In Tellie Olsen's "I Stand Here Ironing" and Amy Tan's "Two Kinds," the mothers are very different.
Olsen's story is about a woman who is reflective of her child (Emily) and her childhood—the images we receive come from the mother's perspective as she stands ironing—a seemingly endless task. The mother recalls someone at school once contacting her, worried about Emily. We learn that the child's father had abandoned them, and that for two years the mother had to leave her daughter with her in-laws before she could afford to take care of her. Another time she had to put her daughter in a convalescent home (for eight months) because Emily had measles and could not be allowed infect the family (including a new baby)—but she failed to thrive there. The mother recalls the hard years with Emily—the separations, and the mother's concern that maybe she didn't do enough...though she is adamant that she loved Emily. It was the during the Depression, and life was hard, and raising a child, harder.
And while the mother admits that Emily was hard to get close to, she recalls, too, that her daughter was a beautiful baby, and was later a gifted entertainer, winning an amateur talent contest at school.
Mother, I did it. I won, I won; they gave me first prize; they clapped and clapped and wouldn't let me go.
For all of her concern, her daughter spread her wings and took flight with her newly-realized talent. Emily has grown up and is graceful and more self-assured. The mother wonders what the caller from the school had been worried about.
However, the story ends as the mother almost prays that her daughter will realize "...she is more than this dress on the ironing board, helpless before the iron." My sense is that she hopes her daughter will not have the life the mother has had and that she will know her own self-worth, regardless—or in spite—of her mother's struggles. Or as one source states "...that she is more than the sum of her experiences."
Amy Tan's story is told from the daughter's standpoint, so the reader is only able to assemble information through the recollections of Jing-Mei (or June). This is a very different story in that the mother is married and the family lives in comfort. There is not the distance between mother and daughter her caused by poverty and endless working, but because Jing-Mei cannot share her mother's American dream for her future.
In "Two Kinds," the mother and daughter fight. Jing-Mei's mother has dreams for her daughter so that her life will be better than her own, but she pushes the child to do things that embarrass this American daughter of Chinese parents. Jing-Mei's mother believes that she can make her daughter a child prodigy by having her take piano lessons. Jing-Mei disagrees, and ends up at a recital where she really has learned nothing and has no talent to share. Both mother and daughter are embarrassed.
Here the mother does not seem to worry about the mistakes she may have made, though she does want her daughter to be successful in life. While she does not seem to worry, it does occupy her mind, but as with "I Stand Here Ironing," Jing-Mei is also able to find success in her life.
Olson's mother never seems to quite know her daughter, but Tan's Jing-Mei grows to know her mother. The piano music, years later shows that two songs she had played as a child were "two halves of the same song," much as Jing-Mei realizes that she and her mother were more connected than she could have known as a child.