Can't Talk to Mom? Try Email!

If you find it hard to communicate face to face with your mother or daughter, try using email to break down old communications barriers. "email, I've noticed, really helps mothers and daughters. Each person can edit and she doesn't have to speak off the cuff in the heat of emotion," says Dr. Tracy. "That can strengthen their capacity to hear each other enormously."

But what about the often-lamented limitations of nuance in email? We can't hear tone of voice and we can't see facial expressions, so email communication can be limited. In the case of mothers and daughters, that can be a good thing. "A mother or a daughter sees a shrug or a grimace or a hand on the hip, and it's read as though the daughter's six years old and the mother's back in that role. All communication ceases," Dr. Tracy explains. "But with email, they can learn to talk slowly and carefully, without those old assumptions."

Dr. Tracy offers the following tips for a productive email correspondence with your mother or daughter:

  • Edit, edit, edit! "Once you've written an email, read it and think about how your daughter or your mother will hear it," says Dr. Tracy. "Put yourself in her ear, so to speak, and delete anything that produces anger or guilt.
  • Don't let more than two days go by without replying to an email. "A reply can be very brief, as short as one sentence from a daughter to a mother. Mothers' replies to the daughters will probably always be a bit longer."
  • Moms: don't use email to tell your daughter what to do! "Do not instruct or advise in email," Dr. Tracy urges mothers. "Show interest in your daughter and what she's doing — and tell her a little bit about what you're doing."