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Oh.No.She.Didn’t!! Expert Advice for Black Moms on Talking to our Daughters

My daughter is wonderful. But the closer she gets to her upcoming 10th birthday, the more I’ve been noticing a little bit of attitude slipping out of her mouth every now and then. In fact, there have been a few “Oh know you didn’t” moments when I had to catch myself from losing it.  I thought if I gave that look or said those words to my mother, I’d be putting an ice pack somewhere right about now.

But of course, as a very modern mom, I’m always looking for new ways to communicate and connect with my daughter, even when my old school reflexes kick in. That’s why I was so interested in a new book by Dr. Charles Sophy that proposes a revolutionary plan to break the cycle of fighting and negative communication between mothers and daughters.

I guess the shrink industry will have to find another cash cow if mothers and daughters resolve all their issues.

Sophy says the problem starts with stuff like too much emotionality, too much estrogen, unspoken competition, and the non-verbal communication like eye rolling that really kills it between mom and daughter.  

The book is called Side by Side, The Revolutionary Mother-Daughter Program for Conflict-Free Communication (HarperOne). Dr. Sophy, a well-known clinical psychiatrist who has treated all sorts of young people from young Hollywood celebrities to foster children in the Los Angeles County child welfare system, has seen a lot of family dynamics—mostly broken ones, and has some pretty cool insights on fixing what’s not working between mothers and daughters.

So I called Dr. Sophy and interviewed him about this so-called "revolutionary" approach. And he some pretty keen insights on Black moms too, having worked with a lot of African Americans over the years.

What I love most about Dr. Sophy’s approach is that it is totally mom-driven, and gives power back to the parents to resolve even the most heated argument about outfits, boys, curfews, hairstyles or body piercing. The approach is called Side by Side (not be confused with the good ole’ UPside the head method), a technique he explains in his new book.

And while most moms are thinking, “What’s wrong with my daughter?”, Sophy says the problem-solving begins squarely with moms and doing, what he calls, “up-front work.” 

 “Parenting begins with you,” Sophy said to me in our recent interview. “You have to be a solid mom to raise a solid child. Moms, you have to unhook yourself first,” he says. To help, Sophy outlines a balancing tool called S.W.E.E.P. that looks at five key areas of your life as a mom.  Sleep. Work. Eating. Emotional Expression of Self. Play.  Sophy says a balanced S.W.E.E.P. makes the difference between an emotionally and physically stable mom and a walking disaster.

And buckle up!, the up-front work also includes delving into your own relationship with your mother and looking for regrets, disappointments and any unmet needs that are probably negatively playing out in your interactions with your daughter. Oh. Yes. He. Did.  

We even talked about how black women have notoriously "raised their daughters and loved their sons," and that we are often tough on our girls because we know what their plight may be. We know the state of the world. The state of the career scene. The state of our black men. So we have to make sure they are strong, confident, hard-working and prepared. After all, isn't that our job? Wouldn't it be irresponsible parenting if we did anything less?

Dr. Sophy said Black moms have to learn to communicate and impart those important lessons without dumping all of our "issues" in the space. If we don't, we're just creating undue pressure and resentment in our girls that could be more damaging than helpful.

After he gets moms on the right footing,  Sophy introduces a tool he calls The Chair Strategy, an easy to use approach to communication that reduces the emotions of any argument and allows moms to guide any conversation to a place of love and respect. Oh sure, until you get the rolling eyes and the screeching, “You’re ruining my life!” followed by a stomp-away and door slam!!

Sophy says mothers and daughters are usually operating in one of three chair-like positions:

Back-to-Back: this one ain’t good. In this position mother and daughter are at odds, with no chance of seeing eye-to-eye and making a real connection.

Face-to-Face: when mom and daughter are openly discussing an issue honestly and with respect whether they agree or not. This is ideal for working out difficulties, but because it is so intense, it is hard to keep it going for a long time.

Side-by-Side: Ahhh! Where mother and daughter are supportive of each other, looking in the same direction and sharing the same perspective. This is the ideal position for everyday communication.

And Sophy says it’s mom’s role to take charge and move those chairs around, get them in the right position. I’m still reading the book, and I’m already seeing my own boos boos. For example, the next time my baby girl comes home with three wrong on the spelling test, I’ll definitely praise the 17 correct answers first. That’s called strength-based speaking, for the uninitiated.

I’ve got plenty to learn. Please share your tips and suggestions for communicating with your daughter.

In the meantime, having a better relationship with my daughter is definitely worth reading 243 pages, so I’m all up and through this book.  

I’ll keep you posted.

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