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Guest post: Can a mother be a daughter’s best friend?

A recent article in the Wall Street Journal by Amy Chozick, How Parents Became Cool, describes the parental paradigm shift (as seen on TV) from loving but firm (think: The Brady Bunch) to best friends (think: Pretty Little Liars). We’ve all heard stories of (and some of us have witnessed up close) moms who are trying so desperately to be cool that they opt for the role of BFFs to their daughters instead of moms. It’s an easy line to cross; after all, every woman wants another friend—and moms, especially, want to connect with their teens and tweens and not be thought of as old hags. But can a mother be a daughter’s best friend?

Apropos of Mother’s Day, I asked my colleagues, Linda Perlman Gordon and Susan Morris Shaffer, authors of Too Close for Comfort: Questioning the Intimacy of Today’s Mother-Daughter Relationship (Berkley, 2009) to address that question in a guest post. Here is what Gordon and Shaffer had to say:

There is an old Chinese proverb that states “One Generation plants the trees; another gets the shade,” and this is how it should be with mothers and daughters. The intimate nature of the relationship between a mother and daughter is sometimes confusing. If close, the relationship can simulate friendship through the familiar characteristics of empathy, listening, loyalty, and caring. However, the mother/daughter relationship has unique characteristics that distinguish it from a best friendship. These characteristics include a mother’s role as primary emotional caretaker, a lack of reciprocity, and a hierarchy of responsibility. This hierarchy, combined with unconditional love, precludes mothers and daughters from being best friends.

Because the essential ingredient for friendship is equality and there is always an imbalance when one person in the twosome is the parent of the other, mothers and daughters naturally can’t be best friends. Marina, 27 years old says, “I love spending time with my mom, but I wouldn’t consider her my best friend. She’s MY MOM. Best friends don’t pay for the dress you covet in a trendy clothing store that you wouldn’t pay for yourself. Best friends don’t pay for your wedding. Best friends don’t remind you how they carried you in their body and gave you life, and sometime gas! Best friends don’t tell you how wise they are and trump your opinion because they have been alive at least 20 years longer than you. I love my mom, and I want her to remain a mom.”

This doesn’t mean that the mother/daughter relationship can’t be very close and satisfying. While some adult relationships are still troubled, many find them to be extremely rewarding. So many moms spoke to us about how happy they are to be finished with the “eye rolling” and look from their adolescent daughters, a look that says, “You must come from a different evolutionary chain than me.” Daughters also adopted the famous Mark Twain quote about aging, with some slight alterations, and their feelings about their mothers. Mark Twain said, “When I was a boy (girl) of 14, my father (mother) was so ignorant I could hardly stand to have the old man (woman) around. But when I got to be 21, I was astonished at how much the old man (woman) had learned in seven years.”

This generation of mothers and adult daughters has a lot in common which increases the likelihood of shared companionship. Mothers and daughters have always shared the common experience of being homemakers, responsible for maintaining and passing on family values, traditions, and rituals. Today contemporary mothers and daughters also share the experience of the workforce, technology and lack of a generation gap, which may bring them even closer together.

Best friends may or may not continue to be best friends, but for better or worse, the mother and daughter relationship is permanent, even if for some unfortunate reason they aren’t’ speaking. The mother and child relationship is, therefore, more intimate and more intense than any other. As long as that hierarchy exists, it’s not an equal relationship. Daughters should not feel responsible for their mother’s emotional well-being. Not that they don’t care deeply about their mothers, it’s just that they shouldn’t be burdened with their mother’s well being. As one mother said to her daughter, “I would gladly dive under a bus for you and there is no way that I’m diving under a bus for my friends.” Her daughter responded, “And I’d gladly let you dive under the bus to save me!”

The mother/daughter relationship is so much more comprehensive than a best friendship. It’s a relationship that is not replaceable by any other. This unique bond doesn’t mean that when daughters mature they can’t assume more responsibilities and give back to their mothers, but it’s never equal and it’s not supposed to be. Mothers never stop being mothers, which includes frequently wanting to protect their daughters and often feeling responsible for their happiness. Mother always “trumps” friend.

 

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Category: Family friends

Comments (17)

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  1. Anonymous says:

    My daughter tells me that I am a guest in her home, even if I traveled across a continent to be at her side and help her with her firstborn and my first and only grandchild…I dearly wish to move back to the US and be nearby my daughter, I have my own pension and do not plan nor wish to be a burden to her or her husband who is absent because of his job…she works my grandson attends a daycare…I am told by her that as I would be a “guest” at her home she prefers I not stay but for a few weeks. I am deeply hurt not any less by the fact I offer to care for my grandson who is 2 years old, she prefers him in daycare. I dont expect my daughter to be affectionate she never has been, but I am disappointed and stunned by her insistence on saying I am another “guest”. Do mothers not rank differently than friends or other relatives…I have no husband, I love my daughter regardless of whatever makes her so indiferent, I just need a wise opinion, am I another guest in my daughter’s home and should I just stay away, it is tough to fly across a continent to spend a brief time. Please help me clear my mind on this. Thank you

  2. Anonymous says:

    You can too write her and say something to fix it. This is just what I’d say if I had to get out of this mess with my daughter. It might not be right for anyone else in the world but it would work on her– I am sorry I sent you that letter, dear. Please toss it out or burn it and forget you ever saw it. I was in such an awful mood. We were just missing you and your sweet kids so much, and had been so looking forward so to seeing you at Easter, after missing you at Christmas, and your dad and I were so disappointed, and my feelings felt hurt, and I was having an awful day anyway, and then I just totally lost it. But I love you all a lot and we love you all a lot, as always, and I promise not to mail letters from now on until I’ve slept on them. Actually, I promise myself just not to write any more letters like that. I feel so dumb about it. Hope to see you all again soon. — And If you were my mom and I got that letter, I’d say, Okay Mom, and I’d feel guilty, too.

  3. Anonymous says:

    I wished I had seen this site before i sent a letter to my daughter.
    Her friend has taken over my role and my daughter prefers to do things with her. Through the years dad & I have supported her , looked after her kids etc etc , all I wanted was to be her friened. So I wrote and told her all off this and now have lost ( did I ever have it ) anything I had.
    We will now miss out on the grandchildren although the eldest who is fifteen this week want’s to come and see us, but we will not have the family birthdays we had.
    What do I do.
    I can’t write and say I am sorry because I am not, but I am sorry I sent her the letter. It all came about because my daughter’s friend asked her to go away at Easter when i thought they would come to us as they had been away at Christmas. I felt we at least should have come first and my daughters friend who has no family should have realsied this.

  4. Irene says:

    Might be worthwhile to spread the word via Facebook too! Good luck~

  5. Anonymous says:

    I am in love with learning more about mother-daughter communication and relationships as I have grown to have a strong relationship with my mom. I am currently a graduate student working on my thesis which is going to focus on mother daughter communication once the daughter graduates high school and moves away to college and how technology aids in maintaining their relationships once the daughter moves away. I have started a blog in hopes of getting the chance to communicate with other mothers and daughters in order to find out their experiences, observations, experiences about the relationship they share.

    So if you are a daughter who has just graduated high school and are about to move away from home or have already moved away from home or if you are a mother who has a daughter that fits this criteria I would GREATLY appreciate any and all help with my thesis research. And please pass this link on to any mothers and daughters who fit this criteria as well.

    I am still in the beginning stages but here is the link to my blog:

    http://mother-daughter-communication-2011.blogspot.com/

    Thank you!

  6. Irene says:

    You are so fortunate to have such a warm and close relationship with your daughter!

    My best, Irene

  7. Anonymous says:

    My daughter and I are very close, but I don’t ever try to dress like her or act like her. That’s not how true friends are made. In fact, I’ve never really witnessed anything like that other than in movies or on sitcoms. Actually, my daughter is more mature for spending most of her time with me. She dressses nice, she’s modest, reserved and respectful when she goes places with me. She trusts me and confides in me in everything. Most of her girlfriends wish they had a mother like me. And it breaks my heart to see so many of them raised by cold, demanding mothers who never offer the bond that my daughter and I have. My mother and I had a difficult relationship. I promised my daughter at birth that ours would be better.

  8. Anonymous says:

    Nice idea but wait until you decide to forge a relationship. Your mother cannot be your best friend for if she is then who was your mother. The 2 are completely different.

  9. Myself says:

    Being a parent and being a friend are not mutually exclusive. A lot depends on the temperament and personality of the mother and daughter, just like any friendship does. As a Christian, I see God and Abraham’s friendship as the perfect example: God was still an authority figure, yet he considered Abraham his friend.

    The key is that that the mother understands her daughter is a human being, not a pet, doll or slave. Treating a young girl without respect as a human being will come back to bite you in the teen years. Once a girl enters the teen years, it becomes critical that the mother has allowed her daughter to understand why she’s made rules and acknowledge it’s time for the daughter to decide what she believes.

    “Best friends” is a relative term because each friendship is formed for different reasons… reasons that will change over time. There are times in my life where my mother has been my best friend, and to this day we are very close friends.

    That being said, mom trying to pretend to be a teen isn’t going to work. The mother has to be honest about herself and her motives. She’s not a young woman anymore, and she shouldn’t pretend to be. She’s now the sagely older lady who can offer advice to younger women.

  10. Jessicalynn says:

    I’m 17 and my mom is my best friend. When she was just my mom trying to parent me all the time. But when she realized I’m not a kid sHe treated me like a friend. Now we have the best relaitionship. We do everything together from getting coffee everyday to her going to concerts with me. None of my friends understand our relaitionship and think is weird. But I love having her as my best friend. When I’m around other people I can’t wait to get a break from the
    But I can hang out with my mom for months straight and not get annoied by her.

  11. I’d rather that my mom remain my mom. She tried the ‘dressing alike’ stuff and even made me go into a department store and buy the same outfit that I was wearing for her, so we could be ‘twinkies’. I hated dressing alike and my dad didn’t like seeing us in the same identical night gowns either. He’s a really good man and that affected their marriage because it was hard for him to find her attractive when we dressed the same.

    Bonds aren’t about clothes, they’re about the heart.

    I have friends. I would rather have my mom remain my mom.

  12. Anonymous says:

    As a mother of two daughters I loved how this article explained the balance. My mom was a strong believer in being the total authority which seemed pretty normal until I got to college and started to wonder why we couldn’t just go out for coffee together or catch lunch every once in a while. I am so thankful she wanted to be my mom, but I wish there had been a bit more friendship involved in our relationship. Being a mom is one of the best relationships of my life and I wouldn’t trade it just to be my daughters friends, but I hope my girls also feel I’m some one they can laugh with, have fun with, and share secrets with.

  13. Trudy says:

    Maybe not best friends, but friends sure. My daughter will soon be 30 and we get along so well now. And, on a side note, Dad and son (27) get along great now, too. We advise as needed, shut up as needed, and provide the moral support. Sure wish I had had a mom like me! Best of all, we have grandkids to love on and our kids get a break from stressful lives. The best of both worlds, as it should be.

  14. Anonymous says:

    No, I don’t believe Mothers and Daughters can be best friends. It’s not healthy. Parents should be supportive, interested, but not try to act like a child’s best friend. There should be
    a boundary between parents and kids. Children don’t respect parents who try to be their
    friends by acting like them: dressing similarly, using their lingo, playing their music, etc.

  15. Irene says:

    Ouch! I feel your hurt: not just for what you have but for what you don’t have. Perhaps, it would be of some consolation to tell yourself that whether it is a result of nature, nurture or both, your mother was only capable of being the person she was. Recommit yourself to being the kind of mother to your child that you always wanted for yourself. And perhaps, you’ll be lucky enough to find some friends and mentors to replace what you are missing. You might even want to send one of them a Mother’s Day card!

     

    Warm regards,

    Irene

  16. Anonymous says:

    How nice it would be to have a good relationship with my mother. But some of us out here have had the tables changed on us. I find I am often put in the position of ‘mother’ even though I am the daughter. I am the eldest of two and I often feel myself responsible for pointing out my mother’s terrible behavior. Right now she is running her life into the ground, and her relationships with her two grown daughters are in grave danger. We wish we had a mom to turn to for advice, but instead we have a woman who is hell-bent on her own self-destruction and who keeps making the wrong choices in love, and putting her family last. It’s a sad situation, but as you say, she is my mother, and I will have her in my life no matter how horrible things get between us. We are not speaking at the moment. Picking out a mother’s day card is hurtful and ironic for me. I would kill to have even a semi-normal mother-daughter relationship at this point, especially since I am going to have a child of my own soon, but I don’t, and that’s life.

  17. mickeyg says:

    I agree with Linda Gordon and Susan Shaffer that moms and daughters can not/should not be best friends. I was blessed with a fabulous mom and nearly every day I wish she were around to commiserate with, or share something marvelous (or funny) my grandkids have done — or to just know she is THERE whenever I need her. That said, we were not best friends. We didn’t want to mess up a good thing!

    As my daughter and I age, the relationship shifts like currents in the ocean. She has 3 children of her own and I don’t want to be her BFF. I still want to be the mom she can come to for advice — or not — and someone she shares her life with, but not in the same way she might share with a friend.

    It’s often a difficult role with lots of lip-biting. Where a friend might say, “What were you thinking when you did/said that?” As a mom, I try not to judge or offer advice (unless asked). I just love, listen, and offer a shoulder when needed.

    The roles will shift again as we both age. It will be interesting to see how the next relationship plays out.

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