February 20, 2006 12:00 PM

“So many women say, “I thought when my daughter grew up we’d be friends,'” says author Deborah Tannen. In her new book, she explores why that can be tough—and what can help.

WHY IS THE MOM-DAUGHTER BOND SO FRAUGHT?

One reason is that each underestimates her own power and overestimates the other’s. Daughters don’t realize how much control they have—over how often they talk, for instance—and moms don’t realize how much impact their opinions can have. They may think they’re giving advice, but often criticism is implicit.

WHAT CAN MOMS DO DIFFERENTLY?

Don’t talk about the Big 3—hair, weight, clothes—unless it’s a compliment, and stop there. Say “You’ve lost weight, you look great”; don’t add “Keep it up.” And when girls get older, try keeping in touch via e-mail—it’s less intrusive.

HOW CAN DAUGHTERS HELP?

Ask yourself, “Would I talk to anyone else the way I’m talking to my mom?” Women I talked to admitted hanging up on their moms—you wouldn’t do that to anyone else.

SO IS FRIENDSHIP POSSIBLE?

Not entirely. But we can’t let the fact that some interactions are bad overshadow how wonderful the relationship can be. As one woman said to me, “Who else can I tell I got a great deal on toilet paper?”

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