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Failure to Communicate

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When a mother visits a grown-up daughter in the daughter’s home, can the mother surrender her need to be in charge? Does she criticize the ways her daughter chooses to spend money on herself, her home, or her children? Does the daughter react by attacking her mother’s imperfections?

When old patterns like these thwart communication between a mother and daughter, Deborah Tannen, professor of sociolinguistics at Georgetown University, proposes Instant Messaging and e-mail as ways to stimulate new dialogue.

Laura Tracy, a Washington, D.C., family therapist and author who specializes in counseling mother-daughter pairs, sometimes suggests that her clients get together to watch a movie about mothers and daughters. If they have trouble talking to one another without conflict, this can help break the ice by leading to a discussion of the film couple’s strengths and weaknesses. If your own clients would like to try this, I’d suggest a movie like Postcards from the Edge, The Joy Luck Club, Divine Secrets of the Ya-Ya Sisterhood, Steel Magnolias, or Terms of Endearment.