Moms are expert at playing “20 Questions” and they sometimes bring up topics that their daughters don’t want to talk about. In this week’s post, we ruminate about mother-daughter conversations, “switching the subject” and more.

Ellen…

When I was visiting Jenna a few weeks ago, we were chatting over breakfast and I asked her something about her work. I don’t recall what the question was, but Jenna responded sharply, “I don’t want to talk about work anymore. Can we talk about something else?” While her tone of voice bothered me, I understood why she wanted to switch the subject – it was Saturday, and she wanted to distance herself from the work week. Ironically, about five minutes later, she began talking about work and caught herself doing it. We smiled at each other and agreed that “switching the subject” and mother-daughter conversation topics would make a good blog topic!

As with friends, moms and daughters chat about what’s going on in their lives and things they are both interested in. Because Jen and I are both in business, we talk about our work quite a bit. Generally, we understand what each other does and enjoy hearing about interesting projects the other is working on. When Jenna is navigating office politics or pondering career moves, she knows that I will “get it” and will often ask for my advice. Besides work, Jen and I talk about books, yoga, friends and just plain ole’ catching up. You will rarely find us talking about TV shows, politics or music!

What was interesting about our interchange was not so much the fact that Jenna wanted to switch subjects but the way she did it. If Jenna were talking to a friend and they brought up the same work question that I did, my guess is that she would have responded in a different way – perhaps answering the question briefly and then subtly switching the subject. Or she might have been more direct, politely explaining that she doesn’t like to talk about work on the weekends.

Similar to most daughters, Jenna can sometimes be more impatient with me than others. While it happens less as she gets older, it’s still not fun to be on the receiving end. I think it happens because Jenna feels totally comfortable with me; she knows that I love her unconditionally and won’t push her away or stop calling if she gives me some attitude. I understand that because I can sometimes be that way with my husband!

However, I rarely show my “bad side” to Jenna; I am careful to put my best self forward when I’m with her. I have a strong need for Jenna to like me and want to make sure we have”quality time” together.   Perhaps that’s the reason why I feel compelled to keep our conversations active and ask so many questions. When I feel 100% at ease with Jenna, I can be my authentic self which allows for silence and just “being”. What does all this mean? I think we have some work to do in this area or maybe it’s just me that needs to do the work.

Jenna…

I’m so happy to finally write about this topic because it seems like a long time coming. Many times my mom starts asking me questions and at some point, I shut down and say I want to switch the subject. In reflection, I don’t do this with many others in my life. Why does this seem to happen in our mother-daughter relationship?

I think it is less about the subject and more about asking many questions. Often times, particularly if I haven’t had a chance to catch up with my mom in a while, she goes into a long list of questions that often feel like a rapid fire session. Even if it’s a topic I’m interested in and want to discuss, the approach to the conversation usually turns me off. While I don’t mind my mom’s interest or eagerness to hear about my life, I much prefer to open up at my own will after one question rather than receiving multiple.

This incident reminded me of a story we heard from our friend Karen on the story of the prickly porcupine. The push-pull dynamics of a mother-daughter relationship are undeniable! When my mom feels overbearing and starts digging for details, I tend to retreat. When she gives me space to open up and share as much as I’d like, I usually divulge more.

I don’t say any of this to convince my mom (or any other mothers out there) to stop asking questions. There is always a balance! I should be more patient in answering my mom’s questions and giving her a glimpse into my life. But our incident over breakfast was another reminder of the special, underlying dynamics that surface in mother-daughter relationships. As much as my mom and I work on our relationship, we are vulnerable to these natural tendencies just like everyone else. No one is perfect – but reflecting on past dialogues, sharing how we feel and acknowledging our faults can dramatically make us better mothers and daughters.