, the clothes that aren't quite right, the loss of once perfect table manners. She is getting old, she's had a hard life -- I want her to feel good.

But since I've been about 40, she has not once told me I look good. She tells me what sort of hair cut I should get (not a style I'm interested in) and makes comments about eating habits and weight. Yes, mother, I'm 25 lbs. overweight. She doesn't know many of the details of my life, but she does know I have a medical problem that contributed to the weight gain. I try to look nice and be pleasant when we're together, that's more important to me that proving to her that I don't overeat. I would so love for her just once to smile and tell me that I look good, even if it's a lie.

Posted by: Anonymous | April 12, 2007 4:16 PM | Report abuse

Honestly, I'm horrified by the idea that it's a mother's job to point out every flaw they see in their children, or to teach her children how to take criticism by leading the charge. Good Lord, the rest of the world will teach your children all about what it's like to be judged and found wanting, all their life. You teach them that you love them and you think they're wonderful. They will figure out on their own that their four-inch-long bangs look a little silly, and then they will cut them shorter because they want to.

The best thing my mother ever did for me was to give me a loving safe harbor at home. If I was hurting someone (or her, or myself), she would tell me--short of that, she just loved me, and that meant that I trusted her enough to ask her opinion without ever being afraid to hear it. She didn't make me vain, she made me secure; I don't think I'm beautiful, but I know she thinks I am, and it's really nice to know that.

My mom's example taught me how to be warm and supportive to my friends and family, the way she was. It also taught me to hold out for a man who would love me the way I was accustomed to being loved, and to walk away from the men who thought it was -their- job to criticize me.

Posted by: SP | April 12, 2007 5:30 PM | Report abuse

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