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10 Tips for Improving Mother-Daughter Communication

January 7, 2011

A few years ago, my daughter and I weren’t able to stop in the moment of an argument and listen to each other’s perspectives. We kept our feelings inside where they festered like a splinter. Days later, if one of us could muster up the courage, we might bring up our hurt feelings. For example, we’d talk on the phone and she’d get impatient with me for asking a question about something she just told me – then our conversation would begin to unravel:

“Why do you have to use that tone of voice?” I’d ask my daughter.

“Because you don’t listen.”

“I did listen. I just didn’t understand what you meant.”

“Well, it feels like you aren’t listening.”

“I am listening, but if I don’t understand something, I wish you’d cut me some slack and have a little more patience.”

“I’m sorry,” she’d say, and the conversation would end with neither of us feeling that we’d been heard.

Over the past year we’ve gotten motivated to do some conscious work on understanding each other’s perspectives. And — Lord knows — we do have very different perspectives.

What prompted this shift for us was the desire to reduce the stress in our communication by trying to resolve things the moment they happened. After several years of feeling palpable stress when we disagreed about something, we came up with a technique that has helped us diffuse the tension. Now when I see my daughter’s getting worked up about something, I’ll say, “It seems like something’s bothering you. Can we go in the other room and talk?” Then, she has a chance to tell me what’s on her mind and we can work through the issue.

We’ve had lots of opportunities to work on our communication over the past eight years. In 2003, I became a grandma. After witnessing my granddaughter’s birth and going completely “gaga,” I knew I wanted to be a significant part of her life. So my husband and I talked about it with our daughter and son-in-law. We all agreed that two visits a month would work for everyone. My daughter and I have always valued our relationship and our communication is an important component. When she became a mother and made me a grandmother, our communication took on greater importance. Our time together increased, and with so many new experiences facing us in our new roles, we often felt the tension mounting between us. We both agree we want love, understanding and respect from each other. Now we’re learning how to be respectful and honest in our communication. Here are 10 tips we’ve learned to improve our communication:

1. Make a commitment to understand each other’s perspective.
2. Agree that you will disagree. It’s not about convincing but understanding the other’s point of view.
3. Accept each other’s choices without judgment.
4. Try to resolve a disagreement when it’s happening, rather than keeping your feelings inside for days.
5. Listen with empathy, not with solutions. Sometimes, “Oh, that must be so hard for you” is all that’s needed.
6. Use “I” statements, followed by a feeling when you open a discussion.
7. Recognize you are both adults and let go of the mother-child dynamic.
8. Acknowledge each other when you’ve expressed your feelings.
9. Laugh whenever possible and end with a hug or “high five.”
10. Remember the big picture: By modeling good communication you’re setting an example for your children and the way they speak to you, their siblings and friends.

Donne Davis has two grown children and two grandchildren. Seven years ago, after witnessing the birth of her first grandchild, she founded the GaGa Sisterhood, a social network where grandmas bond, brag, and benefit. She blogs about all the joys and challenges of being a grandma today.

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