A Mother/Daughter Project: How to Be Curious and Strengthen Your Relationship

04/30/2015 12:11 pm ET | Updated Jun 30, 2015
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For many, it is hard to believe that I have chosen to work with my mother. It is true. We are partners in a business we founded together, the Institute of Curiosity. We have also written together our newly-released book, The Power of Curiosity: How to have real conversations that create collaboration, innovation and understanding. When I tell my friends, they don't know whether to be happy for me or to feel bad for me. Why? How? Really? Your mother?

The daughter in me realizes that this is considered uncommon and for some even weird. The mother in me asks, "why is it so strange to want to work with your mother?" What is it about the mother/daughter relationship that makes our situation considered so unique?

People often ask us "how do you do it day in, day out without wanting to kill each other?" and "how do you make it work?" Our response is always: it works because we are curious. It is really that simple.

Successful, authentic relationships are rooted in respectful understanding, and the only way you can achieve this is with curiosity. Now, I am not saying that it is always easy. I would be lying if I said that both of us have never considered throwing in the towel at least once. However, our practice of curiosity has forced us to get to know each other beyond the usual parameters of our mother/daughter relationship, which can be hard and ultimately, is an incredible gift. It has taken patience on both our parts, along with vulnerability, acceptance and understanding; of ourselves and each other. We have learned that we don't have to agree on everything. Our processes are completely different, as are our perspectives, strengths and professional experiences. While at times it may feel hopeless and frustrating, through our commitment to curiosity, we have gained a deeper understanding and a new appreciation for each other, to which we credit much of our strength and success.

So, how can a simple skill that we are all born with be so profoundly life-changing? When you aren't curious, you judge, blame, shame and get stuck in a "I am right, you are wrong" mindset -- often without even knowing you are doing it, which leads to conflict. This is an all too familiar dance that mothers and daughters have, even in the most loving of relationships. If it is acceptable and safe to do in our most intimate relationship, then it must be acceptable and safe to do in all our relationships, and so continues that dance in all aspects of our lives.

I picked up my daughter after school a couple of days ago and when she got into the car she was clearly upset. When I asked her about her day, she launched into a very dramatic account of her lunch break with her friends: "We were playing 'Big Sister,' and I wanted to be the big sister but my friends made me be the baby because they said I didn't know how to be a big sister. I didn't want to be the baby, I am NOT a baby, and when I told them that I wanted to be the mom they said I wouldn't do it right. 'You are too young to be the mom and we don't have enough time to explain it to you, so stop making such a big deal about it and be the baby,'" she mimicked. "They are so stupid, school is stupid, no one ever understands me!"

My pre-curious self would have done what I did best -- quickly and very efficiently fixed and solved this "problem" for her, telling her exactly what to do and how to feel about it, robbing her of any learning, accountability or skill development. Instead, I turned all my focus on her and just listened. Then I asked her how she wanted to handle it. It may not have been what I would have done, or how I wanted her to handle it. However, by being curious, present and actively listening to her, it allowed me to learn from her and better understand my daughter's experiences and perspectives. I wanted her to feel seen, heard and understood and I trusted that, at age 7, she was capable of solving her own "problem."

As I reflect on my relationship with my mom over the last few years and I think of my current stream of conversations with my daughter, I wonder... if we are to commit to the changes we want for ourselves and our daughters, then isn't it time to change the conversation to one that is rooted in respectful understanding? We know these changes can't be made alone, so let's start at home with a new conversation -- one that is rooted in curiosity. If respectful understanding is the language for our most intimate relationships, then it will pave the way for all our relationships -- personal and professional.

We believe that curiosity is the single most powerful tool to which we all have access. It's the innovation-driving, emotion-calming skill that comes naturally to us as kids but gets buried by our busy, multitasking lifestyles. The good news is, as my mom and I experienced, we just need to re-learn what we already know.

As I look at my daughter and think of my business with my mother, I wonder will she ever want to start a business with me? While I secretly wish that I will get the chance to do it all over again with her, I know that as long as we remain curious it won't really matter. Through thick and thin, I will hold tight to the gift from my mother, a commitment to respectful understanding, something we all have the ability to achieve. That is the power of curiosity.

Kathy Taberner and Kirsten Taberner Siggins are the authors of The Power of Curiosity: How To Have Real Conversations That Create Collaboration, Innovation and Understanding (Morgan James 2015). Together they founded the Institute Of Curiosity, a coaching and training organization that helps individuals learn and apply the skills of curiosity to personal and professional relationships.