May 24, 2004 12:00 PM

You Don’t Really Know Me: Why Mothers and Daughters Fight and How Both Can Win

Terri Apter, a professor of social psychology at the University of Cambridge, observed and interviewed 59 pairs of mothers and daughters for her new book, You Don’t Really Know Me: Why Mothers and Daughters Fight and How Both Can Win. Apter, 54, who herself has two grown daughters, talks about the lessons she learned regarding the maternal bond.

WHAT WAS YOUR INSPIRATION FOR THE BOOK? There is a strong theory of adolescence that girls want a kind of psychological divorce from their parents—that they want to cut ties. When my older daughter was still a kid, that idea became so distasteful I really wanted to update it and bring mothers’ voices into this: I wanted to watch girls and mothers in action.

WHAT WAS YOUR MOST STRIKING DISCOVERY? Girls aren’t fighting to try to push the mother away. They are trying to engage her in a new way, to shake her out of her old habits of looking at the girl. What I would call it is not a separation but maybe an individuation: defining yourself as a little bit different from your mother but doing it while maintaining a connection. They also make amends; if you actually look at the arguments you’ll find a daughter is as likely to take a step toward reconciliation as the mother.

WHAT ARE THE HOT-BUTTON TOPICS FOR MOTHERS AND DAUGHTERS? Homework, money, suitable/unsuitable friends and boyfriends. On another level the arguments are about recognition and respect.

WHAT’S YOUR BEST ADVICE FOR MOMS COPING WITH TEENAGE DAUGHTERS? Whatever your daughter says, you are extremely important to her. She needs your good opinion and your faith in her.

HAVE YOUR DAUGHTERS READ THE BOOK? Yes, they think it’s funny. My younger daughter says, “See? I’m not the only one who gets annoyed when you’re not really listening.”

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