You Don't Really Know Me: Why Mothers and Daughters Fight, and How Both Can Win by Terri Apter (Norton, $13.95)
Few familial combinations can be as combustible as a teenage daughter and her mother.
But as British psychologist Terri Apter documents, even fights that seem to be about "nothing" are a teenager's attempt to navigate perilous emotional terrain. Handled well, these battles can help both parties emerge with a renewed closeness, says Apter, the author of a previous book about mothers and adolescent daughters.
In Apter's view, it's not the frequency or intensity of the battles, but rather what happens during them that can forge or sunder the relationship.
"Fighting well with a mother is an important skill," Apter observes. Mothers who ridicule, shame, silence or issue an ultimatum may undermine their ties to daughters who are seeking to recast their relationship, not destroy it.
A teenage girl, she writes, wants her mother to see her as she is, or as she aspires to be, and not as the little girl she once was -- or whom her mother hoped she would become. Teenagers "do not want a mother who leaves them alone and does not speak," she says. "They want connection, recognition and respect."
As Apter makes clear in her deconstruction of fights between several dozen mother-daughter pairs -- events that will be familiar to anyone who was or has an adolescent daughter -- creating that relationship can be difficult. She offers useful guidance on things about which mothers should avoid commenting, such as a girl's appearance. And she advises mothers to wait until their daughters calm down before attempting to hash out a conflict.
While the dialogues can bog down at times, the best parts of the book are Apter's explanations of the subtext of these arguments and how mothers can respond honestly, without falling into the trap of trying to become their daughter's "best friend."
-- Sandra G. Boodman